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

Tehelka - - SPORT -

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

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