The Tribune - Spectrum

Sunday, May 14, 2000

What a way to take the last bow
By Janki Dass

THE tragic, but mysterious, death of Priya Rajvansh reminds me of the very sad death of the past cine celebrities.

Most of the noted film personalities amass so much wealth that even the millionaires and top industrialists envy their prosperity. Such a notion has been further confirmed when film personalities who died during the last few years like the late Sanjeev Kumar, Smita Patil, Mohammed Rafi, Rajendra Kishan (lyricist), Shankar (music director) Jeevan and Kishore Kumar bequeathed massive wealth to their inheritors. But, how far from truth this popular notion was years back can be gauged if one goes deep into the last days of the movie Moghuls who ruled the roost earlier. During the last fifty years, Kanhaiyalal worked in innumerable films, he died some time back in Delhi, leaving behind his wife, two sons and four daughters, and hardly any property. Even the body of the celebrated artiste could not be brought to Bombay, his home.

Hiralal too, enriched the Indian film world and entertained millions over four decades, not only as a character artiste but also as a hero and villain. Yet he died leaving no bank balance.

Famous fighter Shetty, the tall baldy with Herculean strength, died penniless. Today, his wife Vinodini is giving tuitions to look after her two sons and two daughters.

  Cuckoo, the star dancer of yester-years died a slow lingering death, penniless and unattended. During the same period, character artiste Randhir, who died after having given 35 years to the industry where besides doing character roles in about 250 films, he also worked a hero. His large family is, at present, passing through hard times.

Raj Mehra the veteran artiste who won many awards died penniless. Rehman, the hero of many a jubilee hit during the fifties and the sixties, died in a club, leaving his family high and dry.

Well-known writer Dhruv Chatterji with several screen stories to his credit, died a lonely death. Not dissimilar has been the case with another distinguished writer Rajendra Gaur.

The tragic deaths of at least two of our great artistes Chandar Mohan and Mazhar Khan, are still remembered with anguish, Chandar Mohan, the all time "super actor", who brought back the Moghul glory by ‘living’ the role of Emperor Jahangir in the memorable film Pukar, died senseless. The cost of his funeral was raised by charity.

Mazhar Khan, another screen legend, whose performance in many a film, especially V. Shantaram’s Padosi became a household word, died leaving behind starving kids. Sardar Chandulal Shah, the boss of Ranjit Studios, who made 123 films (a world record) is known to have spent of Rs 2 crore on racing in a single day, in early forties. The maker of such land, marks as Tan Sen, Shadi, Humlog and Jogin sank down to a slow death at Harkisondas Hospital in Bombay. But when Shree Ram Bohra then President of IMPPA and the Chairman of film industry. Charitable trust, offered him financial help, he refused to accept the offer. After all, he was a Sardar.

Director S.U. Sunny made four big budgeted movies during his 14-year career, namely Mela, Babul, Uran Khatola and Kohinoor all of which celebrated silver and golden jubilees. When he died in a rented room at the National Sports Club of India Bombay, he declared a cup-board as his only property for the possession of which there appeared four claimants. But, when it was opened in the presence of the solicitors, it contained an old shirt, a pair of pyjamas and a few coins.

Perhaps, the most tragic death was that of a multimillionaire movie maker V.M. Vyas, who had given us as many as a dozen jubilees in a row. But, with the flopping of his last two films, the great Vyas was engulfed by misfortunes, including tax raids. Bedridden for a year, he died miserably.

A dear friend of mine, producer Dalsukh Pancholi, the film tycoon who carved a film empire Lahore, in whose golden jubilee movie, Khazanchi I played a key role as far back as 1939, breathed his last as he got into his car while returning from the office of his distributor who refused to pay him the instalment. Pancholi’s last words were, "Janki Dass! Never put your children in films..."

My friend, director Mahesh Kaul, gave to the Indian screen such great stars as Raj Kapoor in his maiden production Gopinath, Prem Nath in Naujawan, Rajendra Kumar in Talaq, Mehmood in Abhimaan and Hema Malini in Sapnon Ka Saudagar. He died of fatal disease in Nanavati Hospital. Mahesh Kaul was so much in need of money that he could not afford medicines. At that juncture, I took Dev Anand for whom he was writing a story Appointment with Destiny and also enacting ironically, a dying man’s role in his Tere Mere Sapne. We entered his room. He was conscious, and complaining.

"You haven’t even invited me to see your Tere Mere Sapne, in which I play a dying man’s role. Dev Anand hurriedly replied: "As soon as you get well, we’ll see it together and without waiting for an answer, he thrust a bundle of notes at me and left, I put the money into Kaul’s lap. "This is from Dev Anand." "Charity?" he asked and flung the money (notes) at me. I collected them again and said: "You’ve misunderstood me — this is the balance of the money for An Appointment With Destiny and he calmed down and accepted the money. After a few days in response to a phone call from the hospital, I rushed there fearing the worst. He beckoned me to his side, caught hold of my hand, and whispered: "The soul never gives long company to the body. It must part one day." "But you’re alright now," I assured him.

A faint smile lurked on his withered face, and said "only Dev’s advances for writing An Appointment With Destiny remains all right."

He went blank again, murmuring: "lights on... camera ..." and left us forever, to keep his Appointment with destiny.

Sulochana, hailed as the most beautiful heroine and the highest paid artiste, of her times, died a slow death, because of paucity of funds during her last days.

Vimmi, who during her last hours, was ignored by one and all left, alone to die. The body of the leading lady of B.R. Chopra’s Hamraz, and award winning heroine of Nanak Naam Jahaz Hai, was ultimately removed by a municipality van.

Parashuram, the child hero of Prabhat, who later on turned character artiste with at least 100 movies to his credit, died on the road side at Bandra.

Even the all-time celebrity, Meena Kumari lived like a queen and died as a pauper with her hospital dues still in dispute. Her spacious flat at Bandra, was recently auctioned by the Income Tax authorities.

This true tale of movie kings and queens dying in adversity forms the saddest chapter in Indian film industry.