Bollywood film-makers, actors reminisce their most memorable moments with the Champion – Dara Singh.
Amrit Sagar (filmmaker, grandson of Ramanand Sagar who cast Dara Singh as Hanuman in the long-running Ramayan): “I must have been 12 when Ramayan was made by my grandfather(Ramanand Sagar) and father(Moti Sagar). A set had been erected in Umargaon where the serial was shot round the clock. My entire family had moved to Umargaon along with the cast and crew of the serial.My first memory of Daraji was of a very tall, imposing and yes, strong man. He WAS Hanuman. He became the face of Hanuman on all calendar art. And not just because of his physique.Daraji was truly a Ram Bhakt, God’s own bandaa….kind gentle and good to everyone. That’s how I remember him. I was a very sporty and a skinny kind.And Dara Singhji was dismayed to see me. ‘Tu itna dubla kyon hai…ande kyon nahin khata, dhoodh kyon nahin peeta?’ He would urge me to pile on the kilos with eggs and milk. Daraji looked after the entire team of Ramayan at Umargaon. I was too young to appreciate him fully. But my mother was a big a Dara Singh fan. She was filled with anecdotes about his days as wrestler and an actor. We kids were really quite awed by Dara Singhji.”
Nikhil Advani: “When we needed an aging though ageless Romeo to woo Sushma Seth in Kal Ho Na Ho we came up with many options. It was Yash Chopraji who suggested Dara Singhji’s name. Now I know why. Both of them share a common trait of never letting the child within them never fade away. It’s that quality of Punajabiyat, I guess. I remember shooting the song ‘Pretty Woman’ with Dara Singhji on the streets of New York. He was so enthusiastic and so much in character and yet so much his own person. I think he did only one Hindi film after mine and that was Imtiaz Ali’s Jab We Met. Daraji as Kareena’s grandfather portrayed the classic Punjabi patriarch. When Shahid stood in front of Daraji he actually looked diminished. Daraji had an imposing personality without trying to be big and strong. I wonder why he was never given a lifetime achievement award! He had achieved so much during his life. Among his achievements is the fact that he gave the film industry one of its most gorgeous heroines Mumtaz.”
Dharmendra: “I’ve lost a dear brother and a friend. I was at the hospital with the family a day before he passed away. Spent time with his wife and family, just holding their hands. We all knew the end was near and it was only a matter of time.We just wanted him to go peacefully.Daraji was a truly kind and large-heared soul. My family and his family are very close. In fact I am very fond of Bhabhiji (Mrs Dara Singh) as well. Daraji also played my two sons’ father in our home production Dillagi. Bobby and Daraji’s son Vindoo are very close friends. So it’s like losing someone in the family. Though he was ailing and we all knew the end was near it’s still a heartbreaking experience when someone you love goes away. Jaana to hum sab ko hai lekin taqleef to hoti hai. I want the family to know I am with them in this hour of bereavement.”
Moti Sagar: “My father the late Ramanand Sagar and I co-directed Ramayan. Dara Singhji played Hanuman.We chose him because we needed an actor with the moral and physical stature. Daraji was as tall in spirit as he was in his physical height. After our serial he became the face of Hanuman for all times. It’s not just about suiting the role. The actor has to have the goodness and the sincerity. Daraji had both. His level of dedication had to be seen to be believed.The mouth prosthetic that he used to play Hanuman would keep him off food for the entire day sometimes for 16-17 hours at a stretch.While playing Hanuman he couldn’t eat a morsel. And he could only sip water with a straw. Daraji went through this routine for close to two years without any complaint. His stardom as Hanuman and as a wrestler and an actor was staggering. Daraji was the Original Action Hero.In his heydays when he did films like Rustom-e-Hind his popularity equalled Amitabh Bachchan’s. In those days wrestling was a major entertainment. Daraji was popular in every corner of the country. You could go to any village and there would a fan following for this phenomenal star. When he worked as Hanuman in our Ramayan his popularity went to another level. People on the road fell to the ground when they saw him.For all his popularity I’ve never across a more humble down-to-earth soul.The going away of such a soul is a loss for humanity.”
Sunil Bohra:“Dara Singhji started his career as an actor with my production house Bohra Brothers. His initial films Hercules and Thief Of Baghdad were both super-hits. He was very close to my grandfather (producer) Sree Ram Bohra. I had met Daraji a number of times. A wonderful humanbeing. That’s what we all say when someone dies. But in his case it’s the truth.He was the most humble superstar in Bollywood.”
Eijaaz Khan: “I was lucky to work with Dara Singhji in one of my most popular serials Kya Hoga Nimmo Ka. I was so much in awe of him when I met him that I was tongue-tied. He was strikingly handsome. Even at his age he was absolutely fit. He inquired about my work-out schedules and my diet. He advised me to add pure ghee to my diet. He also advised me to do 100 push-ups and sit-ups every day. To this day I follow the prescription laid down by Daraji. Everyone probably knows him as the Strong Man Of India.But to us on the sets of our serial he was the kindest warmest gentleman, a mentor and father-figure.He was always patient, always smiling no matter how wrong things went during the shooting. He was full of stories and had an awesome sense of humour.RIP, Daraji.”
Mumtaz: “I am here in London, and I just heard about Daraji’s going away. Sad. He was not only my first leading man.We worked together as a lead pair first in Faulad, then went on to do at least 10 films together—I didn’t keep count.He was also a very dear rishtedaar. His brother was married to my sister Mallika.So Daraji was more than a co-star. A dear man and a truly kind soul. I remember I was only 13 when we did our first film together . Did he help me feel comfortable? On the contrary cinema was a new medium to him. I had already done films as a child artiste. So I guess I was more experienced(laughs). I am self-taught actress. Daraji and I did what was considered in those times to be B-grade films. Nowadays action films are very much the ‘in’ thing in the Hindi film industry. Back then they were called stunt films, and looked down upon.So although he had a terrific personality, a great physique and a big fan-following Daraji was not really taken seriously as an actor. Neither for that matter was I for a long time.So in a way we were both sailing in the same boat when we worked together. Working with Daraji was always a whole lot of fun. Though I don’t recall all the films we did together—it was so long ago!–I always felt very comfortable working with him. It’s sad to see someone whom you’ve known closely for years pass away. But that’s life. I am going to be 65 this month. And I’m proud of announcing it. Why run away from age and mortality? They’re a fact of life. I waged a long and intense battle with cancer myself. I had gone into a coma. But I emerged a winner.
– Subhash K Jha