Remembering India’s James Bond
Jetendra started in films as a body double/ Navrang then a chorus dancer /Sehra till finally, his godfather V Shantaram launched him as a hero opposite his daughter Rajshree in Geet Gaaya Patharo Ne followed by another film as a hero with then a newcomer Mumtaaz.
Over the next three decades Jeetendra did all genre of films be it racy thriller/ Farz, romantic musical/ Humjoli, road film/ Carvaan, melodrama/Judai, Maang Bharo Sajna, action / Jyoti Bane Jwaala, Muslim socials/Mere Huzoor. He turned producer with Deedar-e-Yaar and later a TV tycoon launching Balaji Telefilms.
It is difficult to associate Jeetendra with parallel cinema but in his long, multifaceted career the actor starred in a number of parallel films as well. Unknowingly perhaps but the journey began for him with Prasad Productions’ Khilona/ 1970 a story about a courtesan brought home by an affluent family to attend to their differently challenged son, Sanjeev Kumar. Mumtaaz becomes his caretaker and his victim when Sanjeev Kumar rapes her and when the family discovers the prostitute is pregnant nobody wants her in the house.
In the climax it is the younger son of the family who resolves the crisis, reasons with the family and grants justice to the courtesan by getting her married to his brother. It is said that no big hero was willing to play a subordinate role to Sanjeev Kumar but Jeetendra agreed without arguments and was so effective that became the star attraction of the film.
In 1972 when Jeetendra was singing and dancing down the Kashmir slopes in white shoes writer director Gulzar had the courage to cast him in the Indian version of The Sound of Music with Jaya Bhaduri and four children. The film was super hit and Gulzar in a strange way got hooked on to his actor. People were surprised because Jeetendra was considered more of a star and Gulzar a director of actors but the two shared a distinctly professional relationship with healthy respect for each other’s sensibility.
In his forthcoming films Gulzar dressed Jeetendra in shawl, spectacles and moustache and critics joked that he played Gulzar’s alter ego, the fact is Jeetendra was effective in all these films.
In Khushboo/ 1975 a story about child marriage and separate destinies he played a doctor. Sharmila Tagore did a guest appearance in the film and Hema Malini, his wife who he takes home only in the final scene of the film. Shot on real locations and without any makeup the film had haunting music by RD Burman.
In 1977 Gulzar- Jeetendra completed a trilogy Kinara, the story of a dancer who turns blind after an accident and Jeetendra helps her to get back to performing on stage. Dharmendra played a cameo in the film as Hema Malini’s beloved knocked down in accident by Jeetendra and guilt driving Jeetendra to restore Hema’s career and in the process falling in love with the danseuse.
There is one more film where he played a challenging role but which is never talked about Pramod Chakravorty’s Jyoti in 1981. The film was a remake of Bahurani starring Guru Dutt as the mentally challenged heir of the zamindar family drugged by his step mother so that he can never claim to the property. Ashok Kumar witnesses a courageous mala Sinha taking a bull by the horns and asks her hand for his son. He is convinced she can cure her son and she does. In Jyoti it is Hema Malini nursing a retarded Jeetendra to normalcy with love and compassion.
Bhawana Somaaya/ @bhawanasomaaya