The Tribune - Spectrum

Sunday, September 2, 2001

Stumbling into films by sheer chance
A.C. Tuli

IMAGINE a person entering a profession for which he is least prepared and yet making a great success of it. Surprising, isn’t it? Instances of such success stories can be quoted from politics, business, industry, et al. In fact, from almost every walk of life. But, I think, it is our film industry which can boast of the maximum number of such cases.

When we look back to the early years of cinema, we find so many actors, directors, music composers, lyricists and choreographers who came to films either as a matter of chance or through circumstances over which they had little control. Take, for instance, Dilip Kumar, deservedly called the ‘king of histrionics.’

Dilip Kumar used to help his father run a fruit shop
Dilip Kumar used to help his father run a fruit shop

Mohammad Usuf Khan (Dilip Kumar’s real name) was a handsome young man who assisted his father in his fruit shop situated within the precincts of the Bombay Talkies studios. Such a handsome young man could not remain unnoticed for long. Devika Rani, owner of the studios, had an eye for photogenic faces.

One day while she was in her office, she sent for Yusuf Khan. "Would you like to act in films?," she asked him as soon as he entered her room. Yusuf Khan, taken unawares, found himself nodding confusedly. "What’s your name?" was Devika Rani’s next question. When the young man told her his name, she thought over it for a while and said, "No, this won’t do. A short while later, she gave him the choice to select one of these three names for himself if he wanted to act in films—Vasudev, Jahangir and Dilip Kumar. Yusuf Khan chose Dilip Kumar. True to her word, Devika Rani gave Dilip Kumar his debut role in Jawar Bhata (1944). The rest is history.


Unlike Dilip Kumar, Dev Anand came to Mumbai in the 40s to try his luck in films. But it was no cakewalk for this 20-year-old young man from Gurdaspur. He had to sweat it out as a clerk in a post office of Mumbai for a couple of years before Prabhat Studios of Pune gave him his first break in their film Hum Ek Hain (1946).

Balraj Sahni, who did his MA in English literature from Panjab University, began as a lecturer at Shantiniketan. After some time, on Gandhi’s advice, he went to England to serve there as an announcer with the BBC. From 1940 to 1944, he worked as a BBC announcer. On his return to India in 1945, he first acted in a few plays staged by the Indian People Theatre Association (IPTA). Then, K.A. Abbas gave him a break in films. His first film was Dharti Ke Lal (1945). It was, however, Ranjit Movietone’s Hum Log (1951) which made people sit up and take notice of Balraj Sahni’s exceptional talent as actor. With Do Bigha Zamin ((1953), he began to be reckoned among the great actors of Hindi cinema.

Kader Khan had to slog it out as an instructor in a polytechnic
Kader Khan had to slog it out as an instructor in a polytechnic

K. Asif of the Mughal-e-Azam fame had quite a humble beginning. He was running a small tailoring shop when his maternal uncle Nazir, a well-known hero of Hindi and Punjabi films of the 40s, inspired him to give up tailoring for films.

Do you find anything common between repairing clocks and composing tunes for films? Obviously, one cannot think of two more dissimilar professions. Yet it is true that music director Master Ghulam Haider, before he came to films, used to run a small shop where he repaired old clocks, watches and timepieces. Did anyone then know that he would one day compose such enduring tunes as, "Watan ki rah mein watan ke naujawan shaheed ho’, ‘Ik yaad kisi ki yaad rahi aur sari duniya bhool gaye’, ‘Naino ke baan ki reet nirali’, ‘Sawan ke nazare hain’and many other such songs? Incidentally, it was Ghulam Haider who gave Lata Mangeshker her first major break in films as a playback singer. Under his guidance, Lata rendered this winsome number, Dil mera toda, mujhe kahin ka na chhoda tere pyar ne’ in the film Majboor (1948).

A young Army officer chucking his job to carve out a career for himself in films—well, can you guess who he was? It was, of course, Madan Mohan, the music director who has given us many memorable songs. Madan Mohan, in fact, was aspiring to become a singer, but the music directors of the time found his voice a trifle too thin to suit the film heroes of those days. So the next thing that Madan Mohan applied himself to with dedication was to master the sur and taal of music direction. And he did succeed in it. Who can forget his evergreen creations like, Meri yaad mein tum na ansoo bahana, Aap ki nazron ne samjha pyar ke kabil mujhe and many others.

Sunil Dutt was a radio announcer before he got a role in a film
Sunil Dutt was a radio announcer before he got a role in a film

Sunil Dutt, whose real name is Balraj Dutt, was working as an announcer and programme-composer with Radio Ceylon in the early 50s when he was offered a role in Railway Platform (1954) by Ramesh Saigal, the director of the film. Of course, it was his role of the bad boy Birju in Mehboob’s Mother India that catapulted him to stardom.

And now a quick look at a few other success stories of the film industry. Guru Dutt had to work as a telephone operator in one of the factories of Levers Brothers. It was while working as a telephone operator that he devoted his spare time to learn classical dances. He got his first break in films as a choreographer.

The versatile Kader Khan once made his both ends meet by working as an instructor in a polytecnic. Johnny Walker was a bus conductor when his talent for comedy was noticed by Guru Dutt.

Lyricist Gulshan Bawra was a clerk in the Railways. Majrooh Sultanpuri practised as a hakim in his home town Sultanpur .