Born into the Punjabi Jat Sikh family of village school headmaster Kewal Kishan Singh Deol and his wife Satwant Kaur in rural Punjab, no one ever imagined that Dharmendra Singh Deol would join films and become one of the most loved actors of Indian cinema.
Hailing from humble background, Dharmendra’s big ticket came when he won the Filmfare spot-the-talent contest and landed in Mumbai in the early 1960s to try his luck in showbiz. He began his cinematic journey with Arjun Hingorani’s ‘Dil Bhi Tera Hum Bhi Tere’ (1960). Legend has it that when Dharmendra turned up for its premiere, nobody recognised him!
Success was never easy for Dharmendra; when he entered the film industry, Dilip Kumar, Raj Kapoor, Rajendra Kumar and Dev Anand were the reigning superstars. Taking highs and lows in his stride, Dharmendra continued his journey and within a decade, he joined the league of stars with hits like ‘Bandini’(1963), ‘Ayee Milan Ki Bela’ (1964), ‘Haqeeqat’ (1964), ‘Kaajal’ (1965), ‘Phool Aur Patthar’ (1966), ‘Anupama’ (1966), ‘Aankhen’ (1968), ‘Satyakam’ (1969), ‘Aya Sawan Jhoom Ke’ (1969).
If the 60s saw Dharmendra as larger than life, emotionally charged romantic hero, the 70s-80s was the era of macho roles, where he became the ‘He-Man of Bollywood’, whose chiseled good looks, charming demeanor and powerfully built stood him class apart from his co-stars.
Films like ‘Raja Jani’ (1972), ‘Yaadon Ki Baaraat’(1973), ‘Jugnu’ (1973), ‘Black Mail’ (1973), ‘Sholay’ (1975), ‘Charas’ (1976), ‘Dharam Veer’ (1977), ‘Shalimar’ (1978) and ‘The Burning Train’ (1980) showcase the versatility of the powerhouse performer.
Be it the idealist Satyapriya of ‘Satyakam’, hot-headed Veeru of ‘Sholay’ or mischievous Dr Parimal Tripathi of ‘Chupke Chupke’, Dharmendra was one such multifaceted actor, who performed drama, action and comedy with equal ease. Undeniably, he went on to work with the leading ladies of his time - Nutan, Waheeda Rehman, Meena Kumari, Mala Sinha, Asha Parekh, Sharmila Tagore, Hema Malini, Jaya Bhaduri , Zeenat Aman, Sridevi, Jaya Prada and Dimple Kapadia.
Talking of Dharmendra’s leading ladies, one can never forget his striking on-screen chemistry with Hema Malini. After acting together in numerous films, love blossomed between the two when they fell in love during the making of ‘Sholay’. Dharmendra, who was very much a married man (his first wife is Prakash Kaur and has two sons – Sunny Deol and Bobby Deol and two daughters - Vijeta Deol and Ajeeta Deol), reportedly converted to Islam before marrying Hema Malini (Dharmedra and Hema have two daughters – Esha Deol and Ahana Deol).
However, during the late 80s and 90s, Dharmendra started losing his magic touch. ‘Razia Sultana’ (1983), ‘Watan Ke Rakhwale’ (1987), ‘Dadagiri’ (1987), ‘Hukumat’ (1987) and ‘Ilaka’ (1989), ‘Farishtey’(1991) and umpteen mediocre films tanked at the Box Office.
Dharmendra, who launched his elder son Sunny in ‘Betaab’ (1983) and younger son Bobby in ‘Barsaat’(1995) was aging. The once fabled ‘He-Man of Bollywood’ was no longer young. Dharmendra looked weathered and podgy. With his B-town innings taking a beating, Dharmendra tried his hands at politics. He was elected MP from Bikaner, Rajastan on a BJP ticket in 2004. However, his lack of interest was evident from the fact that he rarely attended the Parliament and preferred spending time at his farm house.
Unlike his contemporary Amitabh Bachchan, Dharmendra had no opportunity to revive his failing career through small screen avatar and make his second coming on the silver screen.
Even so, he was seen in prominent roles like ‘Pyaar Kiya To Darna Kya’ (1998), ‘Metro’ (2007), ‘Apne’ (2007), ‘Johnny Gaddaar’ (2007) and most recently, the super hit ‘Yamla Pagla Deewana’ (2011) – where Dharmendra was seen with his sons Sunny and Bobby after a long hiatus.
Voted as one of the handsomest men in the world, it’s an irony that Dharmendra never won the Best Actor Filmfare Award despite giving hits one after the other. He was conferred the Filmfare Lifetime Achievement Award in 1997.
In IIFA 2011, legendary Bollywood actor Dharmendra will once again be seen in action. Dharmendra will perform at the International Indian Film Academy Awards with sons Sunny and Bobby in Toronto, Canada.
A great actor and above all a genuine human being, Dharmendra is the stuff that legends are made of. He will be always remembered for his breezy romantic comedies, power charged action roles and side-splitting comedies. A finest entertainer ever produced by Bollywood, here’s wishing the actor a healthy, wealthy and prosperous life.