LEGENDARY actor Dharmendra has had an extraordinary and an amazing acting career that has lasted nearly 60 years.

This week, the iconic star of countless classics turns a year older on December 8 and celebrates his 83rd birthday. Eastern Eye marked the special occasion by looking back at his extraordinary film life through his own words, especially those unforgettable early days that helped shape him.

  • Cinema interested me from my childhood. I remember going to theatres to watch films of my idols Motilal and Dilip Kumar. Watching them perform, I also desired to become an actor.
  •  Dilip Kumar has always been my idol and when I was young, I wanted to do the kind of films he did. I also loved the style of James Dean.
  • My father was a schoolteacher. When I confided to my mother that I wanted to become an actor, initially she was shocked. I was fascinated by cinema. When she realised how much it meant to me, she came around. She asked me to send applications to directors in Bombay – she was so innocent she thought you could just apply to become a star. But strangely enough, God was listening to her prayers because that’s how things happened. Filmfare magazine announced a talent search and after a year I was shortlisted for a screen test and from then there was no looking back.
  • I came to Mumbai alone, with nothing but my confidence to make it.
  • I was shortlisted in the All India Talent Search by Guru Dutt and Bimal Roy and I will always be thankful to them. Whatever I am today is because of them.
  • I was fortunate enough to be spotted by no less a director than Bimal Roy in a Filmfare Talent Contest at Mehboob Studios in 1958. I was thrilled.
  • At one time, I grew frustrated and wanted to return home. Manoj Kumar prevented me from returning, asked me to be patient and inspired me as much as he could. Till date, I have not forgotten this unique gesture of Manno who later rose to heights as an actor, writer and director of substance.
  • I still remember that, Dev Anand, who was a top star then, personally invited me to his make-up room, shared his lunch with me and inspired me saying that he saw a lot of potential in me.
  • Arjun Hingorani introduced me as a hero in Dil Bhi Tera, Hum Bhi Tere in 1960. He was a patient and hard-working director who relied on my talent and gave me ample scope to improve my performances even if a number of takes were required.
  • Manoj Kumar and Shashi Kapoor, my beloved contemporaries, were also with me in trying their luck in films. It was very difficult for us to get our breaks and I still have fond memories of three of us sitting on a bench at Filmistan Studios, waiting for our individual breaks. We suffered a lot of humiliation and insults but were determined to go ahead.
  • My talents were rightly utilised by stalwarts like Phani Majumdar,
    Bimal Roy, Chetan Anand and Abrar Alvi later in films like Akash Deep, Bandini, Haqeeqat and Baharen Phir Bhi Ayegi. Hrishikesh Mukherjee extracted the best out of me in films like Anupama, Majhli Didi and Satyakam.
  • Remembering my early days as an actor, I will be ungrateful if I don’t mention the contributions of scriptwriter Nabendu Ghosh, who was instrumental in developing the actor in me.
  • I had done a shirtless scene in Phool Aur Patthar and forgotten about it. Somebody found out that I was the first person to go bare-chested on screen. But at that time, I remember it evoked a ‘hawww…’ kind of response.
  • Then there was Dharam Veer where I was bare-chested and also wore shorts. People started calling me He-Man and Garam Dharam after that.
  • I am very romantic. I have a romance with life. There is a misconception that a He-Man is always strong and cannot be romantic. When a He-Man romances, nobody can do better than him.
  •  Vinod Khanna was a good friend of mine. We worked together in Mera Gaon Mera Desh and he worked so well that he outshone me. I’ll tell you one interesting thing, in the whole industry at that time we were the only two actors who used to do stunts ourselves. We never used any duplicates. Whenever we had any fight scene, it was like a real fight.
  • I have worked in almost all genres, be it romance or action. But my favourite genre has to be comedy. Getting the right comic timing gives you a different high.
    u My sons have had a different life from mine, but they have the same passion and are not greedy. We ask for only what we need, and a lot of what we need is love. We are men who think with our hearts.
  • I haven’t done any drama in my life. I’ve been honest and giving. We haven’t left our roots, nor we ever will. My parents taught me this and I’ve taught my children. To respect everyone and be polite. We are blessed to be like this.
  • Every era has its own beauty. The sentiments of the past were something else. The audience was different, the atmosphere was different, and the stories were different. Then, we had golden jubilees.
  • Acting is like my beloved – sometimes we get away from each other, but we can’t stay apart for too long. This is the only way I know to live, by being in the hearts of people. This has become a habit now which is hard to break.
  • I don’t have any regrets when it comes to my career. If I get to live another life, I would want to be a hero again. Even today, I have girls tweeting to me saying, ‘We used to have a crush on you and so on’. Everyone likes to be admired, liked and loved. There is no bigger high than that.
  • I just asked God to make me a successful actor who would have a Fiat, a small flat, and my posters would be all across the country. God has been so kind to me that
    he has always kept exceeding my expectations. I want to live this life all over again. I do not think I have any complaints.