By: Avinash Mudaliar & Sunep Imchen
Bhagwan Dada had the body of a wrestler and the jiggle of a Ginger Rogers. His body had rhythm and music embedded deep within him. He underplayed his moves but still swayed like the night shade. His body's rhythms carried the sinuous wavelike motion of the gaja gamini. He saw people. Noticed their inherent swing. He let their tempos move him emotionally and corporeally. He tried to assimilate new ideas by trying out the rhythms of those you encounter. All might not have been original but he captured a move, a quip, a flick of a wrist, a twist, a quasi jhatka and a feline matka and made it his own. He owned it! He danced to the tune which one couldn't name. There wrest his greatness.
He had swag before swag got swag!
That tender sway of the hip...the naughty look of an infant..the quickness of a feline and the candor of a star - he possessed it all. In the stillness of his repressed movement, he defined the minimalism of movement and rhythm. He had swag before swag got swag!
Who was Bhagwan Dada?
• An actor who had a love for wrestling.
• Bhagwan Abhaji Palav also known as Bhagwan Dada was born in Amravati, Maharashtra in 1913 and began his working career in a textile mill as a laborer.
• The upcoming Marathi feature Ekk Albela is a biopic of Bhagwan Dada who rose to fame with the 1951 Hindi film Albela, which became the third-highest grossing film of its time.
• Ekk Albela traces the journey of Bhagwan Dada's film career as an actor and director.
• Ekk Albela is a classic journey of a man who came up from nothing and went on to become a Legend, leaving behind a legacy that will entertain us forever.
• Began his foray into the world of cinema through silent films which included small bit part roles.
• First film of notable significance was a movie called Criminal.
• Signature dance moves soon became a sensation of his time and was perhaps the first to combine different dance forms such as Ramba, Samba, Disco, Rock-N-Roll and other dance forms to Hindi cinema. In short, freestyling to the tunes in his own unique way.
• He was among the few male stars to break into an inner elite circle of actors/dancers which was dominated by female dancers.
• As his acclimatization with cinema grew strong, he steadily infused himself into the art of directing and made his directorial debut in a film called Bahadur Kisan. This was co-directed with Chandrarao in 1938.
• Post Bahadur Kisan, he went on to direct a number of films in the next decade where he also directed a Tamil film, Vana Mohini, starring M. K. Radha and Thavamani Devi which became quite popular and shot him into greater prominence
A much remembered and talked about incident from Bhagwan Dada's life is that of a "slap". This incident takes us back to 1942, in the midst of shooting a particular scene for a film where Bhagawan Dada was to enact a slap on Lalita Pawar. This, unfortunately, did not pan out well and ended with Lalita accidentally being slapped very hard by Bhagwan. After the incident, Lalita was left with facial paralysis and a burst left eye vein. Three years of treatment later, Lalita was left with a defective eye.
Vana Mohini - A history in the making
Vana Mohini was not only unique but also a path-breaking movie in Indian cinema. It is perhaps one of the very few, if not the only film, where an elephant named Chandru, received major credits in the film. The film was also a career launcher for the heroine, K. Thavamani Devi who hailed from Sri Lanka. It was a remake of a Hollywood movie featuring Dorothy Lamour who was well known for her 'specialist' roles. The Tamil Version had the actress wear an outfit similar to the one worn by Lamour in one of her films. This skimpy outfit caused quite a stir as it was a first in Tamil cinema and was a major factor for attracting movie goers. The movie would then go on to mark its entry into the folklores of Indian cinema.
The story revolves around a woman living in the wild with an elephant as a companion whom an evil man is out to capture for himself. At the same time, a prince in search of his missing uncle meets the woman and they fall in love. This love story, unfortunately, does not last long and they are soon captured by the evil man. The story then shifts to the prince destroying the evil man with the help of the elephant, finds his uncle and finally marries the love of his life.
The film launched Thavamani Devi into such heights of stardom that she began to insist on designing her own costumes and make-up which supposedly also became a part of her film contracts. This was something unheard of at that time and remains to be noted as an important event in the annals of Indian film history.
Albela - The beginning of the end
One of Bhagwan Dada's greatest works was a social film called Albela which supposedly was an idea originally given by Raj Kapoor. The film featured Bhagwan Dada himself and Geeta Bali as the lead and the music was composed by C. Ramchandra whose musical contributions played a major role in the movie achieving legendary status. Story goes that C. Ramachandra and Bhagwan were discussing the film at a Churchgate restaurant in Mumbai and C. Ramachandra promised Bhagwan Dada to give music for the film "for the love of it." And sure enough, he gave some of the biggest hits for Albela.
The story revolves around daydreamer and artist, Pyarelal who lives a poor lifestyle in Bombay with his retired dad; housewife mom; married brother, Mohan and his wife, Malti; and unmarried sister, Vimla.The family is in the midst of arranging Vimla's marriage for which her dad has saved a thousand rupees, while Mohan has made arrangements for six hundred more, and Pyarelal is asked to arrange for four hundred. Instead, Pyarelal brings home one hundred rupees, informing his family that he has been fired from his job, and will be unable to raise any more money. An argument follows and Pyarelal is asked to leave his home to which he swears to return when he is wealthy and famous. The rest of the story deals with his life post leaving his family and his rise to fame as an actor. He finally decides to return home expecting all to be well but it is not what he had initially thought to be.
The film became a huge hit as it struck a chord with the common man not only because of the story of the film but also because of the songs, and people thronged to the cinemas to watch the film. Songs from the film such as "Shola jo bhadke", "dil mera dhadke", "Bholi surat dil ke khote" or "naam bade aur darshan chhote" still continue to be heard even today.
From riches to rags
After Albela, Bhagwan had everything he had ever dreamt of -- money, fame, and friends. Bhagwan Dada lived a lavish life in a 25 room sea facing bungalow in Juhu and had a fleet of seven cars (one for each day of the week). There were subsequent films such as Jhamela and La'bela but they all failed to achieve the same level of box office success and endearment with the masses. He was never really able to re-create the same magic of Albela. He later took up small roles in multiple films some of which were lost in obscurity. Unfortunately, his quest for success in films took a toll on his life and he lost all his wealth and ended up living in a chawl in Dadar, Mumbai. 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 visit him even in his chawl.
Death of a dancing superstar
Bhagwan Dada, the first dancing superstar of Indian cinema died of a heart attack in 2002. He was 89. His story is a classic case of a young man driven by the sheer passion to succeed. At the time of his death, the then Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee in his condolence message aptly stated that Bhagwan Dada through his unique style of acting and dancing had inspired a whole generation of comedians in Hindi cinema.
Bhagwan Dada is still remembered for his signature dance moves which every major star right from Amitabh Bachchan, Govinda, Mithun Chakraborty and Rishi Kapoor have been known to draw inspiration from for their own dance moves.
He humoured us, toyed with us, made things look so simple. His banter was incessant and passion unstoppable - so was his daily date with the bottle. At times his eloquence held us silent as images, and some witty turn, some humorous phrase brought roars of applause. Sometimes his means to an end brought us all tears. He loved the bottle and wanted to die by it. A friend of his once quipped, "even if we sold the bottles he consumed, we would have made enough money to stay in a bungalow in Bandra."
He was special...Ek Albela...one in a million, a million in one...
Borrowing a couplet from Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa, these simple but endearing words by Majrooh may describe him best - Woh to hai albela...Harazo mein akela...
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