When film actor Dharmendra told me that the TV interview of his, which I had taken, was perhaps his best and boldest, it confirmed one thing for sure. Best or not, but it possibly was the most Punjabi by nature interview he had given, as it contained all the elements that sum up a Punjabi — emotion, passion, patriotism, action, wit, alcohol, blows, brawls, women, romance, humanity, profanity...well, almost.
Since Dharmendra also insisted on not calling this exchange a mere interview, I thought of sharing with my readers my experience and the co-incidence that led to the superstar appearing on my show.
It all happened during Captain Amarinder Singh’s visit to our studio for the recording of his own interview. As chance would have it, I was chatting about the possibility of a Dharmendra interview with one of his staff members, Karanpal Sekhon, when Capt Amarinder overheard our conversation and asked, ‘What about Dharmendra?’
He then narrated his experience with Dharmendra in London, as the latter was staying in the same hotel as his. “I found him to be very interested in poetry and I would regularly see him reading books in the Urdu language,” said the former chief minister, after which he asked Karanpal Sekhon to request Dharmendra if he could find time for the interview. “He is a good person. I think he will come,” he said.
Karanpal Sekhon, who followed the trail with all earnestness, called the next day to say that Dharmendra had agreed and I could contact him.
“Yes, I will come to your studio,” said Dharmendra, with full magnanimity, the kind that you expect of a superstar of Punjabi origin.
Sure enough, as per promise, we were recording on the morning of November 7. He looked fit and handsome for 78, much fitter and smarter than he looked in his home production, Yamla Pagla Deewana (part 1). “I was unwell then,” he told me, before we got rolling for the interview.
Frankly, the interview almost crash landed at the take off stage itself, as he gave a witty reply to my opening line which was as follows: “Since your life is an open book, let’s start by exploring from the first page, your early days.”
“Khushwant, if my life is an open book, what you will interview me for?” he replied, making me almost jump out of my seat.
I recovered well, with a retort that an open book still had to be brought from a library, and this interview was a medium to reach to the younger generation, who didn’t know much about Dharmendra.
“I love to be loved, to be liked, to be admired. Who doesn’t want that people should respect and want him,” were Dharmindera’s next lines, which conceivably are the driving factors of his determination and perseverance to make it big in the film industry.
His first attraction in life was a red mark on a milk glass when he was a toddler, but how the red morphed into a Meena Kumari or a Hema Malini is anybody’s guess, since questions about them he navigated astutely. Fair enough, I thought, as we squared up on questions about his daroo, politics and Sholay. “Saraasar bakwaas marda hai Sippy,” he said, when asked that Ramesh Sippy has said that you had wanted to play the role of Thakur in Sholay.
Born in Nasrali village near Khanna to a school master, Dharmendra’s early life was like any village boy of those days. Simple, playful and naughty. His father was soon transferred to Sahnewal, a larger village which boasted of a railway station and a cinema hall. It was here that he saw Dilip Kumar’s movie, Shaheed, which stirred a desire in him — of becoming an actor.
“The moment I saw the movie, the handsome men and the beautiful women, I knew I was meant for the cine world,” said Dharmendra. Soon, a talent hunt advertisement by Filmfare saw the young lad filling up a form and posting it for consideration. While posting it, he had bowed before the letter box, praying for the safe delivery of his portfolio and form.
“I remember rushing to the studio of one Jaan Mohammad for a portfolio and requesting him, Yaar Jaan, kar kuch, key may Dilip Kumar warga lagan,” said Dharmendra. Filmfare responded, and asked him to report in Bombay.