Dara Singh – Rustam-E-Hind: A tribute

A wrestling hero to some and a much loved actor-director-producer to others, his was a long and eventful life that triumphed many odds

He wrestled his way from the ring to the big screen and the small one to enormous success. Dara Singh went from muscle man to hero and then uncle, father and friend in numerous character roles that endeared him to generations of fans.Few people would have made the transition from the wrestling akhara to the showbiz stage with the success of Singh, who passed away at his home in Mumbai Thursday morning at the age of 84 after a brief illness.

A wrestling hero to some and a much loved cine artiste to others, his was a long and eventful life that triumphed many odds. In his over five-decade long acting journey, he featured in over 140 films, including classics such as Anand and Mera Naam Joker. It was a many splendoured life.

There was Dara Singh the wrestler, Dara Singh, the hero of ‘B’ category action films such as Tarzan Comes to Delhi and Samson in the 1950s and 1960s, Dara Singh, the friendly ‘pehelwan’ in Anand, and then Dara Singh who played Hanuman with great effect in the TV blockbusters Ramayan and Mahabharat. He was last seen in the Kareena Kapoor-Shahid Kapoor-starrer Jab We Met as the stern, lovable ‘Daaraji’ who ruled over a noisy, close-knit Sikh family. Quite like the real life man, who intimidated people with his 6′ 2″ frame but soon won them over with outgoing nature and warmth.

Born to Balwant Kaur and Surat Singh Randhawa on November 19, 1928 in a village in Amritsar, Punjab, Singh was encouraged to take up wrestling due to his imposing physique and trained in pehelwani, an Indian style of wrestling. He became a star wrestler – and not just on Indian turf. Singh took on international wrestlers like Lou Thesz and Stanislaus Zbyszko, and had over 500 professional fights to his credit – all undefeated. He won the Professional Indian Wrestling Championship in 1953, and took away the Commonwealth Wrestling Championship trophy in 1959 by defeating Canadian champion George Godianko.

A recipient of titles like Rustam-E-Punjab (1966) and Rustam-E-Hind (1978), Singh retired from active wrestling in 1983.

In 1989, he published his autobiography Meri Atmakatha in Punjabi, and seven years later was inducted into the Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Fame. And while he was wrestling, he was making a name in cinema – both Hindi and Punjabi. His first release was the 1952 Sangdil and then came a succession of films like King Kong, Faulad, Sher-e-Watan that earned him the name of Bollywood’s action king.

During his heydays as a hero, he teamed up with Mumtaz in 16 Hindi films, including Jawan Mard, Raaka, Aandhi Aur Toofan, Daku Mangal Singh, Boxer and Veer Bhimsen. Another successful phase in Singh’s acting career came when he bagged the role of Hanuman in Ramanand Sagar’s epochal TV series Ramayan in 1986. People liked him so much that BR Chopra roped him in to play the same role in Mahabharat. Singh also gave viewers a glimpse of his humorous side through shows like Hadd Kar Di and Kya Hoga Nimmo Ka.

The actor-wrestler was a nominated member of the Rajya Sabha from 2003-2009.

He also took on the role of a writer, director and producer. In 1978, he launched Dara Studio, a self-contained mini-city with all facilities within the compound, in Punjab’s Mohali district. Singh was a widower who remarried. He leaves behind his wife and six children – three sons including actor Vindu, and three daughters. And legions of fans of a man who defined machismo.