Fatalists believe it was destined to happen, while believers perceive this to be God’s will. In a strange succession, 2012 snatched away from us many of our famous personalities who made Punjab proud. Prolific writers, a statesman, celebrated actors and renowned film people — most were born in pre-World War I era, witnessed the most significant global events and started out in their respective professions when one had to be a rebel in order to follow one’s passion.
Consequently, they gained first hand experience of handling fame, becoming the society’s spokespersons and living in comfort after fending off sparse resources. Before we welcome 2013, Archna Matharu recalls the Punjabis who left for their heavenly abode this year, to commemorate their achievements and register them in our hearts.
Inder Kumar Gujral served as the Prime Minister of India from April 1997 to March 1998 and is credited with acting as a peacenik for the country and promoting friendly relations with India’s neighbours.
Gujral was born in Jhelum in British India and studied at DAV College, Jalandhar, Hailey College of Commerce and Forman Christian College, Lahore. His contribution to Punjab includes the establishment of Jalandhar Doordarshan in 1975, waiver of Punjab debt worth nearly R8,500 crore in 1997 and setting up of Pushpa Gujral Science City at Kapurthala in 2005.
Gujral’s interest in politics began when he was still a student. He joined the Communist Party of India and also participated in Quit India Movement during India’s struggle for Independence. The young politician later joined Indian National Congress in 1964, but quit it in the ’80s and joined Janata Dal. He was fluent in Urdu and was very fond of poetry.
The 12th PM was the first Punjabi to take the illustrious position. During his 11-month term, Gujral propounded the Gujral Doctrine for maintaining good neighbourly relations. He served in the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting during Emergency in 1975, External Affairs, Communications and Parliamentary Affairs, Planning and Finance. He was also India’s ambassador to Soviet Union.
Gujral died due to multiple organ failure on November 30, 2012, aged 92.
Yash Chopra (1932-2012)
On his 80th birthday, when Yash Chopra, one of India’s most loved directors, announced that film Jab Tak Hai Jaan would be his last project, little did the world know that this statement would come true so soon. With his demise on October 21, 2012 of multiple organ failure as a result of contracting dengue, it seemed as if it were Bollywood's romance that had died.
Chopra started his journey in the world of cinema as an assistant to IS Johar and later to his elder brother, BR Chopra. He then made a debut as a director with the film Dhool Ka Phool in 1959, and is credited with introducing the concept of ensemble casts with Waqt (1965). He started his own production house, Yash Raj Films, in 1973 that went on to make blockbusters including Deewar, Kabhie Kabhie, Trishul, Silsila, Chandni, Lamhe, Darr, Dil to Pagal Hai and Veer Zaara.
Chopra is known for choosing unconventional subjects for his films and for portraying romance in a simple, yet powerful manner. He is also one of the few filmmakers who played a big role in the success of Shah Rukh Khan.
Another of Chopra’s characteristics was choosing exotic locales to shoot his films at, so much so that a lake in Alpenrausch, Switzerland, a favourite shooting spot of his, has been re-christened Chopra Lake. The filmmaker was awarded a National Award, numerous Filmfare awards, Dadasaheb Phalke Award and Padma Bhushan. The British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) also presented him with a lifetime membership for his contribution to films.
Jaspal Bhatti (1955-2012)
In perhaps the most shocking news of the year, noted Punjabi filmmaker and satirist Jaspal Bhatti died in an unfortunate car accident while travelling from Bathinda to Jalandhar for the promotion of his film, Power Cut. The movie released a day later on October 26.
Bhatti, who was born at his maternal house in Chowk Karori area of Amritsar, studied at the walled city’s DAV College before graduating from Chandigarh as an electrical engineer. Like his father, Bhatti also worked in the Punjab State Electricity Board and took premature retirement after being in service for 26 years.
With his quick wit and deeply ingrained sense of social justice, Bhatti started his stint on TV. His shows, Flop Show and Ulta Pulta became two of the most popular TV series in the early ’90s.
