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Article Punjabi

When Sunil Dutt featured in three Punjabi devotional films: Anniversary special

On actor-politician Sunil Dutt's 15th death anniversary, we take a look at his brief innings in Punjabi cinema.

Sukhpreet Kahlon

Film fans fondly remember the gentle charm, kind smile and sonorous voice of Sunil Dutt, a genuine star who could draw audiences to his films. The story of the actor, born Balraj Dutt, working as a presenter on Radio Ceylon and going on to find success as a movie star is well known.

Making his debut with Ramesh Saigal‘s Railway Platform (1955), Sunil Dutt found stardom with Mehboob Khan's classic Mother India (1957). Among his many notable films are Kundan (1955), Sujata (1959), Gumraah (1963), Yeh Rastey Hain Pyar Ke (1963), Waqt (1965), Mera Saaya (1966), Milan (1967), Padosan (1968), and Reshma aur Shera (1971), which he also produced and directed.

In the 1970s, Sunil Dutt also acted in a few films in his mother tongue Punjabi. Punjabi cinema has had a chequered history and had to resurrect itself after India was partitioned in 1947. Lahore used to be a major centre for the movie business and the main market for Punjabi films in pre-Partition India. All that changed after Partition and Punjabi cinema in India struggled to find its feet. Precious few successful films were made in the 1950s and it was only in the 1960s that the industry began attracting serious crowds and building a dedicated audience.

It was the first Punjabi colour film, Nanak Nam Jahaz Hai (1969), directed by Ram Maheshwari and starring Prithviraj Kapoor, Vimi, David, IS Johar and Jagdish Raj, that created a ripple effect. The huge success of the film spurred a trend of Hindi film artistes also acting in Punjabi cinema.

Thus, the 1970s saw a spate of Hindi stars — Dharmendra, Asha Parekh, Rekha, Rajendra Kumar, Rajesh Khanna, Neetu Singh, Randhir Kapoor, Dara Singh, Amrish Puri, Manmohan Krishna, Yogita Bali, Johnny Walker, Aruna Irani and Prem Nath among them — appearing in Punjabi films. Sunil Dutt, too, acted in a few Punjabi films — Man Jeete Jag Jeet (1973), Dukh Bhanjan Tera Naam (1974) and Sat Sri Akal (1977) — all of which dealt with devotional themes.

Directed by BS Thapa, Man Jeete Jag Jeet starred Sunil Dutt, Radha Saluja, Ranjeet and Manmohan Krishna. Dutt played the dacoit Bagga, who is wanted by the police. He comes across a god-loving, devoted woman (Saluja) who believes in the good in people. She encourages the villagers to stand up to the dacoits and is abducted by Bagga and his men. But she remains fearless, convinced that Bagga can be reformed through god’s word and find his way.

Dukh Bhanjan Tera Naam, also directed by Thapa, is a historical devotional film based on the life of Bibi Rajni, the youngest daughter of Rai Duni Chand, who is a paragon of devotion to her husband and to god. Starring Saluja and a Punjabi actor, the film had cameo appearances by several Hindi stars, including Dharmendra, Rajendra Kumar, Johnny Walker and Dara Singh. Sunil Dutt, too, had a guest appearance in this film.

His next Punjabi film, Sat Sri Akal, saw him play a leading role once again. The film had an ensemble cast of Amrish Puri, Reena Roy, Shatrughan Sinha, Parikshit Sahni, Prem Nath, KN Singh, Manorama and Rajendra Nath. Directed by Chaman Nillay and produced by Prem Nath, the film was a hit. The action sequences were choreographed by Veeru Devgan and the lyrics were by Qamar Jalalabadi. The film also introduced Kamini Kaushal and Prem Nath as singers! The film, a romantic drama, was dubbed as Gyaani Ji in Hindi.

After that, however, Sunil Dutt got busy with his wife Nargis's treatment for cancer and the launch of his son Sanjay in Rocky (1981). After Nargis's death, her social and political work devolved on him and once he became a member of Parliament in 1984 his appearances in Hindi films also began to reduce as he focused on his political work and became a popular politician. His last appearance on screen was in Rajkumar Hirani’s Munna Bhai MBBS (2003) with son Sanjay Dutt.