Dara Singh: The Man You Never Knew
The wrestler-actor, who passed away on July 12, had many untold stories up his sleeve. Son Vindoo, who is still trying to come to terms with his father's passing, shares some of those stories with Patcy N:
My father was the strongest of men but in the last two or three days of his life he suffered and wanted to go. His last wish was that a handful of his ashes should be immersed in the sea.
Everybody is relaxed now, even mom. Everybody is toasting him, no more crying, my father won't like it.
Sanjay Dutt and Anil Kapoor came (to meet us) and they were glad to see us so relaxed. Anil Kapoor told me, 'I haven't been able to get my mother to relax yet (Anil Kapoor's father Surinder Kapoor died last year) but you have done a good job.'
Everybody is meeting us and they are going out of here feeling good. My mom cries sometimes. When Dharmendra uncle's wife came, my mom cried inconsolably as they are good friends for 40 years.
When Abhishek Bachchan came home, he was very happy to see that we were praying and we were also toasting and rejoicing and remembering our father.
Image: Dara Singh with son Vindoo
'I wanted mom to be with him in his last hours'
Illness stoically endured
When he was 75 years old, we knew something was wrong with our father so we took him to the doctor. The doctor told us his backbone was pressing on his nerves. He was not feeling pain but his right hand and leg were weak because of nerve compression. They gave him exercises to do and he was fine.
He also had knee replacement surgery when he was 76, which helped him. He was reluctant to do it but when he saw that Dharamji (Dharmendra) was better after doing it, he also got it done.
Till he was 82, he was super fit. But after that, he couldn't lift his right hand or eat using his hand. His walking was getting weaker. The doctor said he had motor neuron disease (nerve cells (neurons) die, and can no longer send messages to muscles. This eventually leads to muscle weakening, twitching, and an inability to move the arms, legs, and body)
The doctor said there is no cure for the disease; there are 40 injections that can be given which may or may not help. But my father wanted to take them so he took all the 40 injections last year. But it did not help.
He was getting weaker and weaker but refused to go to hospital.
I had gone to Russia with my wife as my kid had vacations. When I came back on July 3, I was horrified to find that my father was trying every kind of medicine -- whether it was homoeopathy, ayurveda or allopathy.
He couldn't lie down and couldn't go to the bathroom without support. I stopped working because his health was deteriorating day by day. On July 7, I was in our office downstairs for a meeting when our house help came running and said, 'Bhaiya jaldi ao.'
We took dad to the hospital in an ambulance as he was unconscious. The doctor told us he had no pulse or blood pressure. He had to be resuscitated. Dad had told us, till I am alive don't take me to the hospital, once I am dead do whatever you want.
His brain was damaged due to lack of oxygen and the doctor said he was going to die. I decided to take him home.
I wanted mom to be with him in his last hours. She sat with him for half an hour alone.
Dad survived till the next morning, 7:30 am. From July 7 to July 12, he never once was conscious. My dad's soul went up on July 7; his body went on July 12.
Image: Dara Singh
'When my father was about five years old, he started working on the farm'
We don't know the exact birth date of our father -- whether it was November 15, 1927, which is written on his passport, or November 19, 1928. We have been celebrating his birthday on November 19.
My father wasn't a very rich person. He lived with his grandparents and parents Balwant Kaur and Surat Singh in a village called Dharmuchak (Punjab). They had about two acres of land and were farmers. When my father was about five years old, he started working on the farm.
Dad wanted to go to school but since he was huge in size, his parents thought it would be better if he works on the farm. His heart was set on going to school, so when Randhawa uncle (Dara Singh's younger brother) started going to school, my father would learn from him after he came home.
My father was the strongest guy in the village. When he was 17-18, they had this competition in the village to see who could cut the most amount of wheat. He set a record of cutting the wheat and of lifting weights. But he had not started wrestling yet.
Image: Dara Singh
'My father would train and wrestle in the day and work as a watchman in the night'
Making a career in wrestling:
My father realised that there was nothing in the village so to try his luck at earning money he went to Singapore with his uncle, who was working there. Since my father was uneducated, he was given the job of a watchman.
My father got married when he was 14 and his wife was a year older. They had a son (Praduman Singh) when my father was 16. After the child was born, my father went to Singapore and within six months, his wife left the kid and never returned. No one knows where she went.
When he was working as a watchman, some people told him he was so well built, why did he not take up wrestling? My father told them he couldn't afford that kind of food, so they were ready to pay for my dad's expenses. They took him to Guru Harnam Singh who taught my father wrestling.
My father would train and wrestle in the day and work as a watchman in the night. He won many wrestling matches and realised that wrestling was his passion.
He moved back to India. There was not much money in wrestling in those days -- after a match, the wrestlers would collect money from the public in a handkerchief.
Later, he remarried. My mother, Surjeet Kaur, was 17 and her older son was 10.
Image: Dara Singh
'My father was a very big actor and a number one hero, but in B-grade movies'
Entry into the film industry:
A producer who saw him wrestle offered him a movie. My father said he couldn't act and didn't know Hindi. The producer told him that it was just one wrestling sequence with Om Prakash and there was no dialogue, so my father agreed.
The fight sequence was such a hit that he was offered the leading role in another film. His first film as a hero was King Kong. It was a big hit. His second film was Dara Singh.
My father only knew Punjabi but he started learning Hindi and Urdu. His first seven or eight films were dubbed by someone else.
