Born Dharminder Singh Deol on 8 December 1935 in Nasrali, a peaceful village in Ludhiana district, Punjab, to schoolteacher Kewal Kishan Singh and Satwant Kaur, his family had its roots in the nearby less-than-a-dot-on-the-map village of Dangon, near Pakhowal, Ludhiana. Dharminder Singh spent his early life in the village of Sahnewal and studied at Government Senior Secondary School at Lalton Kalan in Ludhiana district, where his father was the headmaster. He later did his Intermediate from Ramgarhia College, Phagwara, in 1952. (Photo courtesy: mid-day archives)
In picture: An undated picture of Dharmendra with wife and frequent co-star Hema Malini. Both have starred together in several notable Bollywood films of the 1970s and 1980s most notably 'Tum Haseen Mein Jawan', 'Jugnu', 'The Burning Train' among many others
This multitude of places associated with him, as he grew into his teenage years, became the raison d'etre for the many differences of views about his roots. Never mind if, today, Dharminder Singh, known to the world as Dharmendra (meaning the God of religion), belongs to not just the entire country, but perhaps, to the globe. Wherever Indian cinema is watched and cherished, he is, simply, one of the biggest and longest-lasting stellar entities, belonging to what is now the biggest film industry in the world.
In picture: Dharmendra with Sharmila Tagore. Both have worked together in 10 Bollywood films out of which, 'Chupke Chupke', 'Satyakam', 'Ek Mahal Ho Sapno Ka' are some honourable mentions
Since he was a simple boy from Punjab who wanted to set out to enter the big, bad world of films, do you know how had his family reacted?
In picture: A candid image of Dharmendra with Shatrughan Sinha and Dilip Kumar
Dharmendra told IANS, "My father wasn't happy because he was not too sure of the outcome, and of what would happen if I met with failure. My mother, however, was always supportive."
In picture: Dharmendra with Vyjayanthimala. The 1969 film 'Pyar Hi Pyar' is the only time they worked together
So why did the young Dharam have stardust in his eyes? Candidly, he said, "I was in awe of the stars like Dilip (Kumar) saab, Raj (Kapoor) saab and even heroines like Nargis, Madhubala and Vyjayanthimala. But my ambitions were quite restricted! My big dream and my simple prayer to God was my pictures being present everywhere, just like those of my idols."
In picture: Dharmendra with sons Sunny Deol (R), Bobby Deol and nephew Abhay Deol
Dharmendra was not at all bothered whether he earned no money, a little money, or a lot! He said, "My goal was very simple - one flat and one Fiat (car)!"
In picture: An old picture of a young Dharmendra holding a photo of Dara Singh
Dharmendra candidly said, "When I came to Bombay - that's what Mumbai was known as then - I only had my dreams. I was an untutored villager, with no idea of acting. I wasn't even aware [that] I was good-looking until I began getting movie offers because of my good looks."
In picture: Dharmendra with his frequent co-star and now wife Hema Malini
"When I arrived here, I was in fact shocked by the lifestyles of the stars - it was far different from what I had imagined back in Punjab!," revealed Dharmendra in the interview.
In picture: Dharmendra snapped in action in this still from one of his earlier films
So, what had actually stirred the pot and made the lad wish to get into films? Years ago, Dharmendra had gone with his uncle for a relative's wedding to a nearby town. He was about twelve or thirteen years old at the time, studying in class eight, when he got to watch (the result of a promise made by the uncle as an incentive to attend the wedding) a film called Shaheed at the Minerva cinema in Ludhiana. And that did it!
Suddenly, life changed for the young boy. The images from the film began to haunt Dharmendra. Nothing else was of any interest.
Dharmendra's mother continued to tell the boy fairy tales and inspirational stories; the grocer in the village continued his spell of ghost stories, but young Dharam was no longer the avid listener. He believed in the boy Ram from the film, who grew up to be a freedom fighter enacted by the famous Dilip Kumar. He felt Ram and he were brothers.
Dharmendra began to spend a lot of time on his own, with thoughts of the little boy (interestingly played by one Sashi Kapur, who had nothing to do with Shashi Kapoor!) from Shaheed for 'company'. He felt that he knew and understood him, and he certainly wanted to be like him and grow up to be - in an interesting interplay of reel and real - Dilip Kumar!
Years passed and Dharam grew into a strapping young man. He even joined an American drilling company as what he now calls 'a mechanic'.
Around this time, it is said Dharam Singh had his first drink in the company of his American colleagues from the drilling company. In 1954, he married Prakash Kaur.
But the ambitions of becoming an actor continued to seethe within him. Dharmendra's visits to Ludhiana city to watch films became more and more frequent.
Dharam found these to-and-fro journeys tedious, but everything was worth it just to watch the great actors he had come to adore and wanted to emulate.
Dharmendra made his acting debut in Hindi film industry in the year 1960 with Arjun Hingorani's 'Dil Bhi Tera Hum Bhi Tere'. He was 25 then. Yesteryear actress Meena Kumar greatly helped Dharmendra get established as one of Bollywood's A-listers in his early career.
Dharmendra's first action film was 'Phool Aur Patthar' in 1966 in which he was cast as solo lead. Although initally known for playing romantic and action roles, Dharmendra became known as a versatile actor for his coming timing in films like 'Tum Haseen Main Jawan', 'Do Chor', 'Chupke Chupke' among others.
Dharmendra periodically made films in his native tongue Punjabi, starring in 'Kankan De Ole' (1970), 'Do Sher' (1974), 'Dukh Bhanjan Tera Naam' (1974), 'Teri Meri Ik Jindri' (1975), 'Putt Jattan De' (1982) and 'Qurbani Jatt Di' (1990).
Dharmendra's starring roles in action films earned him the nicknames 'Action King' and 'He-Man'.
Dharmendra received the Filmfare Lifetime Achievement Award for his contribution to Hindi cinema in 1997. He was honoured with the Padma Bhushan in 2012 by the Government of India.
On the personal front, Dharmendra's first marriage was to Parkash Kaur, who he wed at age 19 in 1954. They have sons actors Sunny Deol, Bobby Deol and two daughters Vijeeta and Ajeeta.
Dharmendra and Hema Malini married in 1979. They have two daughters Esha Deol, who became a popular Bollywood actress and Ahana Deol.
Here's wishing Dharmendra a very happy birthday!
As veteran Bollywood actor Dharmendra turns 83 today, here is a collection of some of his rare pictures celebrating his life and career...
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