Born to Balwant Kaur and Surat Singh Randhawa on November 19, 1928, in a village in Amritsar, Punjab, Dara Singh was encouraged to take up wrestling due to his imposing physique and was trained in 'pehelwani', an Indian style of wrestling. He became a star wrestler - and not just on Indian turf (All photos: mid-day archives)
Dara Singh then started wrestling when invited by the kings of Indian princely states. Singh also showed his wrestling prowess during fairs and carnivals.
During his glorious career, Dara Singh fought against many world-class wrestlers like Zbysko and Lou Thesz and defeated several of them. Together with Yukon Erich, he also won the Canadian Open Tag Team Championship. The last wrestling tournament he took part in was held in New Delhi in 1983.
Dara Singh's tryst with cinema began way back in 1952 with a film called The World, in which he played the role of a wrestler. Also in the same year, he was offered a role in a Dilip Kumar-Madhubala starrer called Sangdil.
Then in Pehli Jhalak, which had the singer-actor Kishore Kumar as a hero, Dara Singh once again essayed the role of a wrestler in a dream sequence with the comedian, Om Prakash. Pehli Jhalak released in 1955, the year Dara Singh Randhawa turned 27.
By the year 1956, Dara Singh had already done more than four films, but had it easy so far. He was cast in films because of his superb physique and standing as the world champion - Rustam-e-Hind.
But cinema was and continues to be a serious business, with its own pitfalls. Dara had his first brush with the challenges involving performance in 1956, when faced with the legendary comedian, Bhagwan Dada. It happened like this — in the film, Dara had a one-line dialogue and on the day of the shoot, the wrestler was all perked up and ready to face the camera, when the director called out, 'And action!'.
'Chhod do! Jeh kya kar rahe ho?' (Let go! What are you doing?) Dara had indeed delivered a Hindi dialogue, but in a thick Punjabi accent! The director screamed, 'Cut!' and after hollering several times in the same fashion, he gave up and moved on to the next scene, saying that they'd get him to dub the line later. Thereafter, the canning of the wrestling scene had proceeded apace and was completed on the same day.
But Dara lost his sleep that night. He couldn't fathom where he'd gone wrong. Going over the day's events, he said to Ajit Singh, his friend and fellow-wrestler, "I spoke the line correctly. Then why did the director not okay the take?"
Ajit let out a long yawn and replied, "Dara, go to sleep. We are wrestlers and we don't care about diction and dialogues." The next day while dubbing, Dara discovered what the problem was. That simple, one-line dialogue was not so simple after all. Dara in his Punjabi-trained tongue had repeatedly enunciated the 'yeh' as 'jeh'.
Dara, not one to give up on anything so easily, began rehearsing the line and kept repeating, "Yeh kya kar rahe ho? Yeh kya kar rahe ho..." umpteen times, and then said confidently, "Okay, I got it. Let's record." The recordist asked him to begin, and an enthusiastic Dara faced the mike. "Chhod do! Jeh kya kar rahe ho?"
Oh no! He thought. Why can't I get it right in the final take? This went on repeatedly, until finally Dara just gave up thinking, 'who cares? Acting is not my profession, nor do I want to become a famous actor.' Finally, a dubbing artist was called to dub his 'troublesome' one-liner!
In his over five-decade-long acting journey, he featured in over 140 films, including classics such as Anand and Mera Naam Joker. There was Dara Singh the wrestler, Dara Singh, the hero of 'B' category action films such as Tarzan Comes to Delhi and Samson in the 1950s and 1960s, Dara Singh, the friendly 'pehelwan' in Anand, and then Dara Singh who played Hanuman with great effect in the TV blockbusters Ramayan and Mahabharat.
He was last seen in the Kareena Kapoor-Shahid Kapoor starrer Jab We Met as the stern, lovable 'Daarji' who ruled over a noisy, close-knit Sikh family. Quite like the real-life man, who intimidated people with his 6' 2" frame, but soon won them over with his outgoing nature and warmth.
Dara Singh won the Professional Indian Wrestling Championship in 1953, and took away the Commonwealth Wrestling Championship trophy in 1959 by defeating Canadian champion George Godianko.
A recipient of titles like Rustam-E-Punjab (1966) and Rustam-E-Hind (1978), Dara Singh retired from active wrestling in 1983. In 1989, he published his autobiography "Meri Atmakatha" in Punjabi, and seven years later was inducted into the Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Fame.
Dara Singh gave viewers a glimpse of his humorous side through shows like Hadd Kar Di and Kya Hoga Nimmo Ka. He became a nominated member of the Rajya Sabha from August 2003 to August 2009. Dara Singh also took on the role of a writer, director and producer. In 1978, he launched Dara Studio, a self-contained mini-city with all facilities within the compound, in Punjab's Mohali district.
Dara Singh breathed his last on July 12, 2012. He was 83.
You will be truly missed Dara ji, a man who defined machismo!
On the death anniversary of the legendary wrestler-turned-actor Dara Singh, we pay him a tribute with a collection of heart-warming pictures and his lesser known facts!
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