December—The ‘Hero’ic month!

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Among the longest-lasting heroes is Dharmendra, the original He-Man. Photo: Rajiv Vijayakar

December is significant for the male-dominated, hero-oriented Hindi film industry. A record 10 top stars of their respective eras took birth in the last calendar month of the year, a record unmatched so far in any other month. It is interesting to study how these heroes have shaped Hindi films and music over the years, directly or indirectly, through their screen images, personae, dancing abilities or lack of them.

Dharmendra (December 8)

After a false start, he made his mark in Ramesh Saigal’s Shola Aur Shabnam (1961) and crashed into the starry sky, truly speaking, as the bronzed he-man of Phool Aur Patthar (1966). From here, came a terrific high until the late 1980s. On the one hand, came blockbusters galore like Mera Gaon Mera Desh, Yaadon Ki Baraat, Jugnu, Sholay, Dharam-Veer and Hukumat and on the other, performance-oriented triumphs like Pratiggya, Chupke Chupke, Anupama, Satyakam and more.

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The He-Man with a soft core could melt hearts as easily as he could smolder in his action films. Quite naturally, his songs reflected the same blend – Rafi’s perfectly punchy voice, soft sentiments in breezy (predominantly Laxmikant-Pyarelal) melodies and a sedateness necessitated by garam-Dharam’s Achilles Heel – his self-admitted two left feet. He shares his birthday with one-time favorite co-star Sharmila Tagore (Anupama, Mere Humdum Mere Dost, Satyakam, Chupke Chupke and more).

Also has been: Producer, lyricist, poet & MP. 

Shatrughna Sinha (December 9) 

Nothing about Shatrughna Sinha as hero was conventional – neither his looks and image (as an ex-villain!) nor his charisma. He was the first villain to earn applause whenever he thrashed the hero on-screen, a first and last for Hindi cinema! Tired of being the baddie, he took to playing the hero, at first unsuccessfully, and later, beginning with Kalicharan (1976) with great success in films like Kaala Patthar, Dostana, Shaan, Naseeb, Khudgarz and many more.

Shatrughan’s first contribution to film music was that he was the first of the big stars to dare have more than one go at playback (Kashmakash, Dost, Naram Garam, Kalka) in his deep voice. The second was that he surprisingly, even if they were few, enacted some of the most enduring solos from the ‘70s, like Kayi sadiyon se (Milap) and Dil ka soona saaz (Ek Naari Do Roop).

Also has been: Columnist, producer, singer, MP & Union Minister

Dilip Kumar with wife Saira Banu and composers Kalyanji-Anandji at a song recording for Gopi. Photo: Anandji Shah

Dilip Kumar (December 11)

This year, his birth centenary is being celebrated. One of the legendary Big Three of Hindi cinema—alongside Raj Kapoor and Dev Anand— Dilip Kumar’s screen persona of a tragedy king as well as an epitome of romance with occasional trysts with comedy and spectacle were key hallmarks of his stardom. His avoidance of multiple assignments at one time as well as (for him) psychologically-traumatic subjects post-1955 were just two more facets of a man who remained a role-model for generations of actors from Amitabh Bachchan to Shah Rukh Khan. His memorable songs are legion, led by Mohammed Rafi’s sterling tracks for so many composers.

Also has been: Producer, director, film writer & singer.

Rajinikanth (December 12)

The man who is a true-blue pan-Indian-cum-even international star (he is a rage in countries like Japan) still elicits curiosity with every mov(i)e he announces, though it’s been a while since he tasted the success he is best known for. But whether it was Andhaa Kaanoon, his Hindi debut in 1983, or Sivaji—The Boss back home in the South, he creates hysteria, if not history, with every film.

Also has been: Producer

Raj Kapoor (December 14)

Perhaps no hero is as much equated with music as is Raj Kapoor. The man who introduced musical titans like Shankar Jaikishan, Hasrat Jaipuri and Shailendra apart from other names on and behind the screen, Raj Kapoor was a filmmaker and actor beyond compare, with his fantastic oeuvre under RK Films from Aag and Barsaat to Ram Teri Ganga Maili. Brilliant performances even outside the banner, as in Andaz, Anari, Teesri Kasam and even the unsung Papi (1947, his only dual role) and an array of cult directorial ventures and productions, performances and endless great songs and scores form his USP.

Also has been: Producer, Director, Editor, Film writer & Singer.

Biswajeet (December 14)

This chocolate hero may have been a top-bracket star only for a decade, but the mix of feel-good entertainers and thrillers that he did ensured a great run on both the box-office and music charts. Bees Saal Baad, Kohraa, Kismet, Yeh Raat Phir Na Aayegi, Mere Sanam, Night in London and more saw the actor known more for his breezy songs in breezier films (and a few melodramas) than his acting ability. For that, his few Bengali films scored better.

Also has been: Producer, director, singer & live performer.

Govinda (December 21)

His brand of comedy interfered with the opportunities of showing Govinda’s talent and true range. Stuck in the Aankhen-Raja Babu-Coolie No.1 groove, he never had the chance to do substantial work like Hatya and was straitjacketed in a certain kind of character. When trends changed, his work petered off and attempts to come back were stonewalled by an obstinate perception of what worked, multiple bad choices among the assignments offered and—it is said—even his superstitions. Even in music, he was known to interfere unduly and that cost him dear.

Also has been: Singer, non-film lyricist and poet & MP.

Anil Kapoor (December 24)

Anil Kapoor seemed what you might call the average hero – with a track-record of mixed films, an assorted caliber of songs and an image that went with action as well as with romance, emotions and comedy. And yet, within that, Anil was surprisingly shrewd in his selection—he opted for the right blend of South remakes (Beta), heroine-oriented films (Laadla, Judaai) and midstream movies (Eeshwar, Parinda) apart from the blockbuster variety (Karma, Mr. India). Add his obsession with looks and health and fitness and Anil, even if in character roles like Jug Jugg Jeeyo and Welcome, proved that he was a long-distance runner, who still counts.

Also has been: Producer & singer

Salman Khan has a terrific draw and has shown his charisma for over 30 years now. Photo: Publicity Photo

Salman Khan (December 27)

As a hero, he was as much known for romance and comedy as action. Exceptionally lucky as well (he had no flop in the second glorious innings of his career from 2010 to 2016) and with a hit average that was the envy of all others, Salman Khan was the modern-day Dharmendra, with an army of male and female fans who would cut their right arm for him. Salman thus had the highest pan-Indian opening draw for his movies and gave a fig to the notion that he was just an average actor, a myth he actually belied in several films like Andaz Apna Apna, Karan Arjun, Baghban, Bajrangi Bhaijaan and Sultan.

Godfather to several talents on and behind-the-screen, he had his own brand of music later, and among his contemporaries, is considered the most musical star alongside Shah Rukh Khan.

Also has been: Producer, Writer, Singer & Lyricist. 

Rajesh Khanna (December 29)

The original “Superstar” of Hindi cinema, who could do no wrong between 1969 and mid-1972, Rajesh Khanna was the epitome of romance as well as mannerisms and fashion trends that had the girls swooning and the boys in a mad rush to mimicking him—in real life. A swarm of bad choices, even worse unprofessionalism and a herd of sycophants undid the man irreparably despite his undeniable talent, superb initial charisma and great roles and work even later. In music, his name spelt chartbusters like few others did. Rajesh Khanna also shares his birthday with daughter Twinkle Khanna, now the wife of Akshay Kumar.

Also was: Producer & MP.

 

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