One day an 11-year-old named Harikishen Goswami
went to the movies.
at its zenith as he sat down to watch Shabnam, the 1949
box office hit set against the backdrop of the bombing of
After all, it
starred his favourite Dilip Kumar as a character called
The boy felt
an instant connection to the name.
decade later, he decided he wanted to be in the same
profession as his screen idol and Harikishen just wouldn’t
Goswami rechristened himself Manoj.
Kumar was born
in Abbottabad, a town in the North-West Frontier Province
(now Khyber Pakhtunkhwa), Pakistan, then part of
When he was
10, his family had to migrate from Jandhyala Sher Khan to
Delhi due to the Partition.
His family lived as
refugees in Vijay Nagar, Kingsway Camp and later moved to Old
Rajendra Nagar area of New Delhi.
from Hindu College, University of Delhi, he decided to enter the
Manoj could have
remained a wannabe Dilip Kumar.
But destiny and
experience conspired to stoke the creative fires within the
often-contemplative young actor.
He may not have Dev Anand’s inborn flamboyance (or
scarves collection) or Shammi Kapoor’s maverick style but
Manoj Kumar is a picture of sleek sophistication.
After a string of
hits as an actor-filmmaker, Manoj carved a strongly
individualistic niche for himself.
So strong was his
identity for acting in and directing films with patriotic themes
that he became synonymous as Bharat Kumar, the patriot.
The success of
Shaheed (1965), a biopic on the martyr Bhagat Singh, became a
beacon for the direction his career was to take.
encompassed popular ingredients - melodious songs, a surfeit of
glamour and jingoistic dialogue - that infused the audience with
His flair for
imaginative camera angles (he once held up the shooting of Upkar
for days till he got the right light for a shot), is reflected
in the work of many a young director, but Manoj also emphasised
By contrasting the
inherent richness of Indian tradition (Upkar, Purab Aur Paschim)
with the materialistic Western society (often a selective view),
Manoj had multitudes reaching out to shake his flag-waving hand.
Back in the day, Manoj Kumar’s
handsome disposition and attractive smile earned him the title
of Mr. Right, the kind Indian mommies dream of giving away their
daughters’ hand to. Manoj Kumar and Nanda in the 1965 film
Gumnaam which was an adaptation of the book And Then There Were
None by Agatha Christie.
It was not always a
cakewalk. It took Manoj Kumar five long years to graduate from a
struggling actor who ghost wrote for a pittance, to one of the
sultans of showbiz.
After coming down
from Delhi, he made a little-noticed début in Fashion in 1957
followed by small roles in Panchayat, before ascending to his
first leading role in Kaanch Ki Gudia (1960) opposite Saida
Piya Milan Ki Aas (Ameeta)
and Reshmi Rumal (Shakila), paved the road for the musical hit
Hariyali Aur Raasta (1962).
heroine-skewed success, Woh Kaun Thi (1964) followed, but Manoj
attained the tag of a matinee idol with the thumping success of
Himalay Ki God Mein (1965).
In this colourful,
message musical, Manoj reteamed with the Hariyali Aur Raasta
heroine-director combination of Mala Sinha-Vijay Bhatt.
Manoj played a
city-bred doctor whose plane crashes into a picturesque
He decides to open a
dispensary in the village and becomes a hero for the locals as
well as for vivacious village belle Mala.
Nationalistic fervor and Manoj Kumar are so deeply synonymous
with one other; few would bat an eyelid if his blood appeared
tricolored instead of red.
Manoj exuded an
almost palpable sincerity that was to turn into a major asset in
his subsequent films.
Destiny seemed to be
charting a course of a romantic hero for the shy Manoj Kumar who
had a strange way of drawing attention to his handsome face - he
spread his fingers over his face like the tentacles of a baby
hand-covering-the-face was very popular and continues to be the
butt of jokes of latter day stand-up comedians.
In 2007, the Shah
Rukh Khan film Om Shanti Om featured the lead character
pretending to be Manoj Kumar so as to sneak into a movie
premiere, by holding his hand over his face.
Kumar filed a
lawsuit, which was settled out of court.
But Shaheed (1965)
gave an unexpected turn to his career.
He was flooded with
accolades for his straight-from-the-heart performance which was
almost devoid of any Dilip Kumar mannerisms.
Manoj Kumar receives the Dadasaheb Phalke Academy
Prime Minister Lal
Bahadur Shastri praised the film and enthused; Manoj Kumar to
make a film on the Jai Jawaan Jai Kissan slogan.
The slogan shaped
into Manoj Kumar’s official debut as a director Upkar (1967),
where he believably played both a jawan (soldier) and a kisan
A huge hit, Upkar
made Manoj an authority on screen patriotism even if it
circumscribed his acting choices later in his career.
In the late 1960s
and early 1970s, Manoj dabbled with roles of a doomed lover (Aadmi,
Do Badan), a befuddled spectator in thrillers (Anita, Gumnaam,
Saajan), and even a flirtatious romantic hero (Patthar Ke Sanam).
But it was as the
patriot that he prevailed at the box-office, courtesy Purab Aur
Paschim (1970), a film proselytising the virtues of the East;
Roti Kapda Aur Makaan (1974), a tale of an unemployed youth
temporarily succumbing to the lure of the lucre before cleansing
himself and the system; and Kranti (1981), a film set in the
previous century that glorified the struggle for an independent
Manoj liked taking
In Upkar, he
daringly presented villain Pran in the sympathetic role of
At the height of his
success, Manoj made the offbeat Shor (1972), where he lamented
the disturbing decibel level of ‘noise’ in our lives.
The film failed to
create a din at the turnstiles.
Manoj Kumar fans
were clamouring to see him in the Bharat mould.
too chose to stay within the confines of his Mr. Clean image.
He even kept his
heroines largely at arm’s length.
In fact, in Sanyasi,
Manoj seemed to almost parody his own image by thwarting an
amorous Hema Malini’s advances with Kyon hum jaaye mandir main,
paap hai tere andar mein, Ram naam dhun hum gaayenge.
Three hits in three
consecutive years in the mid-1970s - Roti Kapda Aur Makaan
(1974), Sanyasi (1975) and Dus Numbri (1976) - made Manoj seem
With Kranti (1981),
Manoj realised his ambition of directing his idol Dilip Kumar.
The film, though
received indifferently by critics, was a hit.
But when Manoj made
Clerk (1989), the gravy train came to a screeching halt.
Clerk was filed away
as forgettable due to miscasting (imagine Rekha and Manoj as
college students, even if it was only in a flashback), and much
Jai Hind (1999) saw
him showcasing his son Kunal Goswami, but the direction was a
pale shadow of his former self.
Over the last
decade, Manoj has not been able to find his way back to big time
again (an offer to write Sunny Deol’s 23rd March 1931
- Shaheed fell through at the negotiation stage itself).
multi-talented Manoj - he designed eye-catching posters for Woh
Kaun Thi, penned lines for himself in Raj Kapoor’s magnum opus
Mera Naam Joker (with Raj Kapoor’s consent, of course), and
collabo-rated anonymously on Sohanlal Kanwar hits like Pehchaan,
Beimaan, Sanyasi - cannot resign himself to memories, golden
though they may be.
In 1992, he was
honoured with the Padma Shri by the Govern-ment of India.
India’s highest award in cinema, the Dadasaheb Phalke Award, was
bestowed him in 2015.
When asked why he
directed such few films, the veteran once rather caustically
remarked, ‘Dogs litter, a lioness deliver cubs.’