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There is much more to birthday boy Dharmendra than just his ‘He-man’ image

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Dharmendra, who turns 83 today, was a versatile actor early in his career. But after the success of Sholay, he got typecast as an action hero.

New Delhi: Think Dharmendra, and probably the first role you’ll recall is Viru from Sholay — the happy-go-lucky action hero. Later in his career, he allowed himself to be typecast as a ‘He-man’ or ‘Garam Dharam’. But it was not always so — Dharmendra was extremely versatile in the first 15-odd years of his career, getting patronage from some of Hindi cinema’s greatest directors like Bimal Roy and Hrishikesh Mukherjee.

Think prison doctor Devendra from Bandini, the righteous Shaaka from Phool aur Patthar, the upright Satyapriya from Satyakam, and the hilarious Parimal/Pyare Mohan from Chupke Chupke, and you have a microcosm of all that Dharam Singh Deol was capable of.

Born on 8 December 1935, in Phagwara in Kapurthala district of Punjab, Dharmendra has been active in the Hindi film industry as an actor for nearly 60 years now. He has also dabbled in film production, and been the patriarch of a successful film family — his second wife Hema Malini, sons Sunny and Bobby Deol, and daughter Esha Deol have had magnificent to middling careers in Bollywood.

Struggles and stardom

Dharmendra had made his debut with Arjun Hingorani’s Dil Bhi Tera Hum Bhi Tere (1960), following which he would usually be cast as a romantic hero opposite established leading actresses.

He got recognition for his performances in Anpadh, Bandini, Haqeeqat and a number of other films, but didn’t hit the big time until O.P. Ralhan’s 1966 action film Phool aur Patthar, opposite frequent collaborator Meena Kumari.

In the course of this film, Dharmendra also became one of the first actors to go shirtless in Hindi cinema, which, in addition to his good looks, attracted a great female fan-following.

Thereafter, he embarked on the most successful part of his career, doling out multiple hits every year, up to and beyond Sholay. In fact, in the years immediately following Sholay, was purportedly the highest-paid Bollywood actor.

He continued to feature as the lead actor well into his 50s, but by that time, he had started doing a lot of lowbrow films, which did not have the widespread appeal of his prior career.

Also read: Prithviraj Kapoor: The monarch of Hindi cinema and titan of stirring theatre

Two marriages

Dharmendra’s first marriage was to Parkash Kaur at the age of 19, and the union produced four children — sons Sunny and Bobby, and daughters Vijeta and Ajeeta.

However, in the 1970s, love blossomed between Dharmendra and Hema Malini, who co-starred in many films, beginning with Seeta Aur Geeta. They reportedly converted to Islam to get married in 1979, which later became a political issue when Dharmendra contested the Lok Sabha elections on a BJP ticket from Bikaner in 2004. He eventually won the election and served as MP between 2004 and 2009, before being dropped, apparently due to poor performance.

Dharmendra and Hema Malini have two daughters, Esha and Ahana.

Later career and awards

Having spent a few years away from the camera, Dharmendra made a comeback playing Kajol and Arbaaz Khan’s uncle in Pyaar Kiya To Darna Kya (1998). Since then, he has appeared sporadically in films like Life in a… Metro and Johnny Gaddar, as well as his home productions Apne and the Yamla Pagla Deewana trilogy.

He also produced the launch vehicles for both his sons, Betaab (1983) for Sunny and Barsaat (1995), as well as the hugely-popular action flick Ghayal in 1990.

Dharmendra was awarded India’s third highest civilian honour, Padma Bhushan, in 2012. He was nominated six times for Filmfare Awards for his acting, but didn’t win any. Then, in 1997, he was honoured with the Filmfare Lifetime Achievement Award.

Also read: Ankhen, India’s first big spy film had a Doctor, Madam, Captain, and of course, Lily


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  1. Was never the highest paid actor – in the 70s till late 80s the highest paid actors where rajesh and Amitabh with Pran coming third in the 70s. Fact

  2. He is ever watchable in the entire spectrum of roles; his top three would be Satyakaam, Sholay and Chupke Chupke.

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