He was perhaps Bollywood's first macho man. Dara Singh, who turned 80 on Wednesday, says after starring in over 120 films that the big screen was never his aspiration.
"I was never interested in doing films. I was pulled into the industry because of the fame I received from wrestling. I was forced to do King Kong (1962) and it became a hit and that started my film career," Dara Singh told IANS on phone.
"But I made it clear to the filmmakers at that time that my main concern was my wrestling career and I would not compromise on that. They agreed. However, after beating American wrestler Lou Thesz in the 1960s and becoming a world champion, I started concentrating on my film career."
Dara Singh said he never wanted to play a negative role.
"The only thing I never wanted to do and have not done so far is playing a villain. I was always adamant to do positive roles and I also made it clear to the filmmakers that I will not accept a villain's role," he said.
Not many know that prior to starring in Babubhai Mistri's King Kong, Dara Singh had done cameos in films like Sangdil (1952), Pehli Jhalak (1955) and Jagga Daku (1959).
Born in 1928 in Amritsar, Punjab, Dara Singh is credited to be the first hero in Bollywood to bring the machismo appeal on-screen with his well-built body.
Commenting upon that, he said: "It felt good to be the first macho actor as my colleagues at that time were very thin and lanky. No one had a body like mine."
Much like Arnold Schwarzenegger in Hollywood, Dara Singh's career too rose because of his body landing him roles in hero-centric films like Rustam-E-Baghdad (1963), Faulad (1963), Hercules (1964), Tarzan Dilli Mein (1965), Sikander-E-Azam (1965), Rustom-E-Hind (1965), and Boxer (1965), among others.
After 1970, he forayed into direction and directed six films in Hindi and Punjabi - Nanak Dukhiya Sab Sansar (1970), Mera Desh Mera Dharam (1973), Bhakti Mein Shakti (1978) and Rustom (1982) among them.
Dara Singh has been immortalised among younger viewers for his portrayal of monkey god Hanuman in Ramanand Sagar's TV adaptation of the epic Ramayan (1986).
On being asked what keeps him going, he quipped: "One should keep working. Otherwise you grow old."
Dara Singh was also seen on TV in programmes like Had Kar Di and Kya Hoga Nimmo Ka. Right now, though, he doesn't have any plan to go back to the small screen.
"TV demands a lot of time and is too tiring. I won't do any TV now. That way I am better off playing a grandfather or some other role in a film or two," he said.
Dara Singh still picks up roles that he "feels like doing".
He was also upbeat about new actors working out in the gym for a muscular look.
"New actors want to be like Salman Khan, so they hit the gym for a body like his, which is good for them. At least, they stay fit that way. But they should not consume any body supplements, which in the long run harms the body," he suggested.
So how did Dara Singh maintain his body in his prime?
"In those days, we used to maintain ourselves by a healthy diet that included milk, home-made butter, almonds and chicken soup," he replied.
On his birthday, Dara Singh only planned to spend time with his family. He said he was "content with whatever I have done in life".
"I've done everything in life. In fact, I have also worked with everyone from thespians like Dilip Kumar, Dev Anand and Raj Kapoor to the new league of actors."