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Celebrating Sunil Dutt’s Birthday

A Look At A Life That Was As Disturbing As Glorious And A Man Whose Cinema Was As Entertaining As Message-Driven

Among us, there are very few who have not seen the hilarious classic Padosan (1968). Padosan is essentially a war of wits involving Master Pillai, played perfectly by Mehmood and Guru, essayed by the multi-talented Kishore Kumar. But the film belongs to Bhola, the Bumbling Fool, madly in love with Bindu (Saira Banu). He is played to endearing sincerity by Sunil Dutt, who would have been 84 today if he were alive. Simpleton Bhola’s attempts to woo his ladylove is rip-roaringly comic – a landmark in Indian cinema.

The late Dutt might not be known to this generation like incarcerated son Sanjay Dutt or some of his more famous contemporaries such as Dilip Kumar or Guru Dutt, but he has a special place in Bollywood. Just like Rahul Dravid in cricket, he was Bollywood’s Mr Dependable, giving a string of hits and acting in films that mixed entertainment with social commentary. Dutt had a style of his own, a image of his own and with Padosan we discovered that his comic timing was as impeccable as his tragic persona. He was pitted against the likes of Mehmood and Kishore Kumar but to this day, people fondly remember him for his iconic character Bhola.

A Victim Of Partition

Dutt’s own life was in far opposition to Bhola’s. Off screen, he was a serious man. His family shifted to India during the dark days of Partition. First Lucknow and then Mumbai beckoned him where he became a popular radio personality with Radio Ceylon. His movie break came with Railway Platform but he achieved stardom with Mother India, where he played the angry son of Nargis – later to be his wife. Legend has it that he rescued Nargis from a deadly fire on the sets of Mother India and this helped him win her love. Soon, they were married. Dutt gave a number of hits in succession. Movies like Sadhna, Sujata, Khandan, Mujhen Jeene Do along with Humraaz, Waqt, Gumrah are some of his biggest hits. His collaboration with B.R. Chopra was well-known.

Do You Know He Is Mentioned In Guinness Book of World Records?

Dutt himself created a record of sorts when he produced, directed and acted in Yaadein, which has entered the record books for having him as the sole actor in the entire movie. It earned him a mention in the Guinness Book of World Records.

A Man Not Afraid To Work In Women-Oriented Films

Sunil Dutt’s career graph saw him play an array of roles during his days of stardom. Often he was the wayward son, at times the righteous one, often embroiled in family saga, often a dacoit and at others, a man with intensely grey shades. He doled out strong performances in women-centric movies and was among the few stars who would easily work in a script where women were given more importance. In Bimal Roy’s Sujata, he plays a man who falls in love with a low-caste woman (Nutan). Sujata is a take on the blistering caste-system that marred India’s social progress and though it focused entirely on the character of Sujata, Dutt’s act won him accolades.

The Days Of Yash Chopra’s Pioneering Waqt

Apart from Sujata, his role in Gumrah is somewhat similar. He plays Mala Sinha’s lover. This movie, incidentally, inspired the 2005 movie Bewaafa that had Anil Kapoor, Akshay Kumar and Kareena Kapoor among others. Dutt also became part of several multi-starrers but among them Waqt was a standout hit. Waqt’s storyline later became a model for many filmmakers, especially the lost-and-found expert Manmohan Desai and it can be seen in Amar Akbar Anthony and other multi starrers. Another notable Dutt work is Reshma Aur Shera, which has a Shakespearean treatment and as some critics have noted, it’s a twist to the Romeo-Juliet story. A story of two warring clans and the love that the son and daughter of these two clans have, Reshma Aur Shera is now considered a classic by many. It also has Amitabh Bachchan in a pivotal role.

Withdrawal From The Limelight

Once his son Sanjay Dutt was launched as a star, Dutt Senior slowly made a transition to character actors playing roles of patriarch in several multi-starrers. To be honest, he was not as lucky as some of his contemporaries like Dilip Kumar who had better roles at their disposal. But nobody would dispute his sincerity as a performer. In Parampara and Khsatriya, he commanded a strong screen presence with the younger generation of Bollywood – the Khans and the Deols. His last screen appearance was in Munnabhai MBBS opposite son Sanjay.

The Man And His Personal Life

Dutt was known for his affable nature. A Good Samaritan, he started a number of charity organizations with wife Nargis. He was also involved in politics and was a Member of Parliament as well as a minister in the Manmohan Singh government. Dutt didn’t receive the star-status with the later generation like many of his contemporaries.

Off-screen, as some observed, he was a reticent man, content with the way he led his life, seeing his son achieved the stardom that he couldn’t. Though personal problems rattled his later life, he was still the same affable self, working on several humanitarian projects, trying to bring peace at the time of Bombay riots, working for slum dwellers and also traveling to far-off places to propagate his idea of secularity.

He was a good actor, a major star, a legend and one of the finest human beings – not necessarily in that order.

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