Just a hint of the tune, and your feet move
instantly. In a manner - the rolling of eyes, the slight jhataks
and those little mataks - that is so typical of the most famous
male dancer in the Hindi film industry,
writes V GANGADHAR.
And if you think the
reference here is Amitabh Bachchan, you’ve need to have a second
inspired into creating his dance style after he watched a short,
fat, round actor move easily, in perfect synchronization to the
music of the moment.
Bhagwan Abhaji Palav,
popularly known as Bhagwan dada’s style of dance was so
effervescent; the audience could not help following his tune.
Be it 1952, 1962 or
1992, the impact of the songs - especially of Shola jo - from
his film Albela have not changed.
Albela is one movie
that has stood the test of time.
To date, its music
is a must at every Indian celebration.
youngsters, who are normally used to gyrating to Michael
Jackson, still boogie enthusiastically to Shola jo bhadke at
Albela was the
brainchild of ace comedian-dancer Bhagwan.
In the days when he
was a much sought-after member of Hindi filmdom, Bhagwan would
spend a lot of time with his close pal, music director C
The duo would while
away the hours listening to music or to Chitalkar playing the
Bhagwan Abhaji Palav famously known as Bhagwan Dada is best
known for his social film Albela (1951) and the song “Shola Jo
Eventually, it would
be Chitalkar and an up-and-coming Lata Mangeshkar who would
record one of the all-time favourites songs of Hindi cinema -
Shola jo bhadke, dil mera dhadke.
Ramachandra, who was
already a famous figure in the film world, was also a very
And he hounded
Bhagwan make a film with a social theme.
“I will help you,”
“The world will
never be able to forget the music I will provide for your film.”
Seated in a
restaurant at Churchgate, they discussed the plot of the film.
And decided that the
film would contain at least a dozen memorable songs.
Till then, Bhagwan
had just been another filmmaker - the creation of a wide-eyed
child who was fascinated by the magic of silent cinema.
Even though he had
his origins in the labour-dominated areas of Parel and Dadar,
even though he did not know where his next meal was coming from,
Bhagwan always managed to scrounge around for the seven annas
that he needed to watch a film and eat some channa.
adored Master Vittal, one of the more popular heroes of the
Though his movies
were mainly stunt-oriented, Bhagwan was transported into a world
of his own, into a world that was far away from his
poverty-infested real world.
Forced to give up
studies after the fourth standard, Bhagwan did a lot of odd
In between, he would
work out at the local gym in order to improve his physique.
His aim was clear -
he wanted to join the film industry.
Finally, he got his
chance in 1930.
After years of
haunting the studios in the hope that he would someday be
discovered, producer Siraj Ali Hakim gave him a small role in
the silent film, Bewafa Aashiq.
Bhagwan was so
thrilled, he refused to leave the studio even after his work was
Geeta Bali and Bhagwan Dada in Albela.
Nor was he ready to
leave the studio even when it was time to shut down the sets for
He quickly learnt
all the aspects of film-making, even as he continued to act in a
series of stunt film like Bahadur Kisan, Criminal and so on.
Meanwhile, more and
more people started expressing an interest in financing films.
There was a demand
for directors and Bhagwan was more than willing to try his hand.
Soon, he was
wielding the megaphone for limited-budget films.
“I made films for
less than Rs 65,000” he recalled in an interview in 1997.
“These were the kind
of films where the director had to design costumes and even
arrange meals for the unit. But it was worth it.”
His film could not
be acclaimed as great, but they were profitable ventures.
The period saw a
spate of action films, including Bhagwan Dada’s Dosti, Jalan and
Bhagwan was as
popular a star as Fearless Nadia, and the crowds thronged the
theatres for their films.
But the trend was
changing, a fact that was pointed out to him by Raj Kapoor.
“Dada,” he urged, “zamana badal gaya hai. Social picture banao.”
- (The audience has changed - make a social movie)
The result was
Albela - a film that was in tune with newly independent India.
Both the young and
the old loved it.
It ran for more than
50 weeks at the theatres where it was shown.
At some places, the
collections even surpassed Raj Kapoor’s Barsaat.
It was to join the
ranks of Sholay, Mother India and Ganga Jamuna as a landmark in
Albela was a simple,
A poor man (Bhagwan)
from an orthodox family dreams of becoming a kalakar (actor).
His family is
indifferent to his ambitions, the people who know him poke fun
at his aspirations.
Bhagwan Dada in Baghdad Ki Raatein (1967).
Until the day he
comes in contact with a well known female singer, portrayed by
the popular Geeta Bali.The singer recognises the tremendous
talent and never-say-die spirit of the hero and encourages him.
Very soon, they
become a famous singing pair.
between the pair and the film ends on an
was nobody’s heart-throb.
Portly and slow
moving, he could not compare with the heroes of his day like Raj
Kapoor, Dilip Kumar or Ashok Kumar.
But he was ideally
cast as the simpleton who loved music and singing and was
determined to make a mark.
The rest was
The film became a
super hit, Bhagwan had everything he had dreamt of - money,
fame, friends, luxury.
turned out to be a ‘one-hit’ wonder.
He made Labela and
Both films failed
miserably at the box office.
With failure came
some bitter lessons.
His large circle of
friends, who lived at his expense, deserted him.
He was forced to
adopt a more austere way of life, to sell his cars and bungalow.
except his addiction to movies.
was offered good roles in films like Mister Lambhoo and
Soon, though, he
only got bit roles.
It became difficult
to run the household.
But Bhagwan was not
worried; after all, he had been born and brought up in poverty.
Bhagwan Dada and Kishore Kumar enjoying tea together.
could not adapt himself to the needs of modern-day Hindi cinema.
Nor did he believe
in looking back.
Nostalgia was of no
use to him.
Similarly, he was
not worried about the future. “Jo hoga,” he shrugged, “wohi hoga.”
– (What will be, will be.)
As the years passed,
there were no bungalows. Or cars. Or close friends.
80-something Bhagwan lived in a chawl in suburban Dadar, Bombay.
His house was poorly
But it was still the
same house where music director Ramachandra, actor Om Prakash,
lyricist Rajinder Krishan and others spent long hours weaving
dreams of great movies, wonderful roles and lilting tunes.
Most of Bhagwan’s
associates left him in his time of need, apart from C.
Ramchandra, Om Prakash and lyricist Rajinder Krishan, who
continued to meet him even in his chawl.
Bhagwan died of a
massive heart attack at his residence in Dadar on 4 February