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A Rich Personal Tribute to My Dear Dharamji On His 85th Birthday

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Today is  Dharamji (Dharmendra) ‘s 85th birthday. What is admirable about the man is that he continues to be as amicable and friendly as he was when he had embarked on his illustrious career almost six decades ago.  BY Jyothi Venkatesh

Dharmendra birthday special by Jyothi venkateshIn my 48 year old career as a film and TV journalist, I have seen, met and interviewed several stars but if there is one who I look upon to with respect as well as admiration, it is one and only Dharam Paaji, not just because he has been part of films I have enjoyed right since my childhood like Phool Aur Paththar, Satyakam, Chupke Chupke, Sujata, Razia Sultan, Chacha Bhatija, Mera Gaon Mera Desh, Gazab, Jugnu, Yaadon Ki Baraat, Raja Jaani, Jeevan Mrityu , Naya Zamana, Pyar Hi Pyaar, Kal Aaj Aur Kal, and of course the last but not the least Sholay, but also because , believe it or not, it was actually Dharamji who was instrumental in making me blossom into a good journalist having started my career by interviewing him way back 45 years ago on the sets of his film Chacha Bhatija directed by Manmohan Desai at R.K. Studios.

 

Its an interesting encounter with one and only Dharamji

Dharmendra birthday special by Jyothi venkatesh

How I met Dharamji for the interview makes interesting reading. I had taken half a day leave from my job at Hotel Oberoi Sheraton at Nariman Point where I was working as an Accounts Supervisor and hopping into the 92 Route bus which used to (and still) start from Flora Fountain and go all the way to Trombay, with a halt at R.K. Studios. It used to be a two hour long trip. My real mission was not to interview Dharmendar but Randhir Kapoor who was like a superstar with successful film after film like Rampur Ka Laxman, Dharam Karam etc and I had actually written down the questions that I had to ask Daboo as Randhir Kapoor was affectionately being called by his friends. I reached R.K. Studios and it was not difficult at all to reach the sets where Dabboo was shooting for Manmohan Desai’s film Chacha Bhatija. I did not at all know that he was shooting with Dharmendra for the film that day.

Dharmendra birthday special by Jyothi venkateshOutside the sets, Dabboo was seated with his cronies joking with one another in between the shots. I gingerly went up to Dabboo and said Hi Dabboo, I am Jyothi Venkatesh and I want to interview you. Dabboo looked at me and asked me where I had come from. Innocently, like a fool, I blurted out that I had come all the way from Hotel Oberoi Sheraton. When Dabboo chided me for addressing him as Dabboo and told me that he wanted me to address him as Randhir Kapoor saab, I was scared and told him that I had even prepared the questions that I wanted to ask him and showed him the notebook that I had carried. In those days, journalists used to hop from set to set  and did not have tape recorders to do the interviews. Randhir Kapoor looked at me from top to toe and shouted at me angrily, “What do you think I am- Rakesh Pandey or Anil Dhawan that you come to me for my interview without even fixing up an appointment with my secretary”? And I ran for my life towards the exit of the studio when Dharmendra, who was over hearing our conversation, beckoned me to come to him.

Who was ‘not’ a Dharamendra fan in his era? No One!

Dharmendra birthday special by Jyothi venkateshI was actually overjoyed because Dharmendra was my favorite star in those days and literally ran up to him. In those days, there were no bodyguards around a star or for that matter PR guys or managers who hovered around him. When Dharmendra asked me why I had come to R.K. Studios in Chembur, the fan in me could not contain myself and I showed him my autograph book and asked him for his autograph. While Dharmendra was signing with a flourish, I gingerly asked him for his secretary’s number and he asked me in turn why I needed his secretary’s number, I told him that I wanted to interview him. I explained to him that I was his fan but a magazine had commissioned me to interview him. When he asked me for which parchi did I want to interview him, I could not follow what he wanted to know. When I asked him what he meant by parchi , he guffawed and said Magzine. I told him the name of the magazine was Dream Star.

“Kal Jo Karna Hai aaj hi kar daalo” Dharmendra

Dharmendra birthday special by Jyothi venkateshWhen the kind hearted Dharmendra realized that I was a novice film journalist, he asked Manmohan Desai how long the tea break was going to last and Manji told him that he was free for at least half an hour , he sprang on his feet and asked me to follow him to his makeup room at the end of the R.K. Studios while I pleaded with him to give his secretary’s number so I could fix up the appointment with him and come after preparing the questions to be asked to him. He said Kal Jo Karna hain aaj hi kar daalo and entered the makeup room while I was waiting outside. He took his seat and then told him tashreef rakhiye janaab. I did not follow what he had told me in chaste Urdu. I asked him aap ne kya bola and he retorted maine kaha aap tashreef rakhiye and showed the sofa opposite him. And guess what I did out of fear? I just muttered tashreef tashreef and removed my handbag from my shoulder and placed it on the sofa. Dharamji had a hearty laugh and realized that I did not know Urdu and told me aap seat mein baitiye. I sat down for my first ever major star interview in Bombay, though I was not at all prepared.

Dharmendra birthday special by Jyothi venkateshNo star on his own right would condescend to be kind enough today to help a novice journalist to conduct his interview but Dharamji was made of different mitti Dharamji told me. Bachchey pehla sawal poochchna aap ko film industry mein break kaise mila. I asked him and he said Mujhe sabse pehle Arjun Hingoranisaahabne apni film Dil Bhi Tere Hum Bhi Tere mein mujhe break diya as a hero. Again I felt shy and scared at the same time and remained silent and Dharamji continued to guide me gently. Ask me puthar, aap ko acting karne ke waqt kaisa laga? Thpough I was tempted to read my pre- prepared questions for Randhir Kapoor , Dharamji prevented me from looking by taking away the notebook and asked me to ask impromptu questions on my own and there has been no looking back since then.

A special bond with Mr. Dharamji

Dharmendra birthday special by Jyothi venkateshI am sure Dharamji still remembers the faux pas that I did with my lack of knowledge of Urdu or for that matter film journalism then though I am sure Dabboo would have completely forgotten all about it though I still think that it was a kind of ragging that he did on a fresher like me, which actually helped me to blossom into a good journalist. Since those good old days, I have had several occasions to interview Dharamji and hopefully I think I have also made him proud, whether it was at the outdoor location shooting of his film Kartavya at Pen or Farishtay at Pahalgam in Kashmir or for that matter his film TADA at Chandivali Studios in Mumbai.

Dharmendra birthday special by Jyothi venkateshToday I can proudly state that I am a student of Dharamji as far as journalism is concerned though later on I had interviewed the best of stars in my career stretching as many as 48 years in film journalism whether it was Raj Kapoor, Amitabh Bachchan, Rajesh Khanna and Dilip Kumar in Bollywood or MGR, Sivaji Ganeshan or for that matter Gemini Ganesh in Kollywood or Dada Kondke and Ashok Saraf in Marathi film industry or Uttam Kumar and Satyajit Ray in Tollywood , Mammootty, Madhoo and Mohanlal in Malayalam films or  Chiranjeevi, Mohan Babu and even N.T. Rama Rao in Telugu films or last but not the least Ambarish or Rajkumar in Kannada films.

I wish Dharamji a happy and prosperous 85th birthday today and also pray that big stars like him show some kind of empathy towards new journalists and help them the way Dharamji did to me when I embarked on my new career.

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