How it happened

My childhood in Phagwara still haunts me. My father was an idealist school teacher and our family that of peasants. The essence of the soil of Punjab was within us. Cinema interested me from my childhood. I remember going to theatres to watch films of my idols Motilal and Dilip Kumar. Watching them perform, I also desired to become an actor. When I came over to Mumbai in the mid 50s, I was determined to make my career as a leading man in films. Manoj Kumar (Manno) and Shashi Kapoor, my beloved contemporaries, were also with me in trying their luck in films. It was very difficult for us to get our breaks and I still have fond memories of three of us sitting on a bench at Filmistan Studios, waiting for our individual breaks. We suffered a lot of humiliation and insults but were determined to go ahead.

At one time, I grew frustrated and wanted to return by Frontier Mail. Manoj Kumar prevented me from returning, asked me to be patient and inspired me as much as he could. Till date I have never forgotten this unique gesture of Manno who later rose to heights as an actor, writer and director of substance with films like “Hariyali Aur Raasta,” “Shaheed” and “Upkar.” Shashi, the perfect gentleman he is even today, proved his worth as an intelligent actor with films like “Dharamputra,” “Prem Patra” and super hit “Jab Jab Phool Khile.” I was fortunate enough to be spotted by no less a director than Bimal Roy in a Filmfare Talent Contest at Mehboob Studios in 1958. I was thrilled. I still remember, Dev Anand who was a top star then, personally invited me to his makeup room, shared his lunch with me and inspired me saying he saw a lot of potential in me.

How did it feel

Arjun Hingorani introduced me as a hero in “Dil Bhi Tera, Hum Bhi Tere” in 1960.

He was a patient and hard-working director who relied on my talent and gave me ample scope to improve my performances even if a number of takes were required. The film had a haunting Mukesh number, “Mujh Ko Is Raat Ki Tanhai Mein.” “Dil Bhi Tera Hum Bhi Tere” was an average film.

How life changed

My talents were rightly utilised by stalwarts like Phani Majumdar, Bimal Roy , Chetan Anand and Abrar Alvi later in films like “Akash Deep,” “Bandini,” “Haqeeqat” and “Baharen Phir Bhi Ayegi.” Hrishikesh Mukherjee extracted the best out of me in films like “Anupama,” “Majhli Didi” and “Satyakam.” Remembering my early days as an actor, I will be ungrateful if I don't mention the contributions of script writer Nabendu Ghosh who was instrumental in developing the actor in me.

After completing 50 years in films I still feel I am yet to deliver my best as an actor and my forthcoming films, “Yamla Pagla Deewana” and “Tell Me Oh Khuda” should speak about my talent.

As told to RANJAN DAS GUPTA