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Manoj Kumar Became Synonymous as Bharat for
his Penchant to Act in, Direct Patriotic Films   

Coastweek -- One day an 11-year-old named Harikishen Goswami went to the movies.

Excitement was at its zenith as he sat down to watch Shabnam, the 1949 box office hit set against the backdrop of the bombing of Rangoon.

After all, it starred his favourite Dilip Kumar as a character called Manoj.

The boy felt an instant connection to the name.

Nearly a decade later, he decided he wanted to be in the same profession as his screen idol and Harikishen just wouldn’t do.

Harikishen Goswami rechristened himself Manoj.

Kumar was born in Abbottabad, a town in the North-West Frontier Province (now Khyber Pakhtunkhwa), Pakistan, then part of pre-partition India.

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.

After graduating from Hindu College, University of Delhi, he decided to enter the film industry.

Manoj could have remained a wannabe Dilip Kumar.

But destiny and experience conspired to stoke the creative fires within the often-contemplative young actor.

 
Coastweek -- 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.

Manoj’s cinema encompassed popular ingredients - melodious songs, a surfeit of glamour and jingoistic dialogue - that infused the audience with nationalistic pride.

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 content.

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.

 
Coastweek -- 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 Khan.

Piya Milan Ki Aas (Ameeta) and Reshmi Rumal (Shakila), paved the road for the musical hit Hariyali Aur Raasta (1962).

Another 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 Himalayan village.

He decides to open a dispensary in the village and becomes a hero for the locals as well as for vivacious village belle Mala.

 
Coastweek -- 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 octopus.

His trademark 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.

 
Coastweek -- Manoj Kumar receives the Dadasaheb Phalke Academy Awards.

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 (farmer).

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 India.

Manoj liked taking chances.

In Upkar, he daringly presented villain Pran in the sympathetic role of Malang baba.

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.

Increasingly, Manoj 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 invincible.

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 maudlin melodrama.

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).

But the 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.’

             

 

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