Dharmendra, the He-Man of the Hindi film industry, will turn 81 on Thursday, December 8, but he says he feels as “young as ever”. “I am an 18-year-old young man who turned 81,” he says with a laugh. The veteran actor, who has worked in films such as Satyakam (1969), Pratiggya (1975), Sholay (1975), Chupke Chupke (1975) and Dharam Veer (1977), admits that he always strived for a place in the hearts of his fans. The Padma Bhushan-awardee calls himself a farmer now, a son of the soil who enjoys growing produce at his farm in Lonavla, Maharashtra.
How do you celebrate your birthday?
I don’t celebrate much. The family does a havan at home and well-wishers come over to meet [and wish] me. I have received a lot of love in my life, chahat hi boi hai jo ab kat rahi hai (I have sowed love and I am reaping it now).
Biopics have become the flavour of the season. Would you like a biography on your life?
Not really. Though the story of my life is full of everything — ups and downs and so much love from the audience. However, I wouldn’t want a biopic [on me].
People feel you were under-appreciated as an actor in your career. Do you agree?
I don’t feel bad or sad about it. Whatever I have got is enough for me. I have been in the film industry for the last 55 years. I believe that God blessed me, and I know people love me.
Your grandson Karan Deol (Sunny Deol’s son) will soon make his acting debut. Have you given him any advice?
One has to learn on their own. Moreover, today’s kids are very aware [of the world]. We talk and have had discussions about movies and acting. He has the drive and the fire, and will surely go far.
You enjoy writing poetry. Have you ever thought of publishing them?
I began writing in 2011. I was recuperating for a month after an operation in America, and was feeling alone in my room. Though people around you can be there for you, no one can share your pain. I was scared of loneliness, and in that moment, I began writing, and have been doing so. My shayari (poems) are full of my emotions and feelings. I might publish them in the future.
Which was the last film you enjoyed?
I loved Ranveer Singh in Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Bajirao Mastani (BM; 2015). He is one of the best actors in the industry today. I love him and loved his acting. Deepika Padukone was wonderful as well. The cinematography and story were executed well. Deepika and Ranveer played their parts convincingly. Hema (Malini) and I were going to do BM with (film-maker) Kamaal (Amrohi) saab, but it didn’t happen. I also loved Vidya Balan in The Dirty Picture (2011), as she portrayed the role with conviction. Her performance made me emotional.
You haven’t been acting of late. Why?
Desires and ambitions have no end, and they lead to newer paths in life. Or else you will not have any drive. I still want to work and act. We are working on a script. Acting is my life.
Which actors did you enjoy working with the most?
I was friendly with all my co-actors, including my heroines and comedians like Mehmood, Johnny Walker and Mohan Choti. We would often gather in my hotel room post shoot to chill out and party. I enjoyed my life to the fullest. Back then, if we didn’t mingle, people would not take no for an answer. Many of my friends have passed away and it makes me feel very sad. I cry, at times, when I think of them.
What do you remember of those times?
I remember meeting Dilip (Kumar) saab and Dev (Anand) saab. I still recall Dev saab meeting me when I was standing in a queue to audition for a role. He met me outside the studio and told me that I would make it. I couldn’t believe that Dev saab was saying that to me. This was a man I was dying to meet and here he was talking to me. We went to his room and he gave me cold water from an icebox. It was the first time I saw an icebox. From the beginning, I received a lot of love from people.
I never ran after success or fame, I only wanted love. Fame is fickle, it never stays with you but once you are loved by people, you are in their hearts forever. I think I made a place in the hearts of my audiences. People meet me with so much love at events, airports. I was unable to turn down film projects. I wasn’t a good businessman at all. Even when my films were a hit, I wouldn’t increase my fee. I wasn’t working for money but for love.
Watch: Moods Of Dharmendra