Geniuses aren’t born everyday, and this man surely is one. On January 26, 1956, renowned director of that era, Lekhraj Bhakri spotted a young and handsome lad named Harikrishna Giri Goswami in front of Delhi’s Novelty cinema, and told him, “Tum hero banogey (You’ll become a hero).” Nine months later, the 19-year-old was in Mumbai with his first Bollywood project, and a star was born. Manoj Kumar — the actor, filmmaker and visionary never looked back.
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It wasn’t an easy journey though. The Abbottabad (Pakistan) born and Delhi-bred boy, who went all out in winning hearts and accolades, had to leave behind the traces of a pained childhood to move on in life. “I was just 10 and in fourth standard when we shifted from Pakistan to the Hudson Lines in Kingsway camp area in Delhi. Riots were on, and there was this dirty drain we’d go to in order to address nature’s call, and we often spotted dead bodies floating,” remembers Manoj, who studied in the Hindu College.
However, unlike others of his age, college life wasn’t a merry one. “There was always this pain of being uprooted. I was in a bewildered state of mind, and finances back home weren’t the best. My father was unwell. Amid my classes, I started selling sewing machines at Nayi Sadak, and for the first time earned `27,000 in two months,” recalls Manoj.
The best gift of life
It wasn’t stardom or money, but a gesture from his father that Manoj treasures the most. “When I owned a house in Mumbai, my father stayed in the first floor, and we’d be on the second floor. He used to write letters to me. Once, after watching a film of mine, he kissed my forehead... I had tears in my eyes,” says Manoj, who’s planning a film on freedom fighter Chandra Shekhar Azad. “I am a hands on filmmaker so if my health permits, things will start soon,” says Manoj, who now spends his time pampering the pearl of his eyes — his four-year-old grandson.
For his 1970 hit Purab aur Paschim (right), Manoj shot in various locations across the country and the world including London, Paris, Germany, Varanasi and Allahabad. He was the only actor-filmmaker who shot a sequence at the Vivekandanda Rock in Kanyakumari. “It was a dream come true,” remembers Manoj, adding, “I was the first one to introduce cut-to-cut scripts, shoot in real hotels and bungalows instead of sets, and even sported dark glasses.”"
Recalling his visit to a hospital in Tees Hazari via the Ridge road and Hindu College, Manoj says, “I’d sit to rest on the benches outside the Hindu college on my way to the hospital where my mother was admitted with my two-month old brother. One day, riots broke and the doctors fled, leaving my mother and brother gasping in pain. My brother passed away... Later when I went to study at Hindu college, every time that painful day would cross my mind. This is my only regret in life. I lost my little brother, and my parents very early.”
A patriotic charmer
One of the most prominent roles played by Manoj Kumar was that of martyr Bhagat Singh in the 1965 film Shaheed (above). It was first of his series of patriotic films, followed by Upkar (1967), Purab Aur Paschim (1970) and Kranti (1981), which eventually won him the nickname ‘Bhaarat Kumar’.