His first directorial venture was Mahaul Theek Hai (1999), a satire on the Punjab police. Bhatti also launched a comedy show on SAB TV, Thank You Jijaji. In Hindi films such as Fanaa, Aa Ab Laut Chalen and Kuch Naa Kaho, Bhatti was seen essaying different roles. He also participated with his wife Savita Bhatti in Nach Baliye, a dance reality series that aired on Star Plus. In SAS Nagar, Bhatti had also set up a film training school called MAD Arts. At a time when Sikh characters were made to act like clowns, Bhatti brought in intelligent humour.
His demise brought an end to the common man’s hopes of bringing those issues to light that are most pertinent to him.
Be it the powerful Hanuman in Ramayan, the charming Chadha ji in 2003 Hindi film Kal Ho Na Ho or the strict Daarji in 2007 hit Jab We Met, wrestler-turned-actor Dara Singh always managed to charm the audience and make a mark in every role that he essayed, be it big or small.
An era came to an end on the fateful day of July 12, 2012, when the world lost its Rustam-e-Hind Dara Singh, aged 83, to cardiac arrest in Mumbai. With the demise of this Punjab da
puttar, we lost a famous wrestler, actor, producer and Rajya Sabha member. In fact, Dara Singh was the first sportsperson to be nominated to Rajya Sabha.
Born in Dharmuchak village in district Amritsar, Singh started wrestling because of his strong physique. In 1948, he left for Singapore to further pursue his passion for wrestling. His acting career took off in 1952, but Singh became a household name because of his portrayal of Hanuman in the hit TV series Ramayan, made by Ramanand Sagar.
Besides acting, Singh also directed some Punjabi and Hindi films, such as Nanak Dukhiya Sub Sansar (1970), Sawa Lakh Se Ek Ladaun (1976), Dhyanu Bhagat (1978), Bhakti Mein Shakti (1978), Rustom (1982) and Rab Dian Rakhan (1996).
Although Singh became a big star, he never lost connection with his roots. His relatives in his ancestral village recall the actor’s numerous visits to the village, with the last being nearly three years before his demise. With Singh’s death, the villagers feel their village has been orphaned.
Rajesh Khanna (1942-2012)
Every time cinestar Rajesh Khanna came on screen, he would floor the audience with his charm and looks. Khanna was the first Hindi film actor to relish being a nationwide sweetheart and the first 'superstar' of the country. The way he talked, crinkled the corners of his eyes and styled himself — it all became a rage. His co-stars even recall girls marrying his photographs and writing letters in blood to him.
Born Jatin Khanna in 1942 in Burewala, the actor was adopted by relatives of his biological parents who migrated to Amritsar after the Partition and stayed at Gali Tiwarian.
Khanna’s rendezvous with cinema began after he won a talent hunt contest in 1965, leading to his debut film, Aakhri Khat, in 1966. With films such as Aradhana, Haathi Mere Saathi, Amar Prem, Safar and Anand, Khanna became a superstar and gave 15 successive super-hits from 1969 to 1972.
In a career spanning almost 20 years, Khanna starred in 165 films. Although he ruled the box office till the ’70s, the next decade did not turn out to be very favourable for him in terms of BO success. His last appearance was for an advertisement for Havells fan. Khanna also had a stint in politics and was a member of Parliament. Being a big part of celluloid, Khanna's personal life remained in the spotlight. He married much-younger Dimple Kapadia and has two daughters, Twinkle and Rinke Khanna.
Bollywood lost its superstar on July 18, 2012, when Khanna breathed his last at the age of 70, after suffering from a chronic liver ailment.
Shravan Kumar Verma (1927-2012)
Through his simple, yet powerful Urdu short stories, writer Shravan Kumar Verma made a mark in both India and Pakistan. Unfortunately, he died in oblivion on November 28, 2012, aged 85, following a prolonged illness.
