Tuesday, March 28th, 2023 05:05:27

Patriotism Redefined Manoj Kumar

Updated: February 2, 2013 10:51 am

On the occasion of the Republic Day, patriotic films and actors come to one’s mind. And here, it is worth recalling an interesting episode.

If his autobiography ever gets written, it will begin with report about a missing person called Harikrishan Goswami knocking at the door of actor Manoj Kumar in search of his own self. Unfortunately, he is always shooed away by the hefty guard in front of an imposing gate of Bungalow No.47 Jai Hind Society, Road No. 11, Juhu. But the young man, now literally in tattered clothes with a cloth bag hanging by his left shoulder while under the right one he has some plastic files with dry, decaying brown papers peeking out: his birth and school leaving certificates, his university degree, old family pictures etc. Despite rejections which have become a daily routine he is pricked by his conscience that’s telling him that the huge bungalow in Mumbai’s Juhu Parle Scheme belongs to him but has now been usurped by the actor who has now also become a huge star, earning the “Bharat” for epithet for his portrail in many patriotic films such as Shahid & Upkar.

The text is in Hindi, and the narrative awaits expansion for the past two decades or more, ever since he hung up his acting gloves not only because he couldn’t sustain declining years, it was because of a recurring back ache coupled with a lot of weight gain and a slur in the voice. The bungalow was raised to the ground some years back to pave way for imposing twin towers. Apartment No. 501 in the B wing is now occupied by the retired actor-producer-director-editor-lyricist-scriptwriter actor and his wife, Shashi an epitome of geniality. At his peak, he seemed to be a matchless genius in the history of Indian cinema enjoying creative control on so many disciplines of film making. Unlike many other actor-directors of his or the previous generation—for there has been none since him—he was aware of his limitations as an actor and devised a deadpan manner of dialogue delivery. As a director he looked for and chose angles that heighten perception of individual scenes as evident in Roti Kapada aur Makaan, Purab Paschim and Shor. After which the inevitable rigor mortis set in almost of all departments of creative expression in film making.

His name and persona became synonymous with patriotism in the decade of 1965-75, unaffected by the drastic changes affecting Hindi cinema. A time when dame luck abandoned the arrogant Rajesh Khanna and turned its eyes on a thin, tall, awkward-looking, long-legged Amitabh Bachchan who was to rewrite Bollywood history for the next four decades single-handedly both as an angry young man, and later as the most dependable character actor ever. But even in this period of transition one filmmaker who refused to change his course of thinking or style of film making, it was Manoj Kumar.

But this phase came after a long struggle, and the role befitting a junior artiste. This refugee boy from Abbottabad (now in Pakistan), who graduated from capital’s Hindu College arrived at the Bombay Central Station on October 9, 1956, inspired by Dilip Kumar’s performance in Shabnam, after which he took his screen name and began rounds of various studios, befriending and encouraging other dreamy-eyed young men like Dharmendra and Shashi Kapoor. Patience rewards the practitioner. His brief encounter with Ashok Kumar whose words of encouragement became his guiding spirit. His first exposure was as an old beggar in Fashion (1957) followed by the now forgotten Panchayat, Sahara, and Chand etc during the next few years before he got a role befitting his face and age in Kaanch Ki Gudiya opposite Sayeeda Khan (1960). Although the film flopped, the actor succeeded by bagging two more films in quick succession, Reshmi Rumaal, Piya Milan Ki Aas and Picnic. All three licked the dust, but not the actor whose bar went up with Vijay Bhatt’s Haryali aur Raasta (62) opposite big heroine Mala Sinha (the title song in Mukesh’s sonorous voice) still rings in one’s ears.

Ten more of his starrers over the next three years encountered hostile box office. But since luck favours the brave even after successive flops he found the bohemian director who knew exactly what to do with his face. It was Raj Khosla and the film opposite Sadhna was Who Kaun Thi, a whodunit (64). There was no looking back now for the young man until his limbs and muscles gave way a decade later, but not really before he had acted in another 20 films, Dus Numbari (76) being the last opposite Hema Malini. He tried to make a desperate comeback with the ambitious patriotic star-studded home production, Kranti (81) with Dilip Kumar, Hema Malini, Shashi Kapoor, Shatrughan Sinha, Parveen Babi, Sarika, Prem Chopra. It seemed to be lacking in the magic of words and in the process of handling such a formidable cast his screenplay went way off the mark. It was now full stop, or almost. He should have hung in his gloves.

What he had done till mid-seventies was enviable, he was down and out and should have quit gracefully after the phenomenal success of Dus Numbari with Hema Malini (76) because the next six starrers both as an actor and director, over the next decade: Shirdi ke Sai Baba (77), Kranti (81) Kalyug aur Ramayan (87—one recalls colleague Khalid Mohammed’s review in which he described his appearance as “Hanuman in a red bow tie polluting the Bombay air) Santosh, Clerk (87), Maidan-e-Jung (95) turned out to be blots in an otherwise magical career, including opportunities to rub shoulders with the likes of his idol Dilip Kumar in Aadmi (68) and Raj Kapoor in Mera Naam Joker (70). He mustered courage again and made another patriotic drama Jai Hind: the Pride (99) dealing with militancy in Kashmir by re-re-launching with younger son, Kunal and pitted him against Rishi Kapoor, Manisha Koirala, Shilpa Shirodkar,Raveena Tandon, Monish Behl, Pran, Amrish Puri, Prem Chopra. It spelt disaster from the word go, and indeed that’s how it turned out to be.

Now almost bed-ridden, aspirations continue to soar as he is ready with two more scripts, Made in India and Judgment, waiting for Shah Rukh Khan’s acquiesce. One is reminded of a line from one’s own long forgotten poem which read: ‘Hope and hope till hopes relinquish and meet a dead end’. Every so often he starts reading aloud scenes from either of the two scripts that otherwise just appear loose leafs. One had that vision in mind during the last visit to him some months ago. This time, however, determined to take along the 75-year-old Harikrishan Goswami generally lying in a corner at the turn of the road in tatters, refusing all financial help. But he was missing, and no one really seemed to have any idea where he had gone.

Someone later informed that he had finally sneaked into the building. When asked, Manoj Kumar with undyed hair and six-day-old-stubble merely stared at the vacant space in front of him.

By Suresh Kohli

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