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Danny Denzongpa The Hills Are Calling Him Back

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Ali Peter John


When Danny Denzongpa first joined the Film and Television Institute of India in Pune he was the butt of jokes of his fellow students especially and even his professors who made snide remarks about him. How could he, a Gorkha from Sikkim with a strange name, a stranger face and chinky eyes even dare to think of joining a difficult career in acting? How could he even think of being an actor in Hindi films when he had the features of an alien planet? Why was he wasting his family’s money and his own time? These were just some of the questions they asked when talking about “woh Gorkha chokra” while Danny went about making the best of his two-year course in acting.
It took him very little time to prove how talented he was as an actor who could play the most difficult characters and who had mastered three major languages, Hindi, Urdu and English. He took his colleagues, his principal Professor Roshan Taneja, all the other professors and his colleagues by one big surprise but they where still not sure about what he would do in films. He was no good as a complete hero and no good as the bad man, they all believed. “All he could get were plenty of roles as the Gorkha and the watchman or security man watching our gates when we become stars and build our own bungalows in Juhu and Bandra”, one of his female colleagues who was at the institute with him and who failed miserably as an actress and is an old and haggard house wife in Mumbai today said and every one agreed with her. He had only two very good friends who stood by him through thick and thin, Jaya Bhaduri who tied a ‘rakhi’ round his wrist and made him her brother for life and Romesh Sharma. They were the only ones who kept encouraging him and spurring him on to get better all the time. It was at this time that he also made friends with an entirely unknown actor called Amitabh Bachchan who visited the FTII on the recommendation of K. A. Abbas who had signed him as his leading man in ‘Saat Hindustani’. Amitabh, Jaya, Romesh and Danny became very good friends. Amitabh even fell in love with Jaya who he married some years later. The friendship of these four still continues and only grows stronger.
Danny walked out of the FTII with Jaya, armed with a gold medal and word about his talent had already spread in some film circles. Jaya and Romesh soon found work but Danny faced failure time and again. He was humiliated and insulted and even asked how he could ever imagine being an actor. Then one day a leading producer took pity on him and said he could offer him a job as the Gorkha (watchman) out side his bungalow. That hot afternoon Danny Denzongpa who had nothing and who was a nobody vowed that he would one day build his own bungalow just next to the producer’s bungalow, a palatial bungalow and keep not one but several watchmen at his gate and he kept that vow and has the best bungalow in Juhu named ‘D’Zongrila’ and according to his vow his bungalow is just next to the old bungalow of the producer who had offered him the job of a watchman!.
That is going far into the future of Danny Denzongpa. His talent was first noticed by B. R. Ishara, a maverick director who started his own school of film making with brave and bold subjects, films made on a shoe-string budget and with new actors. Danny was a regular in all his films. Gulzar then cast him as a rowdy college student in his very first film as a director ‘Mere Apne’. Danny was noticed by B.R. Chopra and he took one big risk and cast him as the main villain in ‘Dhund’ with Zeenat Aman and Navin Nischol in the romantic lead. With this one film Danny wiped the fog around his career and zoomed to stardom and was accepted as one of the best villains of all times. Danny was now wanted by all the big filmmakers and was seen as the only match for all the action and he-man heroes. But Danny was a claver actor. He decided to be very selective. Money was not his only need, creative satisfaction was. He can still play some of the most challenging characters but he has been stamped as a great villain, a stamp he finds very difficult to wipe out.
Danny is considered to be a misfit in the industry and he loves it that way. He lives his own kind of life at home in ‘D’Zongrila’ with his wife and two children. And whenever he feels “suffocated” in the atmosphere of Mumbai he packs up his bags and goes away alone, pitches his tent on one of the highest mountains in the Himalayas where he finds his only ‘true friends’, the mountains which give him all the peace that he keeps looking for all the time.


Ø Danny was born in a middle class family in a little town in Sikkim. He was a very popular in his community, a good actor, a good singer a good mime, madly in love with Hindi films and a great fan of Pran, the villain who is his favourite till this day. An astrologer had predicted that he would be a monk.
Ø It was one of his elders who saw the ad of the FTII and asked him to apply. He just took a chance and was selected which was an occasion for his family and community to celebrate. He had never travelled out of the hills off Sikkim, he came down to Pune for the first time.
Ø Life at the FTII was very tough and he often says it could have been much more difficult if he did not have good friends like Jaya Bhaduri and Romesh Sharma.
Ø His struggle in Bombay was much more difficult. His features went against him. He slept in the Mahakali Caves where Subhash Ghai, Javed Akhtar and other strugglers slept and dreamt of success.
Ø The first few roles Danny played helped him to grow into an actor who could work on his own terms and conditions.
Ø He ruled the eighties as the bad man and was thrilled when Pran predicted a very bright future for him. ‘He will not only be a good bad man but I am sure that he will cross all the bridges that I have crossed’ Pran said and Danny went to his house to touch his feet and seek his blessings.
Ø Danny who started as a small time villain rose to become the most popular villain and was pitted against all the leading male stars. He was always at his best when teamed with Amitabh Bachchan, his best friend.
Ø He had his own apartment in Kalumal Estate from where he shifted to ‘D’Zongrila’ where he lived alone with a number of servants of whom he did not even have a count. He once crashed into one of his own glass wall and spent six months at the Nanavati hospital.
Ø He has never been crazy about grabbing films. He has done just one or two big films in a year because he is very particular about his role and his price in which he makes no compromise.
Ø Madan Arora has been his personal secretary ever since he started his career. Arora is also the General Manager of his beer brewery of which the Danzburg brand is the most popular beer in North and East India. Danny hopes to expand his business empire. Incidentally Madan Arora is the father of Karuna who is the right hand woman of Shah Rukh Khan.
Ø Danny directed ‘Phir Wohi Raat’ for N. N. Sippy who also gave the first break to Subhash Ghai, but Danny did not try again because he found it was not for him.
Ø Danny has a song recorded in his voice for ‘Yeh Gulistan Hamara’ starring Dev Anand and Sharmila Tagore, directed by Guru Dutt’s brother, Atmaram. The song was picturised on Johnny Walker. He has never sung professionally again but is very popular as a singer among his close friends.
Ø Danny has always had an aversion for the small screen but he made an exception and played the title film in his friend, Romesh Sharma’s ‘Ajnabee’ which ran for a record five years.
Ø Danny is an unabashed fan of Kishore Kumar and has the entire collection of his songs and films which give him all the satisfaction he needs when he is all alone.
Ø He is forever grateful to Mumbai for what it has done for him but he is now sick of the growing population, operation, the snarling traffic and above all the noise pollution.
Ø Danny is what he calls a ‘home person’. He hates going to parties and events unless very necessary. His best time is the time he spends with his wife and two children.
Ø His ultimate ambition is to give up every thing and go back to the mountains which he feels are always calling him and spending the rest of his life among them, as a monk.
Ø His son is now being trained as an actor by Barry John, the guru of Shah Rukh Khan and is expected to be launched sometime soon.

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