My father was a very big actor and a number one hero, but in B-grade movies. If Bombay had 50 theatres, 40 would run Dara Singh movies. Ten had A-grade movies of Dilip Kumar, Raj Kapoor etc.
The big heroines did not want to work with him. One day Mumtaz was pointed out to him and he was asked if it was all right with him to have her as the heroine. He acted with her in 16 movies.
Meena Kumari had told my dad once that she had watched all his films. She was a huge fan.
Image: Dara Singh and Mumtaz
'He travelled around India and fought along with his brother Randhawa'
The shift to Mumbai:
My father continued with wrestling even when he was acting in films. He would shoot from Monday to Friday and wrestle on weekends. He travelled around India and fought along with his brother Randhawa. My mother would come to Mumbai if she wanted to meet my father.
My elder sister was born in Punjab; she is 50 now.
My dad's career was doing well so he decided to bring his family to Bombay and bought a flat in Khar, where I was born. We later shifted to Dara Villa in Juhu in 1967 and Junior Mehmood bought our Khar house.
Image: Dara Singh along with his wife Surjeet Kaur
'The kids in my school and neighbourhood would tease me and say you cannot be Dara Singh's son'
Learning to be a body-builder:
When I was a kid, I was weak. I would often fall sick. The kids in my school and neighbourhood would tease me and say you cannot be Dara Singh's son. I would be bullied. I would cry all the time. I was about eight years old when I told my father to help me because everyone was teasing me.
He told me to wait till I was in the ninth standard and then he started training me. Amrish Puriji and my father would exercise on the terrace regularly. He taught me push-ups, sit-ups, pull-ups during the holidays. By the time I finished school, I was tough.
We would drink the juice of 250 almonds every day along with black pepper juice. Once in a while, I would have milk and four eggs mixed in. I took my revenge on all those who had bullied me.
Image: Dara Singh with his grandson Fateh Randhawa and son Vindoo
'My father's fitness regime was very tough'
A tough fitness routine:
My father's fitness regime was very tough. He would get up at 5 am and start exercising -- 20 sets of 100 sapatas (a combination of sit-ups and push-ups) -- it would take him two hours.
After that, he would have breakfast of 12 eggs and a big glass of milk and almonds. He would go back to sleep around 8 am. At 11:30-12 he would drink the soup of one whole chicken and eat another chicken with dal, sabzi and roti.
At 5 pm, he would exercise again for two hours, then eat and sleep. He had never seen a movie before he entered films.
Image: Dara Singh
'Sunny Deol, Bobby Deol and I would go to see my father wrestling'
The popular wrestler:
I have been to many of his wrestling matches at the Vallabhai Patel Stadium at Haji Ali in Mumbai. He gave up wrestling when I was 12.
My father did Indian style wrestling before I was born. I have seen his freestyle wrestling which was sold out. People would be begging us for tickets. Sunny Deol, Bobby Deol and I would go together to see the wrestling.
When the match was over and the referee lifted dad's hand up, we would be rushed to the green room because once the result was declared, there would be chaos.
People would bang on the door of the green room to meet dad and call out his name. We would leave half an hour after the crowd, from the back door, but still crowds would be waiting outside and would bang on the car so hard it felt like the glass of the windows would break. It was great fun.
Image: Dara Singh
'My father never got angry; you would never see him yelling'
Tough but cool:
My father never got angry; you would never see him yelling. I can count the times he got angry on my fingers. I got scolded once when I was four. I had taken the keys of the car from a cupboard -we had two Mercedes and two Impalas -- opened the door of the Impala and put the key in. The car was in reverse and started rolling backwards onto the road. I did not bang into anything thankfully.
In the evening when my father came home, he was told the whole story. He asked me how I had got hold of the keys. I told him I opened the cupboard and the keys fell into my pocket! My father told me to show him how it happened. I must have opened the door 100 times that day but the keys never fell into my pocket and I was scolded.
Another time he was angry was when he was cycling on the beach and some guys whistled at my mother who was walking. They didn't know who she was. My father ran after them. He was very angry that day.
There was this young sardar, who regularly walked by a college smoking, which my father thought was setting a bad example. After seeing him do this for three continuous days, my father called him and yelled at him and told him that the next time I see you, I will beat you up.
Image: Dara Singh and Mumtaz
'Dad never acted in alcohol, cigarette or ghutka advertisements'
Acting in commercials:
Dad never acted in alcohol, cigarette or ghutka advertisements. He did an ad for iron rods, ghee, and inner wear.
Once, Jalal Agha wanted him to act in a ghee ad. My father told him to send him the ghee first. He ate it for a month, saw whether the colour changed, and only after confirming that it was good quality ghee did he act in the ad.
He also did the Atlas cycle ad because he thought it was a good brand. Then he got a letter saying, 'Daraji aapne ad ki maine cycle khardi mere cycle ka peddle toot gaya (because of your ad I bought the cycle but the pedal broke).
My father was sad and said he shouldn't have done the ad. I explained that it was the best cycle and this was just a one-off case. If father had known where the man lived, he would have bought him a new cycle.
Image: Dara Singh in Jab We Met
'My father was very secular'
My eldest sister is married to an American, a Christian.
I was married to Farah, a Muslim (actress Tabu's elder sister).
My brother Amrik married a Gujarati.
Now I am married to Dina, who is Russian.
My father would say, why write 'religion: Punjabi', why not write 'religion: humanity or Indian'?
Image: Vindoo Dara Singh and wife Dina