#GoldenFrames: Bhagwan Dada


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Humble new beginnings do exist, especially in the case of Bhagwan dada, who lived in a Mumbai chawl before he became a star. However, unlike other actors, he couldn’t sustain his successful career and the wealth along with it! Dada was known for his signature style. He is the first dancing hero in Indian cinema to emerge from the silent era. The actor had a massive mansion with twenty-five rooms and seven different model cars. He was the first dancing and action star who became one of the biggest legends in Hindi cinema. It is believed that Bhagwan dada gave protection to all Muslim artists and technicians of the film industry during the 1947 riots after the partition of India. He made India’s first horror movie ‘Bhedi Bungla’ in 1949. He used to do his own stunts, and Raj Kapoor called him Indian Douglas. Dada made forty-eight movies, and worked as an actor in over 300 movies in his lifetime.


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Bhagwan Dada was born as Bhagwan Abhaji Palav in Amravati, Maharashtra, India. His father was a textile mill worker. The actor was not into studies. After dropping out in 4th grade, he too worked in Mumbai’s textile mills.


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He was obsessed with movies. Singing and dancing were his forte. Dada’s unending passion for movies did not melt his father’s heart. However, as luck would have it, famous comic actor Noor Mohammed Charlie lived in Dada’s neighbourhood. In no time, Dada and Noor became fast friends. Apparently, Dada could mimic Noor accurately. Bhagwan Dada started building his own contacts in the industry, his friend Baburao Pehelwan got Dada his first break in ‘Bewafa Aashiq’ (1931).


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#GoldenFrames: Bhagwan Dada, the first dancing sensation of Bollywood

Bhagwan Dada’s love for wrestling got him his first movie in the silent era—’Criminal.’ The actor had a comic role in the movie. His friend Baburao Pehelwan was already an actor and wrestler. It took him another four years to get a second role. Meanwhile, Dada was busy honing his skills as a filmmaker. He was getting well-versed with the technicalities required behind the camera. Even after ‘Himmat-e-Marda’ (1934) and ‘Kaatil Kataar’ (1935), the actor still struggled to gain a firm footing in the industry.

(Photo: Still from the movie ‘Chori Chori’)


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#GoldenFrames: Bhagwan Dada, the first dancing sensation of Bollywood

By 1938, Dada became an assistant director for the movie ‘Bahadur Kisan’ (1938), followed by lending his voice for the movie ‘Gunehgaar’ (1939). He co-directed it with Chandrarao in 1938. Eventually, the man with many talents opened his own film company—Jagriti Pictures. Dada made low-budget stunts and action movies under Jagriti Pictures. He also directed a few Tamil movies such as ‘Vana Mohini’ (1941), ‘Jaykode’ and ‘Prem Bandhan’ (1941). ‘Vana Mohini’ (1941) was a groundbreaking movie in the history of Indian cinema—a remake of a Hollywood movie featuring Dorothy Lamour.


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#GoldenFrames: Bhagwan Dada, the first dancing sensation of Bollywood

His friend Baburao Pehelwan usually played the lead in Dada’s movies. Shanta Patel, Chanchal, Leela Gupte, Vitha Lokhare, Usha Shukla, and others were lead heroines. The actor was known to play comic roles instead of playing the lead actor. Dada entered the industry when the number of Bengali actors were reducing while more Punjabi actors were coming in. However, during this time, Marathi actor Bhagwan Dada carved a place for himself in the Hindi film industry. He is credited for making India’s first horror movie ‘Bhedi Bangla’ (1949). Dada introduced fist fighting in Indian movies through his movie ‘Badla’ (1943). Even before Tom Cruise or Akshay Kumar existed, Dada was the first to introduce the concept of body doubles, and hand-in-hand combat to Indian Cinema. The credit goes to Dada that actors today don’t feel any pain in dangerous action sequences.

(Photo: Poster from the movie ‘Bhedi Bangla’)


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#GoldenFrames: Bhagwan Dada, the first dancing sensation of Bollywood

Bhagwan Dada’s ‘Albela’ (1951) has engraved its place in Indian cinema. Being one of the most popular musicals of that era, it was the third highest-grossing movie at the Indian Box Office in 1951. Dada not only wrote for the movie but also directed and edited the movie apart from acting. The movie featured Bhagwan Dada and Geeta Bali in the main lead.

(Photo: Still from the movie ‘Albela’)


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#GoldenFrames: Bhagwan Dada, the first dancing sensation of Bollywood

Anurag Basu used soundtracks by music director C Ramchandra from the movie ‘Albela’ (1951), like ‘Dheere se aaja re ankhiyan me’, ‘Balama bada nadan re’ and ‘Qismat Ki Hawa Kabhi Naram’ in his movie ‘Ludo’ (2020). After the success of ‘Albela’, Dada could never re-create the same magic. He made ‘Jhamela’ (1953) and ‘Labela,’ but they failed to achieve the same level of box office success and endearment with the masses.


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#GoldenFrames: Bhagwan Dada, the first dancing sensation of Bollywood

The actor incurred heavy losses when he invested his savings and his wife’s jewellery in ‘Haste Rehna’. Ultimately, the movie had to be shelved when its lead actor Kishore Kumar began jeopardizing the shoot with his eccentricities. Dada eventually started losing all his wealth and had to sell two of his movies, ‘Albela’ and ‘Bhagam Bhag’, to the distributors to pay some debts.


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#GoldenFrames: Bhagwan Dada, the first dancing sensation of Bollywood

Bhagwan Dada continued to do small roles to earn his livelihood. ‘Jai Vikraanta’ (1952), ‘Mera Damad’ (1995) and ‘Maahir’ (1996) were some of his last movies. Friends from the industry deserted him, except C. Ramchandra, Om Prakash and lyricist Rajinder Krishan who visited Dada in his chawl.


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