Back in 1958, a handsome young Jatt from Punjab boarded a train to Mumbai for Filmfare star talent hunt and never looked back. After winning the star talent, it took him two years to make his Bollywood debut with Arjun Hingorani's 'Dil Bhi Tera, Hum Bhi Tere' (1960) followed by 'Boy Friend' (1961) in a supporting role. He was paid only Rs. 51 for his first film. However it was 'Phool Aur Patthar' in 1966 which helped him make a mark in Bollywood.
In a career spanning over 50 years, Bollywood's Garam Dharam gave some of the memorable films in the Hindi film industry. As he turned a year older on 8th December, let us flip back to some of the lesser known facts about the star.
Dharmendra Singh Deol was born in 1935 in Nasrali village in Ludhiana district of Punjab to a Jatt family. He spent his early life in the village of Sahnewal and studied in the Government Senior Secondary School at Lalton Kalan, Ludhiana, where his father was the village school's headmaster. He did his intermediate from Ramgarhia College, Phagwara in 1952.
Deol's biggest inspiration was actor Dilip Kumar. He was mesmerised and fascinated watching Kumar on big screen. He was also a great fan of the famous singer and actress Suraiya. He is said to have watched her film 'Dillagi' (1949) 40 times, after having to walk several miles on foot in his hometown Sahnewal to go to the nearest cinema hall. When Dharmendra saw an advertisement for a movie in Filmfare by Bimal Roy and Guru Dutt, he went to Malerkotla in Sangrur, Punjab, to get his picture taken and finally won the Filmfare magazine's new talent award and came to Mumbai looking for work.
Bollywood's tragedy queen Meena Kumari immensely helped him to establish himself among the A-listers of that time. It had been speculated for a long time that Meena Kumari and Dharmendra had an intimate relationship in the 1960s.
'Phool Aur Patthar' became the highest-grossing film of 1966 and Dharmendra received his first Filmfare nomination for Best Actor. He also received a Filmfare Best Actor nomination for his first action film 'Mera Gaon, Mera Desh' in 1971. Having played romantic as well as action hero roles, he began to be called as a versatile actor by 1975. His comic timing in comedy films like 'Tum Haseen Main Jawaan' (1970), 'Do Chor' (1972), 'Chupke Chupke' (1975), 'Dillagi' (1978), 'Naukar Biwi Ka' (1983) was also equally appreciated.
His most notable acting performances include 'Satyakam' (1969) with Hrishikesh Mukherjee and 'Sholay' with Amitabh Bachchan, which is listed by Indiatimes as one of the 'Top 25 must see Bollywood films of all times'. They went on to become the most popular jodi on screen, with their characters Jay and Veeru in Sholay. But not many know that it was Dharmendra who had recommended Big B Amitabh Bachchan for the super-hit film.
Dharmendra went on to star in a number of action films between 1976 to 1984, including 'Dharam Veer' (1977), 'Kaatilon Ke Kaatil' (1981), 'Ghazab', 'Rajput', 'Bhagawat',' Main Intequam Loonga' in the year 1982, 'Jaani Dost' (1983), 'Dharam Aur Qanoon', 'Jeene Nahi Doonga', 'Raaj Tilak in the year 1984, 'Hukumat' (1987), etc. He even made a cameo appearance in the 1986 film 'Mohabbat Ki Kasam' along with superstar Rajesh Khanna.
Dharmendra's most successful pairing was with Hema Malini, who later went on to become his wife. The couple played together in many films including Tum Haseen Main Jawaan (1970), Sharafat (1970), Naya Zamana (1971), Raja Jani (1972), Seeta Aur Geeta (1972), Jugnu (1973), Dost (1974), Patthar Aur Paayal (1974), Sholay (1975), Charas (1976), Maa (1976), Chacha Bhatija (1977), Azaad (1978), etc.
According to media reports, Dharmendra was keen to play the character of Thakur Baldev Singh and he was told that Sanjeev Kumar would then play Veeru and get the girl (to be played by Hema Malini). But finally it was Dharmendra who got to romance Hema Malini in the film. The report further stated that Hema Malini had no scenes with Thakur Baldev Singh played by Sanjeev Kumar as she had just then turned down his marriage proposal and didn't want to be anywhere near him.
Dharmendra married Hema Malini in 1979 after converting to Islam to stay married to his previous wife without having to get a divorce, although he later denied any conversion to Islam. The couple has two daughters, Esha Deol and Ahana Deol. Dharmendra's first marriage was to Parkash Kaur at the age of 19 years in 1954. From his first marriage, he has two sons, Sunny Deol and Bobby Deol and two daughters Vijeeta and Ajeeta.
In 1983, Deol set up a production company known as Vijayta Films. Its first film was Betaab, released in 1983, starring his son Sunny Deol as the lead actor in his debut movie. In 1990, he produced the action flick Ghayal, which won seven Filmfare Awards and also the National Award for Best Popular Film Providing Wholesome Entertainment. Dharmendra launched the career of his younger son, Bobby Deol, in 1995 in the film Barsaat.
Dharmendra has more than 300 films to his credit, was nominated 6 times for Filmfare Award but he never won a Best Actor award. It was only a few years ago that he got a Filmfare Lifetime Achievement Award in the year 1997 for his contribution to Indian Cinema and it was presented to him by none other than the aging thespian, Dilip Kumar. In the mid-seventies, Dharmendra was voted one of the most handsome men in the world, a feat only repeated by Salman Khan from Bollywood in 2004. In 2011, he was honoured with the Dada Saheb Phalke Award and in 2012, he was honoured with Padma Bhushan, the third highest civilian award from the Government of India.
Surprisingly, there is a 'Dharmendra-themed' restaurant in New Delhi that celebrates his films, characters and dialogues. The owners are diehard fans of Dharmendra and feel that this was the best way to idolise the star. Dialogues from his various films are scribbled on the walls while the menu is characterised by his screen names. Dharmendra himself inaugurated the restaurant. The mocktails go by the names of Jawani Bhari Gulabo, Veeru Ki Ghutti, Pyaare Mohan Masala Nimbu, etc.
Dharmendra is known as the ultimate 'He-man' of Bollywood. His dialogue, "Kutte main tera khoon pi jaunga" has become synonymous with his name in the industry. The actor has successfully managed to impress audiences in almost all kinds of genre. Dharmendra is not only loved as an action hero, but has also been a popular actor with equally admired comic and romantic roles.