At 75, Dharmendra makes a comeback

Indian actors Sunny Deol (L), Bobby Deol (R) pose with their father Dharmendra on the set of Indian Bollywood upcoming comedy film “Yamla Pagla Deewana” in Mumbai. (AFP)

They say the older you get, the younger you feel. In legendary star Dharmendra's case, that's totally true: the actor celebrates his 75th birthday today, but believes he's in the prime of his life.

"After 50, they say the reel of life gets fast, but I am now a 75-year-old boy," he told the Times of India.

"Fifty years has gone just like that," he started, "but I have had exceptional luck. I was a school teacher's son who wanted to be an actor simply because it is human nature to want to be loved, liked and admired. I just wanted a Fiat car, a flat, and to be seen in film posters. Today, fans call me from Tunisia and Nigeria!"

He has reason to love life. It is also his 50th year in Bollywood and he's celebrating in typical style, with a new film starring alongside sons Sunny and Bobby Deol.

"Yamla Pagla Deewana" releases on January 14. A romantic action comedy in true Bollywood style, the story begins in Canada before travelling to Banaras and making its way to Punjab, showcasing the great Indian joint family along the way. The film has been produced by Nitin Manmohan and Samir Karnik, and directed by Karnik.

"This is more like a true story, it has punches of emotion that will bring tears to people's eyes... this is my experience of 50 years telling me," he said.

The last time the three actors got together on screen was in 2007, when they made "Apne", an emotional film with a sports background.

We take a look back at Dharmendra's life:

Early years

Born Dharmendra Singh Deol to a Jatt Sikh family in the Kapurthala district of India's Punjab state, he spent his early life at village Sahnewal, Ludhiana. His father was a school headmaster in the village of Lalton Ludhiana where the family later moved.

Film and political career

Since he boarded the Frontier Mail to Mumbai to make his luck as an actor, he has made over 200 Hindi-language films over five decades.

At the peak of his film career he was considered the most handsome actor in Bollywood and was a matinée idol, guaranteeing record box-office turnouts.

In 1997 he received the Filmfare Lifetime Achievement Award for his contribution to Hindi cinema and is now universally regarded as the undisputed "Action King" of Hindi cinema, having starred in numerous action blockbusters and is greatly considered a living legend.

Like many Bollywood actors, he had a brief spell in politics, as a member of the 14th Lok Sabha of India representing Bikaner constituency in Rajasthan for India's rightwing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Elected in 2004, he rarely attended the Parliament when the house was in session, preferring to spend the time shooting for movies or doing farm-work at his farm house.

Early years
Starting with Arjun Hingorani's "Dil Bhi Tera Hum Bhi Tere" (1960) - the year he won the Filmfare new talent award - he worked in several romantic black and white films in the early 1960s, hitting solo hero stardom with "Phool Aur Patthar" (1966), the highest-grossing film of that year.


He starred with several leading actresses at the beginning of his career. He worked with Nutan in "Soorat Aur Seerat" (1962) and "Bandini" (1963), Mala Sinha in "Anpadh" (1962) and "Pooja Ke Phool" (1964), Saira Banu in "Shaadi" (1962) and "Ayee Milan Ki Bela" (1964) and with Meena Kumari in "Main Bhi Ladki Hoon" (1964), Kaajal (1965), "Poornima" (1965) and "Phool Aur Paththar" (1966).

While he also worked with others such as Sharmila Tagore, Mumtaz, Asha Parekh, and Zeenat Aman, he was most successfully paired opposite Hema Malini, who went on to become his future wife. They formed a hit pair delivering phenomenal hits like, "Raja Jani", "Seeta Aur Geeta", "Sharafat", "Tum Haseen Main Jawaan", "Jugnu", "Dost", "Charas", "Maa", "Chacha Bhatija", "Azaad", "Teesri Aankh" and "Sholay".

Love me, love my son

Dharmendra also has the distinction of appearing in quite a few films opposite actresses who have also starred opposite his son Sunny Deol. Notable amongst those are Sridevi in "Naaka Bandi", Jaya Prada in "Elaan-E-Jung", Dimple Kapadia in "Shehzaade", Amrita Singh in "Sachai Ki Taaqat", Kimi Katkar in "Humlaa" and Poonam Dhillon in "Sone Pe Suhaaga".

The seventies to the nineties

Dharmendra went on to star in numerous successful Bollywood films in the 1970s and 80s like "Pratigya", "Dharam Veer", "Charas", "Azaad", "Katilon Ke Kaatil", "Ghazab", "Bhagavat", "Dharam Aur Kanoon", "Hukumat", "Watan Ke Rakhwale", "Aag Hi Aag", "Ghulami", "Hathyar" and "Loha".

At the start of his career, he was usually cast as a romantic hero and from 1974 onwards as an action hero.

He has also periodically done films in his native tongue of Punjabi, starring in "Do Sher" (1974), "Dukh Bhanjan Tera Naam" (1974), "Teri Meri Ik Jindri" (1975), "Putt Jattan De" (1982) and "Qurbani Jatt Di" (1990).

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, he continued to appear in many more films playing leading roles or supporting roles.

He has worked with various directors, each having different styles in their film-making, like Bimal Roy and Mohan Kumar in drama films, Yash Chopra and Raghunath Jhalani in romance films, Raj Khosla, Ramesh Sippy, Arjun Hingorani, Anil Sharma and Rajkumar Santoshi in action films and Hrishikesh Mukherjee, Basu Chatterji and Rajkumar Kohli in comedy films.

Biggest success

Dharmendra reached his peak with Bollywood's biggest blockbuster of all time, "Sholay" (1975), where he appeared as the inimitable Veeru. It went on to become one of the biggest hits in the history of Hindi cinema and is frequently cited among the most watchable Bollywood movies of all time.


After a few years' hiatus from acting since the early 2000s, he is reappearing in films as a character actor. His 2007 films "Life in a Metro" and "Apne" were both successful at the box office. In the latter, he appears with both his sons, Sunny and Bobby for the first time. His other release was "Johnny Gaddaar", where he played a villain.

Filmfare award

While receiving the award from Dilip Kumar and his wife Saira Banu, Dharmendra became emotional and remarked that he never received any Filmfare award in the Best Actor category despite having worked in so many successful films and nearly a hundred popular movies. He was glad that his contributions had finally been recognised. Speaking on the occasion Dilip Kumar commented, "Whenever I get to meet with God Almighty I will set before Him my only complaint - 'Why did You not make me as handsome as Dharmendra?'".

(The first Filmfare Award he was given was in 1991, as producer for "Ghayal", which was awarded Best Film.)

Wife or mistress?

Dharmendra is notorious for having maintained two relationships at same time. His first marriage was to Prakash Kaur at the age of 19 in 1954. His second marriage took place with actress Hema Malini. They are said to have fallen in love on the set of "Sholay" (1975) although they had made films together before. He married Hema while he was still married to his first wife.

Amitabh Bachchan has revealed that on the sets of Sholay, Dharmendra paid the light boys Rs20 each time to disturb a scene where he was teaching Hema Malini how to try a revolver, spending more than Rs2000 in the process - a fortune in the seventies!

Dharmendra was also romantically involved with his Phool Aur Patthar co-star Meena Kumari.


He is father of notable actors Sunny Deol, Bobby Deol (from his first marriage, their sisters are Vijeta and Ajeeta), as well as Esha and Ahana Deol, from his second marriage.

As a producer, he launched both of his sons in films: Sunny Deol in "Betaab" (1983) and Bobby Deol in "Barsaat" (1995) as well as his nephew Abhay Deol in "Socha Na Tha" (2005).