Bhagwan Dada: India’s First Dancing Superstar Who Was an Inspiration to Amitabh, Mithun and Govinda

Bhagwan Dada was the first dancing super star of Indian cinema. Here are some unknown facts about his tryst with stardom.
Bhagwan Dada had the body of a wrestler and the jiggle of Ginger Rogers. He had rhythm and music embedded deep within him. He saw people, noticed their inherent swing, and let their tempos move him emotionally and corporeally. He assimilated new ideas by trying out the rhythms of those he encountered. He captured a move, a quip, a flick of a wrist, a twist, a quasi jhatka and a feline matka, and made them his own. He owned it! He danced to tunes that one couldn’t name.

That tender sway of the hip, the naughty look of an infant, and the candour of a star – he possessed it all. He had swag before swag got swag!

Here are a few things to know about the legend:

BHOLI SURAT DIL KE KHOTE

1. Bhagwan Abhaji Palav, also known as Bhagwan Dada was born in Amravati, Maharashtra in 1913. He began his career as a labourer in a textile mill.

2. The recently released Marathi feature Ekk Albela is a biopic on Bhagwan Dada, who rose to fame after the 1951 Hindi film Albela. The new movie traces the journey of Bhagwan Dada’s film career as an actor and director.

3. He entered the world of cinema through silent films. His first film of notable significance was called Criminal.

4. His signature dance moves soon became a sensation. He was among the few male stars to break into an inner elite circle of actors/dancers, which was dominated by women.

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5. He steadily infused himself into the art of directing and made his directorial debut with the film Bahadur Kisan. He co-directed it with Chandrarao in 1938.

6. Post Bahadur Kisan, he went on to direct a number of films including a Tamil film named Vana Mohini, starring M. K. Radha and Thavamani Devi, which became quite popular.

Vana Mohini – History in the making:

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Vana Mohini was a ground breaking movie in the history of Indian cinema. The movie was the remake of a Hollywood movie featuring Dorothy Lamour. Tamil actress K. Thavamani Devi wore the same kind of Hawaiian-style sarong that was worn by Lamour. This outfit was a first in Tamil cinema and the sarong played a major role in contributing to the film’s success.

The film launched Thavamani Devi into such stardom that she began to insist on designing her own costumes and doing the make-up herself, making it a condition on her contract that was something unheard of at the time. It is still noted as an important event in Indian film history.

Albela – The beginning of the end:

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One of Bhagwan Dada’s greatest works was a social film called Albela. The film featured Bhagwan Dada and Geeta Bali and the music was composed by C. Ramchandra. It is said that C. Ramachandra and Bhagwan Dada were discussing the film at a Churchgate restaurant in Mumbai and C. Ramachandra promised Bhagwan Dada to compose the music for the film, “for the love of it.”

The film became a huge hit as it struck a chord with the audience not only because of the story but also because of the songs.

From riches to rags:

After Albela, Bhagwan had everything he had ever dreamt of — money, fame and friends. He lived a lavish life in a 25-room sea facing bungalow in Juhu and had a fleet of seven cars (one for each day of the week). There were subsequent films such as Jhamela and La’bela but they failed to achieve the same level of box office success and endearment with the masses. He was never really able to re-create the same magic of Albela. He later took up small roles in multiple films, some of which were lost in obscurity. Unfortunately his quest for success in films took a toll on his life and he lost all his wealth and ended up living in a chawl in Dadar, Mumbai. Most of Bhagwan’s associates left him in his time of need, apart from C. Ramchandra, Om Prakash and lyricist Rajinder Krishan.

Death of a dancing super star:

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Bhagwan Dada, the first dancing super star of Indian cinema, died of a heart attack in 2002. He was 89 years old. The then Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, aptly stated in his condolence message that Bhagwan Dada, through his unique style of acting and dancing, had inspired a whole generation of comedians in Hindi cinema.

Bhagwan Dada is still remembered for his signature dance moves and actors like Amitabh Bachchan, Govinda, Mithun Chakraborty and Rishi Kapoor are known to have drawn inspiration from him.

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This couplet from Kabhi haan Kabhi naa may describe him best: Woh to hai albela…Harazo mein akela! For he was special –one in a million, a million in one.

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