A Reluctant Hero
Dara Singh was a wrestler, actor, director and producer, all rolled into one. RAUF AHMED remembers a remarkable man-mountain with a gentle spirit DARA SINGH
HIS OFFICIAL website describes Dara Singh as “folklore”, as someone who “represented the Indian idea of masculinity”. It’s a lot to live up to but wrestler, writer, actor, director, producer Dara Singh came as close as any could.
Born in 1928 in Dharmuchak, a small village near Amritsar in Punjab, Deedar Singh Randhawa burst onto the collective consciousness of the nation as Dara Singh, a nigh on invincible wrestler. His imposing build made Singh a natural, born for pehelwani, for grappling in the dirt. His power resounded in international arenas too, winning him the Commonwealth title for India in 1959 and the World Wrestling Championship in 1968. In more than 500 fights as a professional wrestler, he remained undefeated.
In the early stages of his wrestling career, Singh had no illusions about a career in films. Movie lore has it that when a filmmaker approached Singh to play the hero in a film, the wrestler asked, “Hero toh main ban jaoonga, lekin acting kaun karega?” A sanguine producer put Singh at ease saying, “Woh sab hum dekh lenge!” Singh told the producer he would charge 1,000 per day, which was by then his daily fee for wrestling! Singh’s Hindustani may have had a heavy Punjabi ring, but nobody gave a damn so long as Singh filled the frame with his im- mense presence. Hindi cinema’s first ever action superstar flaunted his eight-pack abs decades before Bollywood began drooling over six packs!
For all his brawn, Singh made his debut as an actor in a tearjerker of sorts, RC Talwar’s Sangdil, a loose adaptation of Charlotte Bronte’s classic Jane Eyre of all things. The film starred Madhubala and Dilip Kumar. Despite a memorable score from then new composer Sajjad Husain, with that timeless number ‘ Yeh hawa yeh raat yeh chandni…’ by Talat Mehmood, Sangdil was a disaster at the box office.
Dara Singh’s film career got a real fillip with Faulad, where he was cast opposite a perky Mumtaz. It was her first film in a lead role. Its success led to the two being paired in 16 films, 10 of which were hits. They became the highest-paid star pairing in B-grade films, with Singh charging a reported 4.5 lakh per film. Even in old age, Singh’s famous 54inch chest was broad enough to play Hanuman.
His popularity transcended classes, regions and religions, and his fans rooted for him unconditionally. Dara Singh had the comfort in death of knowing he was loved by a nation, not necessarily for his films or even his wrestling, but for his character, for his plain, affectless spirit. . Ahmed is a senior film journalist and former editor of Filmfare and Screen