A lawyer by profession, Verma belonged to Amritsar. His works were published in reputed Urdu magazines on both sides of the border and his short stories were translated and published by various publications, including Penguin India.
In recognition of his works, the languages department of the Punjab Government had honoured Verma with Shiromani Sahitkar Award for his contribution to Urdu language in 1993. But he
wasn’t hungry for awards or money. Those close to Verma remember him as a self-respecting man who held his head high and never let his personal problems affect him.
Verma did his schooling from BR High School, Amritsar, and later studied pre-medical at Hindu College, Amritsar. He went on to pursue BSc (Medical) at Khalsa College, but dropped out since he had no interest in sciences, though he had taken them up on his father’s insistence. He finally earned a BA and an LLB from Law College, Jalandhar.
For the past few years, Verma was bed-ridden due to ailments related to his digestive system. He had also lost his son a year ago, which further affected him. The family had to bear the brunt of losing their loved one while tackling financial problems.
Kartar Singh Duggal (1917-2012)
Poet, writer, playwright and critic, Padma Bhushan Kartar Singh Duggal churned out remarkable work from his pen that earned him a mention among the most celebrated Punjabi writers. Apart from Punjabi, he also wrote in English, Hindi and Urdu. Born in Dhamal village of district Rawalpindi in Pakistan's Punjab, Duggal pursued masters in English from Forman Christian College, Lahore. His professional career started in All India Radio, where he was director. Duggal also served as the director of the National Book Trust and was information advisor in the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.
Duggal’s stint at short story writing is most remembered, especially his works such as Birth of a Song, Come Back My Master, Dangar, Ikk Chhit Chananh Di, Nawan Ghar, Sonar Bangla and Tarkalan Vele. He wrote two novels: Sard Poonam Ki Raat and Tere Bhanhe. Many of his works are a part of the syllabi of various universities.
The writer had also founded institutions such as the Institution of Social and Economic Change, Bengaluru. In recognition of his achievements, various merits were conferred upon him, including the Sahitya Akademi Award, Ghalib Award, Bharatiya Bhasha Parishad Award, Punjabi Writer of the Millennium Award, Bhai Vir Singh Award, presented by the vice president of India and Praman Patra, presented by the chief minister of Punjab.
Duggal passed away on January 26, 2012, aged 92, following a brief illness. But he lives on through his literary works that enriched all our lives.
Ashok Mehta (1947-2012)
An ace cinematographer, Ashok Mehta put magic in films that he was associated with. These include Shekhar Kapoor’s Bandit Queen (1994), Shyam Benegal’s Mandi (1983) and Trikaal (1985), Shashi Kapoor-produced Utsav (1985), Subhash Ghai’s Ram Lakhan (1989), Khalnayak (1993), MF Hussain’s Gaja Gamini (2000), multi-starrer comedy film No Entry (2003) and Shah Rukh Khan’s Chalte Chalte (2003).
Born in Punjab, Mehta was 14 when he ran away from his home in Delhi and started
selling boiled eggs in Mumbai. On seeing a film shoot in progress at a studio in Dadar, Mehta got hooked to cinema and joined as a canteen boy at Asha Studios in Chembur and later became an office boy at RK Studios.
Mehta’s career as a cinematographer got a boost with Shashi Kapoor’s 36 Chowringhee Lane (1981). Subsequently, he went on to work with an array of filmmakers.
Mehta turned to direction with the 2001 film Moksha, starring Arjun Rampal, who considered Mehta as his mentor and father figure. Mehta also had two National Awards to his credit, for 36 Chowringhee Lane and Moksha. After Moksha, he worked as a cinematographer with Rampal in two other films: Dil Ka Rishta and I See You. Mehta died on August 15, at the age of 65, battling lung cancer. Arjun Rampal, his wife Mehr Jessia, Priyanka Chopra and Shah Rukh Khan are some of the celebs who were spotted at his funeral in Mumbai. His trademark cowboy hat was placed by his side as he lay for his last journey.