Immortalised by his dance
He was neither handsome nor was he a great thespian. But audience loved Bhagwan, who passed away recently.
Bhagwan Dada... his fans adored him.
WAY BACK in 1952, I watched ``Albela" at a theatre in Cochin. The packed housecontinuously cheered the hit numbers like ``Shola jo bhadke" and ``O Betaji." More than 35 years later, I saw the same film at one of its revivals in a Mumbai theatre.
The reaction was the same. The audience stood on their chairs, danced at the aisles, whistled and cheered. Who says trends in Hindi film music change periodically? Not if the music score was like that of ``Albela." Bhagwan, the hero, who was also the producer-director of the film, was short, bulky and no Rudolph Valentino.
The story and screenplay could have been taken out of his own life, the struggles of a young man who was determined to make it in show business. ``Albela" had to contend with some outstanding musicals of that era - ``Anarkali," ``Awara," ``Aah," ``Aan" and so on. These films were made by big banners and boasted of an impressive star caste. Yet ``Albela" which outscored them all, had just one star, the svelte and slim Geeta Bali. What could have prompted her to play heroine to Bhagwan? Perhaps, her sixth sense told her that the film would be a major hit. Bhagwan Dada who was 89 died in Mumbai last Monday. He had been ill for several years and the final years were difficult.
Once the proud owner of bungalows, a fleet of cars, Bhagwan lived in a dirty chawl in the working class area of Parel. In his heyday, he was always surrounded by hundreds of chamchas but there was hardly anyone at his bedside when the end came. Several times during the past five years, he turned down this writer's request for an inteview. Perhaps, he did not want the media to intrude into his privacy and expose his degradation. After ``Albela" he had lived like a king. But his other films like ``Jhamela" and ``Labela" flopped and the industry thrust him aside.
He was reduced to play bit roles in all sorts of films. But his dancing technique never died. Amitabh Bachchan revived it in most of his films. It consisted of halt and move steps with hands swaying alternately forward and backward. Amitabh confessed that with his extra-long legs, he had always found dancing difficult. ``It was after I watched Bhagwan Dada dancing in that typical style of his, that I decided to dance like him,'' explained the super star.
Dance director Farah Khan referred to the rolling of eyes, the slight ``jhatka" and those little ``matkas" which were the trademarks of Bhagwan dada style of dancning.
They went well with the jazzy tunes like ``Shola jo bhadke, dil mera dhadke." Stunt actor, dancing hero, then bit player, that was the story of Bhagwan, who must have acted in more than 400 films, mostly Hindi, some Marathi. Son of a mill worker, he was dazzled by the stage and the theatre, and like Bhola in ``Albela" sought stardom and achieved it after a long, hard struggle. Mind you, he was neither handsome nor a great thespian. But audiences loved him because, like them, he played the ``fall guy" in many films and ultimately made it good. ike Raj Kapoor, he had an ear for music. C. Ramchandra was his close friend and had scored the music for dozens of his films under the names, Anna Saheb and Ram Chitalkar.
But came ``Albela", Ramchandra used his own name. It was said, he did the music score for love and also sang quite a few songs in the film. The orchestration was brilliant. Who can forget ``O Betaji, arre O Babuji" where the background music was created from kitchen utensils. Bhagwan was the common man's hero. The fans were more faithful to him than his so-called friends, who sucked up to him during his days of glory and turned their backs when he fell on bad times. That was the theme of many of his films. Dada is no more but ``Albela" and its songs will live forever.
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