Bollywood’s Original Six-Pack Hero: Dara Singh
MUMBAI, (IANS) – His life seems right out of a Bollywood potboiler. Pulled out of school and put to work on his family’s agricultural land, he is married off young but frustrated at the bickering between wife and mother, he goes abroad to make a career. In a few short years, he is not only a celebrity sportsman and a popular film star but a cultural icon.
This was the life of Deedar Singh Randhawa, or Dara Singh, as we better know him.
Capable of tossing villains around without breaking a sweat, stopping airplanes with his bare hands, and chasing criminals to the moon in his onscreen persona, and in real life, boasting of a long bout as an unbeaten wrestler in both the amateur and professional circuits, and once lifting up a portly Raj Kapoor in his trademark “airplane” spin move in public, his very name was synonymous with sheer strength and masculinity for generations of Indians.
But Dara Singh’s journey from a farmhand to cultural icon – especially when he became the “popular face” of two of the strongest Indian mythological heroes (Hanuman and Bheem), as well as many other strong men or folkloric heroes, was by no means smooth or even assured. It was raw determination, unflinching commitment, and a true champion’s trademark grit that made him what we know him as.
Born in a Jat Sikh family on November 19 in Dharmuchak village of Amritsar district in the (undivided) Punjab in 1928, his childhood was not very comfortable.
Most importantly, he was not born a strongman and was liable to be bullied, until he – like the Hanuman he would so memorably portray on both the big and small screen – was made aware of his strength, as per his autobiography.
With his first marriage a fiasco, he decided to go overseas in 1947. His journey to Singapore had an unpromising start as he swerved from his moral compass on the sea voyage but recanted and made amends in time. In Singapore in 1947, he worked in a drum-manufacturing mill and began his wrestling training.
Back home, after a few years, he competed in the ‘Rustam-e-Hind’ tournament in 1954 and won and in 1959, won the Commonwealth Championship.
Amid this, he also drifted into films, debuting with a cameo in no less than Dilip Kumar-Madhubala’s “Jane Eyre” inspired “Sangdil” and was then seen as a wrestler in the Kishore Kumar-Vyjanthimala starrer “Pehli Jhalak”.
From 1963, he did several B-grade films. Most of them (16) were with actress Mumtaz, who with her winsome charms made a successful pairing with his machoism.
In the process, Dara Singh also went on to play several heroes of Indian and global folklore – the Biblical strongman in “Samson”, the jungle hero in “Tarzan comes to Delhi” and Alexander the Great among others.
On the other hand, he began his foray into depicting the strongmen demigods of Hindu mythology and religion by playing Bheem in Babubhai Mistry’s “Mahabharat”. He possibly played the wind god’s son for the first time in “Veer Bajrang” and most famously in Ramanand Sagar’s iconic TV serial “Ramayan” and then in B.R. Chopra’s TV series “Mahabharat” and finally in TV series “Lav Kush” (1997).
And then, in Bollywood, he is known for his cameo as the circus strongman in Raj Kapoor’s magnum opus “Mera Naam Joker” (1970) – Kapoor, to whom he was close. Dara Singh was also close to Balraj Sahni and convinced him to act in his “Nanak Dukhiya Sub Sansar” (1970) – one of two Punjabi films this talented actor did in his entire career.
Retiring from wrestling in 1983, he was active till his last, continuing to act in films and TV serials for the nearly next three decades with highlights being Shah Rukh Khan’s boisterous and young at heart uncle in “Kal Ho Na Ho” (2003) and Kareena Kapoor’s grandfather in “Jab We Met” (2007).
He also served a term as a nominated Rajya Sabha member (2003-09) – where he was known for asking questions on education.
He died in 2012, aged 83.