Shah Rukh Khan
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On the eve of the release of Ekk Albela, a biopic on Bhagwan,Dada, we decided to decode the enigma of the Indian Ginger Rogers in a body a wrestler.
Bhagwan Abhaji Palav also known as Bhagwan Dada was born in Amravati, Maharashtra in 1913 and began his working career in a textile mill as a labourer. An ace comic actor who had a love for wrestling, Bhagwan Dada rose to fame with the 1951 Hindi film Albela, which became the third-highest grossing film of its time.
He began his foray in Indian Cinema through silent films which included small bit part roles. However, his first film of notable significance was a movie called Criminal.His signature dance moves soon became a sensation of his time and was perhaps the first to combine different dance forms such as Rumba, Samba, Disco, Rock-N-Roll and other dance forms to Hindi cinema. He was among the few male stars to break into an inner elite circle of actors/dancers which was dominated by female dancers.
After winning over people with his acting and dancing skills, Bhagwan Dada made his directorial debut in a film called Bahadur Kisan. This was co-directed with Chandrarao in 1938. Post Bahadur Kisan, he went on to direct a number of films in the next decade where he also directed a Tamil film, Vana Mohini, starring M. K. Radha and Thavamani Devi which became quite popular and shot him into prominence.
A much remembered and talked about incident from Bhagwan Dada’s life is that of a “Slap”. This incident takes us back to 1942, in the midst of shooting a particular scene for a film where Bhagawan Dada was to enact a slap on Lalita Pawar. This, unfortunately, did not pan out well and ended with Lalita accidently being slapped very hard by Bhagwan. After the incident, Lalita was left with facial paralysis and a burst left eye vein. Three years of treatment later, Lalita was left with a defective eye.
One of Bhagwan Dada’s greatest works was a social film called Albela which supposedly was an idea originally given by Raj Kapoor. The film featured Bhagwan Dada himself & Geeta Bali as the lead and the music was composed by C. Ramchandra whose musical contributions played a major role in the movie achieving legendary status. The story has it that C. Ramachandra and Bhagwan were discussing the film at a Churchgate restaurant in Mumbai and C. Ramachandra promised Bhagwan Dada to give music for the film "for the love of it." And sure enough, he gave some of the biggest hits for “Albela”.
Albela became a huge hit as it struck a chord with the common man not only due to the story of the film but also because of the songs, and people thronged to the cinemas to watch the film. Songs from Saregama’s repertoire of the film such as “Shola jo bhadke, dil mera dhadke”, “Bholi surat dil ke khote, naam bade aur darshan chhote“ still continue to be heard even today.
After Albela, Bhagwan had everything he had ever dreamt of — money, fame and friends. Bhagwan Dada lived a lavish life in a 25 room sea facing bungalow in Juhu and had a fleet of seven cars (one for each day of the week). There were subsequent films such as Jhamela & La’bela but they all failed to achieve the same level of box office success and endearment with the masses. He was never really able to re-create the same magic of Albela.
He later took up small roles in multiple films some of which were lost in obscurity. Unfortunately, his quest for success in films took a toll on his life and he lost all his wealth and ended up living in a chawl in Dadar, Mumbai. Most of Bhagwan's associates left him in his time of need, apart from C. Ramchandra, Om Prakash and lyricist Rajinder Krishan, who continued to meet him even in his chawl.
Bhagwan Dada, the first dancing superstar of Indian Cinema died of a heart attack in 2002, at the age of 89. His story is that of a young man driven by the sheer passion to succeed. He humoured us, made us shed a tear or two, made things look so simple. His banter was incessant and passion unstoppable, as was his daily date with the bottle. He loved the bottle and wanted to die by it. A friend of his once quipped, "Even if we sold the bottles he consumed, we would have made enough money to stay in a bungalow in Bandra."
At the time of his death, the then Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee in his condolence message aptly stated that Bhagwan Dada through his unique style of acting and dancing had inspired a whole generation of comedians in Hindi cinema. Bhagwan Dada is still remembered for his signature dance moves which every major star right from Amitabh Bachchan, Govinda, Mithun Chakraborty and Rishi Kapoor have been known to draw inspiration from for their own dance moves.
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