Surviving over five decades in an industry as competitive as Bollywood is no mean feat. But one of the Hindi cinema’s longest lasting superstars Dharmendra has done so with grace and humility. The 82-year-old legend, who has consistently worked decades upon decades, is now gearing up for his new film Yamla Pagla Deewana: Phir Se, which also stars his actor sons Sunny Deol and Bobby Deol. The comic-caper is the third instalment of his popular franchise Yamla Pagla Deewana and arrives in cinemas on 31st August. Our Mumbai correspondent, Mohnish Singh, met the acting great a couple of days back at a sea-side hotel and talked about a whole lot of things, ranging from his life before movies happened and how the cinema has changed over the years. Excerpts…
It’s nice to see you again on the silver screen with Yamla Pagla Deewana: Phir Se.
Thank you so much.
Do you miss movies when you are not working?
I don’t feel I was away. I feel I am here only. It was my biggest dream to act in films. These sort of cinematic dreams very rarely get fulfilled. Lucky are those whose dreams are fulfilled. It is my nature to be loved, to be liked and to be admired. I think this is the only place where you get the maximum amount of love.
What drew you towards cinema in the first place?
Let me tell you very frankly that I did not come to Bollywood to earn fame and money. One fine day, I saw Dilip Kumar Saab’s film Shaheed (1948) and it stayed with me for the longest time. I could not stop thinking about where these beautiful people live? I thought I belonged to them and that I should go to them. That film left a lasting impression on me and I started thinking about movies and all, so I came to Mumbai.
Was it easy to shift to Mumbai?
It was not easy for me to leave everything behind and come to Mumbai. I was the eldest son in the family, so naturally, there were a lot of responsibilities on me. But I analyzed myself. I weighed whether or not I was cut for it. Thankfully, I was. I always believed acting is reaction. I am sitting in front of you right now, you are not acting; you are reacting to me. I am reacting to you. An emotional person like me reacts speedily.
You did not have any background in films, yet you went on to become a force to reckon with in Indian cinema…
I never went to any acting school. I landed in Mumbai directly from my village. I am the son of the soil. God has gifted me with all the emotions that an actor requires to act. I am witty. I am romantic. I am naughty. I have anger in me. So, when all these aspects combined together, I became an actor.
You have spent over five decades in the Hindi film industry. What do you have to say about today’s cinema?
According to me, today’s generation is very much to the point. They are very good. Bollywood people are very smart. They keep changing themselves in accordance with the changing taste of the audience. They serve you what you like.
Do you watch today’s films?
Yes, I do. There are some very good actors. Ranbir Kapoor and Ranveer Singh are very fine actors. When Ranveer walks with a sword in his hand, he looks amazing.
Could you please talk about any recent film that you really liked?
I recently saw Aamir Khan’s Dangal (2016). I could not see it in theatres as I was at my farm. I watched it on my iPad. I cried while watching the film, especially when the younger sister walks up to the elder one and says that you are not respecting our father the way you used to. It touched my heart. Today’s makers are making very good films. There is nothing like that they don’t make good films anymore.
You have always said that you never believed in being a part of any race…
See, we are just because of our audiences. You know how I am. I never wanted to be No. 1 or No. 2. Had that been my sole purpose, I would have done that in the 60s, 70s and even in the 80s. But participating in any race was never my intention. You people coined terms like ‘He-man’ and ‘Garam-Dharam’ and I accepted them. I did not force them. But there were people who wanted to do everything possible to grab maximum eyeballs.
I am a labourer actor. I used to work in multiple shifts, on multiple films for multiple hours.
How, do you think, have you survived in this competitive industry for so long?
Acting is not my profession; it is my love. I am in love with acting. And love keeps increasing; it never diminishes. Fame is not constant and so is money. No matter how much you earn throughout your life, it’s not going to stay with you forever. But love always stays beside you.
Do you think the kind of stardom you and your contemporises enjoyed is impossible for newer actors to enjoy?
Every move of many new actors nowadays is just to attract attention, to come on the camera. Whatever they do is very pretentious. I can gather lakhs of people in no time, if I intend to. There won’t be any place to put a camera. But I won’t do that because managing them is not easy. To respond to their emotions emotionally is not easy. If I won’t reciprocate their emotions, I would feel bad.
Stardom has become a weekly phenomenon now. Today’s stars lack the quality which keeps you in one’s heart forever. I cannot forget Dilip Kumar Saab even today. I cannot forget Raj (Kapoor) Saab. They are eternal. They will be remembered till eternity. That era was a different era. Those personalities, those performances are rare to find today. During that era, an actor was required to have a pleasant personality. Today, anyone can become an actor if he or she acts well. Handsome is as handsome does. It has been proved now.