Thank you Maria! You asked in a comment who Abhay Deol was and where he had been and it made me realize that I haven’t done a Deol family Hindi Film 101 yet!
Usual disclaimer: I don’t know these people, I have no special knowledge, this is just the commonly accepted information and the commonly accepted version of their lives.
Dharmendra was born Dharam Singh Deol in a village in Punjab. His father’s name was Kewal Kishan Singh Deol and his mother was Satwant Kaur. Now, if you don’t know Indian society/ethnicities, that may not mean anything to you, so I will explain. “Singh” means lion and “Kaur” means queen. One of the last Sikh Gurus tested his followers and, when they proved worthy, declared that from now on all the men who followed him were lions and all the women queens. If you are old-school Sikh, then all the men go by the last name Singh and all the women go by the last name Kaur. This is hard to manage in the modern world of course, so the solution is usually what Dharmendra’s family has done, keep Singh as a middle name and use a unique last name. But his mother still went by Kaur. That’s a sign of how devout and centered in their community his family was. To this day, the Deol family movies open like no other in Punjab, they are the movie stars for the Sikh community, their pride and joy.
Dharmendra grew up in the village, attending the school where his father was headmaster. He went on to the local college, and got married at 19 to Parkash Kaur. His first son was born when Dharmendra was not quite 21. That’s how it is in the villages, all villages everywhere. You marry young, you have kids young, you work hard, you raise your kids, you die young.
But Dharmendra decided he wanted more. He was stunningly handsome, he knew that. And he was decently educated. And he’d done his college courses in a “city” (about 100,000 population now, probably fewer back then). And he loved movies. When he was a boy, he walked miles to the closest theater to see his favorite films over and over again. He saw an advertisement in FilmFare magazine for a talent contest, went to the local photo studio and had some shots taken and sent them in. And won!
Dharmendra left his wife and baby back in the village with his parents and hopped a train for fame and fortune in Bombay. The first thing he did upon arriving was to track down the house of Dilip Kumar. Dharmendra loved Dilip Kumar, and he wanted to meet him. And the way to meet someone, so far as Dharmendra had learned from village life, was to go to their house and walk in. So that’s what he did. He found Dilip’s mansion, climbed over the fence, and wandered in. Got all the way up to his bedroom before he began to feel like maybe this wasn’t a thing people did in the city, and then got spooked and turned around and ran right out again and down the street.
He had an appointment at FilmFare, they were going to give him a photoshoot and an interview. So he went in, introduced himself all around and chatted with everyone like a small town boy would. And he told them how he wanted to be a great actor like Dilip Kumar-ji. And the woman doing his make-up laughed and said that the other woman in the room helping the photographer was Dilip Kumar’s younger sister. So of course Dharmendra went right up to her, explained his whole life story, and begged to be introduced to her brother. She was charmed with this nice big young dumb country boy and laughed and said she would see what she could do. Sure enough, a couple of days later Dharmendra got the word to come meet Dilip Kumar. Dilip was charmed too, greeted him with an embrace, loved the story of his initial visit, declared Dharmendra was now his little brother, even gave him one of his sweaters.
Dharmendra’s FilmFare win didn’t turn into the film he hoped for, but he stayed in Bombay and kept looking out for his chance. And finally when he was 25, it happened. His first movie as a romantic lead wasn’t a big hit, but it was decently successful. And then he got another film, and another, and another, and pretty soon he was the next big thing, considered for major films with major actresses. And that is when he met Meena Kumari.
Meena Kumara has her own 101 series, but just to give you the highlights, at the time she met Dharmendra she had been a major working actress since she was 4 years old. Her father controlled her career, and then she ran off with an older married producer/director/writer and became his second wife. He controlled her career after that and brought her to her period of greatest artistic triumphs. But he wasn’t a great husband, a bit too controlling. After a lot of fights and unhappiness, Meena left him. And it was at that point that Dharmendra was brought to her as a potential new co-star.
Meena was 31, Dharmendra 29. They were both married to other people and unlikely to divorce. And Meena had a bit of a past already, her husband Kamal Amrohi was definitely her first love, but during the later years of their marriage he suspected her of stepping out with other men. Meena and Dharmendra met and it was immediate lust and love and magic. Meena fell in love passionately and kind of swept Dharmendra up behind her, he was nervous and respectful towards this great actress and she suggested “private rehearsals” at her house. During the year and a half that it lasted, there are stories of Meena sitting in the middle of the road and refusing to move until Dharmendra came to her, a desperate wild passion that had no care for her reputation, her career, anything but her love.
Meena always fell in love like that. What made her love story with Dharmendra different is that, for once, her lover did not take advantage of her. While her husband controlled her life and took her money, her parents parceled out affection as a reward for getting parts and bringing in money, even her siblings were living off of her but not caring for her, Dharmendra refused to take anything. She didn’t even help his career, he was well on the way to stardom already, and if anything his presence as this new viral and very young man helped Meena maintain her position when she was an older actress beginning to show the visible signs of alcohol abuse.
