Dharam And His Battle With The Bottle
-Ali Peter John
It all started just a sip, which grew into a few drops, then a glass and ultimately, like he told me once, “logo ne chammach se pee hogi,glassoo mein pee hogi,baltiyon se bhi pee hogi,lekin maine toh drumon (drums) ke hisaab se pee hai,maine toh mere saare khandhan ke liye pee hain,yahan tak ki main samundar bhi pee gaya”.
Dharamendra doesn’t exactly remember when he started drinking. He was a teetotaler even when he was working as a driller in Saniwal in the district of Phagwara. His only intoxication those days was watching Hindi films for which he traveled, cycled or walked for miles to see a film, especially if it was a Dilip Kumar film and it was after watching Dilip Kumar in “Jughnu” that he decided to be ‘another Dilip Kumar’ and saw dreams and asked himself whether he could be someone like Dilip Kumar every day. It was this intoxication that finally led him to run away from home and landed in Bombay, not so much to make it as an actor but to have one glimpse of the actor who is has started hero-worshiping.
He had to face a very grim struggle often went to sleep hungry and one occasion, he was so desperate that he mixed some powder in a glass of water and made a paste which he swallowed. Little did he know that the powder was ‘Isabhghol’,a porhative. There are many other stories about his heart-breaking struggle which had one-time even tempted him to run away from Bombay, but was stopped by his friend and fellow-struggler, Manoj Kumar and by the encouragement of Dev Anand who just saw him in a crowd outside the studio and called out to him and told him that his place was not the crowd and that he was destined to be a very big star.
Dharamendra stayed back and within two months, he had signed big films like “Dil Bhi Tera Hum Bhi Tere”,“Bandani” and “Anpadh”.
It was during this time that he met a large-hearted, but an alcoholic journalist called L.P Rao, who took a great liking for him and tried to promote him as best as he could. And the other man who kept him going was Gupta ji who had his own hotel in the compound of Ranjit Studio and who helped all strugglers without caring about whether they could pay or not.
One evening Dharamendra told his journalist friend L.P Rao about his dream to see Dilip Kumar. Rao told him that Dilip Kumar’s sister was working with him at Filmfare and promised Dharam that he would talk to the sister and arrange a meeting for him. The sister called up her famous brother and she told him about Dharam’s dream. The brother asked her to send a struggling Dharam to his bungalow the same evening. Dharamendra couldn’t believe it and he walked all the way from Santa Cruz where he was living with some friends from Punjab who were working for the railways and had their own quarters. That evening and till midnight Dharam was the only man sitting with Dilip Kumar in his own bungalow (now demolished) and Dharam couldn’t believe that the man who he considered ‘God’ was serving him with the best ‘English liquor’ and was feeding him with kind of food he could only dream of. Dharamendra finally walked out passed midnight and was moved when the legend himself came to see him off at the gate and then went back to bring a warm coat and handed it over to him, saying that the coat would protect him from the cold. That night was one the most glorious nights for Dharam, he was drunked in every way and he walked alone all the way to Santa Cruz. That coat is still one of Dharam’s most priceless thing in his life and still finds a prominent face in his room.
Success came to him with a bang with the release of “Phool Aur Patthar” in which he was cast with the tradegy queen, Meena Kumari. It was the first that a hero was seen bare-chested. The film ran for more than fifty weeks all-over and Dharam was declared the He-Man hero and he was ranked among the ten most handsome men in the world.
There was no stopping him now and he could break all rules and create his own rules. He was doing more than fifteen films with the ‘dream girl'(Hema Malini) and they fell in love and broke all customs and got married even though Dharam had his first wife, Prakash and children, Sunny, Bobby and a daughter.
He had already taken to drinking and there was no one to stop him. He and Hema had an arrangement by which they could have the own homes and live separately. Hema never visited his house, but had given him permission to visit her and there two daughters, Esha and Ahaana, only if he was not drunk.
Soon, the stories of Dharam’s being drunk spread all-over the industry and here are some instances when his drinking got the better of him.
It happened some time in 1975 . The entire industry had come out on the streets of Bombay to collect funds for a cause. It was shocking for many, but Dharam was high even before the rally to start. He had marked out two journalists and his targets. He told his friends and even me that he would bash them up before the rally could end. The two journalists were Krishna of the Blitz weekly and Devyani Shaubal (Devi) of the Star and Style film magazine as they had been very cruel and nasty to him and his wife, Hema. At 5:00 pm the rally was coming to an end and suddenly there was a huge commotion. Dharam had smashed the head of Krishna and had chased Devyani to hid herself in the women’s washroom at The Turf Club at Mahalaxmi. The police had taken some action against Dharam, but it all ended with a compromise in which Dharam had pay Krishna twenty-five thousand rupees as compensation. The journalists never crossed swords with Dharam again.
Dharam’s drinking seemed to have gripped him completely. He needed drinks of any kind anywhere. He was once shooting in a forest and needed his drinks desperately, but there were no drinks around. He asked his Man Friday Bhanwar Singh to go into the most remote villages and look for the kind of ‘Tharra’ they had and he was happy when Bhanwar Singh brought him two or three bottles of the ‘Tharra’.
Another wild scene. He had never recieved any award in his entire career, till Filmfare decided to present him with its Lifetime Achievement Award. What he did, what he said and the way he behaved when he was on stage is now a part of history. This act of his, however came in his way for all the future awards he was to receive, but he didn’t care.
There were any number of films and scenes which he did while he was under the influence of alcohol. He however broke all records when he did an entire film called “Main Intaqaam Lunga” when he was drunked, a fact that is confirmed by the noted director from the South, T.Rama Rao, who holds a record of directing Rekha in nine Hindi films without any hassles and who is now eighty and has quit films for good.
I had my own personal experiences with him. He even gave me a name and a relationship and called me ‘mera darubhai’. I had once written about that meeting he had with Dilip Kumar. In one of the lines, I had written that Dharamendra cried while describing the meeting. He called me at eleven in the morning and hurled me with every possible abuse and repeated one line which said, “Dharamendra crying Dharamendra crying,Dharamendra kabhi rota hai?Tune abhi tak meri dosti aur pyar dekha hai ab tu meri dushmani aur nafrat dekh”. I knew he was drunked, but I did not want to argue with him or confront him. I was literally scared to anywhere near him for the next six months. One morning, I decided to face him come what may. He saw me, stopped his car, got out and embraced and hugged me before a large crowd and then asked one of his men to get some coconut water and we celebrated our friendship again and we also celebrated our giving up drinking. He had given up and do had I.
A week later, I was doing an assignment which made me take stars like Amitabh Bachchan, Sunil Dutt and Dharam to places where they could spread happiness and goodwill. I decided to take Dharam to the psychiatric ward of the Holy Spirit Hospital where alcoholics and drug addicts were treated. Dharam agreed and when he got late, he took the steering of the car from his driver and drove through some unknown ways and we reached the ward ten o’clock in the night. All the patients who had gone to bed woke up when he saw him and he gave them a very soothing talk about the evils of drinking and his last sentence was, “agar mere jaisa bewda sharab chod sakta hai, toh aap log kyun nahi chod sakte?”…
I don’t know what effect his talk had on them, but I know it had a very strong impact on me. I had discovered a new Dharamendra that night.
We talk about his poetry these days and the days with alcohol and the battle with the bottle has become a bad dream of the past.
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