When Meena was out of love, she was out. And at some point, she ran out of love for Dharmendra and what they had together came to an end. She moved on to another younger man, and another. They had no talent, they had no ambition, they drifted into her house and drifted out again with all her money. Her husband wasn’t visiting her any more, and her relatives were living in the house she bought but didn’t bother leaving food in the kitchen for her to eat when she came back from long shoots. The servants took the money she gave them for liquor and kept it, buying instead the cheapest bootleg rotgut they could find. But Dharmendra kept coming around, for years after their relationship was over. Especially towards the end. He would come through the back door and go up to her room, play cards with her, make her laugh, while the alcohol was eating her out from the inside and she could hardly move from the pain. One of the servants remembered him after one of those visits, wishing her a cheerful good-bye and smiling as he left the room, and then bursting into uncontrollable sobs as soon as her door was closed, this big muscular man leaning against the wall in grief.
When Meena finally died, there was a big public production around her last days. All her relatives wailed and wailed in the hospital, her ex-husband insisted on running the funeral and picking the grave site, every leading film figure appeared. Dharmendra didn’t, he stayed away from all that. But when there was the private prayer service at her grave a few days later, he quietly slipped in, head properly covered, to join in the prayers for her soul.
What Meena and Dharmendra had was different, quiet, just for them. Most of the time they loved each other they weren’t together, she was with the nameless string of young men who took her money and watched her drink herself to death and he was back with his wife (now brought to Bombay and having 3 additional children). It doesn’t fit with the gossip magazine definition of love, that they could end their affair because it was time to end it and yet still love each other. It isn’t even necessarily mentioned that much now, I myself had only the vaguest idea of Meena and Dharmendra until I really researched it. But Dharmendra’s next affair, that was one the whole world could see and loved to watch.
Meena Kumari died in March 1972. 2 years earlier, Dharmendra co-starred for the first time with Hema Malini. Hema was 13 years younger than him, only 22 in their first movie. While he came from a village in the north, she came from a city in the south, daughter of film people who began acting right out of high school. She came to Bombay and became a hit at 20 with the film “Sapna Ka Saudagar”. The film wasn’t a hit, but Hema was, and she gained the nickname “Dream Girl”.
Hema was the dream girl of all the fans, and all her co-stars as well. Young, smart, charming, great dancer, great attitude, and fun. Everyone wanted her. And Dharmendra got her. Older, married, from a whole different region of India and different religious background (Sikh versus Tamil Hindu), but there’s just something irresistible about him.
The stories of their courtship that I’ve heard the most revolve around the filming of Sholay. Shortly before filming, Sanjeev Kumar, nice pleasant unmarried Sanjeev, proposed to Hema. She didn’t give him an answer right away, but by the middle of filming when he saw the way she was looking at Dharmendra and he was looking at her, Sanjeev had his answer. He started drinking and getting more and more sour over the course of the shoot. Dharmendra was a little bit mad in love himself. For instance, he paid off the cameraman to make mistakes when filming the “shooting lesson” scene in order to let Dharmendra have extra time to cuddle with Hema. And in the finale, when the evil Gabbar Singh forced Hema to dance, Dharmendra came close to blows with both the director who was forcing Hema to film the difficult sequence over and over gain, and with Amjad Khan, the actor playing Gabbar who was grabbing and throwing Hema around so much she bruised. His burning rage and frustration at what was happening to the woman he loved in that sequence wasn’t acting, but real.
By the end of the Sholay shoot, in 1975, Hema and Dharmendra were together and everyone knew it. The other suitors stopped proposing and let her be, and the producers started casting them together at a great rate because they knew they would say yes. For 5 years, Hema and Dharmendra lived separately, but worked together constantly and were happily in love.
By 1980, Hema was 32. Her career was still moving along, but she wanted more, she wanted a family of her own, children. And in Indian society, a woman having children meant a woman getting married and Hema only wanted to marry Dharmendra. And so they made a great gamble. Dharmendra did not divorce his first wife, he still lives with her and supports her financially and treats her as his wife in all ways. But he also married Hema. It is unclear exactly how this happened, if he had a legal divorce with his first wife but maintains a relationship with her as though they are married, or if he converted on paper to Islam so that he could legally have two wives. But both Hema and his first wife still consider him their husband, and he still considers them equally his wives.
Hema and Dharmendra had their first child, a daughter Esha, in November 1981 (meaning she was not the cause of their wedding, since they married in 1980). They had their second child, another daughter, shortly after. Dharmendra was present in his daughters’ lives, there are photos of them as a happy family through out their early childhood. But their half-siblings are not part of their lives, did not even attend their weddings.
After Hema, there are no other stories of Dharmendra falling in love. He had two great loves, Meena and Hema, and he has one honored and respected wife who will always have her proper place. The question that is often debated among the fans is, who was Dharmendra’s “true love”?
One theory is that Meena was the only woman he ever loved, he never got over her, and he only started with Hema because she had the same kind of spark and charm that Meena used to. The other theory is that Meena was just a fling, an order woman he respected and had a temporary relationship with, and Hema is his true love.
And of course the minority view that both Meena and Hema were shallow flings, his proper love story is with the teenage girl he married when he was 19, the mother of 4 of his 6 children.
For myself, I think they are all love stories. The young woman he grew up with, who he has faithfully cared for and respected as his wife until today. The older woman who was his first experience of wild passionate crazy love and who made her own place in his heart that cannot be removed. And his second wife, who healed his broken heart and raised children with him and can share his public life as a celebrity with him while his first wife shares his private life.
Oh, and of course also Dilip Kumar, his platonic True Luv 4Ever.