Dharmendra, who was conferred the Rajnikanth Legend Award for his contribution to cinema, talks about his association with the industry.

Ask actor Dharmendra if he has learnt Tamil from his dream girl Hema Malini and he chuckles, “Dharam pesaren. Tee kondu vaa. Romba pasikkiradu. Polaama?” In Chennai to receive the Rajnikanth Legend Award, the actor who completes 50 years in cinema in 2010, and is all set to release his “Yamla Pagla Deewana” in 2011, says he has always loved Rajnikanth as a brother, and enjoyed working with him.

Dharmendra has held his own among thespians, not for his arresting looks alone, but for genuine performances — in films as varied as the blockbusting “Sholay” to the heart-melting “Satyakam”. Lt. Gen. Jayanto Chowdhury found him most convincing as an army man in “Haqeeqat”. An overwhelmed Rajinder Singh Bedi hugged him after the star shot the entire song “Ya dil ki suno duniyawalo” in a single, lip-sync perfect take. But Dharmendra knew when to make his whole being speak, instead of words. In the Bengali film “Pari” he opted to remain silent as Dilip Kumar speaks, and conveys a world of meaning through silence.

In this interview, Dharmendra remains true to his image of the lovable Prince Charming. Excerpts:

What turned Dharmendra, the matinee idol, into a poet? How did you write “Bhaj Man Hari ka Naam”, published in 2009?

I can say it's my empathy for human beings, for what they go through… what I go through… But I think poetry comes to you when you are restless, uneasy, depressed. In 2001, I was alone in America with a back problem. Loneliness was killing me. No one to share sorrows. Guess what! I started talking to myself.

Then tanhayee (solitude) started talking to me, “You don't know me. You are afraid of me. You can't escape me. Remember your childhood dreams of becoming a star? You were on my lap then. I was in the lullabies your mother sang. You didn't need me in all those years of mahurats, megahits, parties, tamashas. But now you are in my arms again.” I started writing what I thought was prose. It had rhythm, imagery, feeling…it was verse.

Even the stills show how much fun you are having with sons Sunny and Bobby Deol in the upcoming film “Yamla Pagla Deewana”, with a remix in the title song taking off from your own “Pratigyna” (1975)…

Though I've done my share of emotionally-charged films, I've loved comedies. With my sons, this film is a picnic. We don't see ourselves as stars, hardly go to parties, our home has a village atmosphere. That's why I love Madras. It's like a village… (laughing) used to be at least!

What did you do — even in the early years — to make yourself stand out even in heroine dominated films such as “Phool aur Patthar” (Meena Kumari), “Bandini” (Nutan) and “Anupama” (Sharmila Tagore)? Did the actresses inspire you?

Thank God you said that! I was so desperate to be in films that I accepted anything those days. Nutan was such a marvellous actress, so graceful, sensitive… Did you know that director Bimal Roy and scriptwriter Nabendu Ghosh had a clash over the ending of “Bandini”? Ghosh insisted that the girl should go with the revolutionary (Ashok Kumar) and not the doctor (me). But what's crucial to a film is not actors/actresses. Directors such as Bimal Roy and Ramesh Sippy make all the difference. Hrishikesh Mukherjee knew exactly what he wanted. Hadn't he been Bimalda's editor? Once when I asked for another take, he asked why and went on to do seven shots purposely. But his love for me made him keep the one I liked.

When we did “Sholay” we had no idea it was going to become a cult film. I think a major reason is that every single character is memorable, even the brief role of Keshtio Mukherji. I learnt that when you have a good script, you have a good character, and then the actor can do wonders. Such inspiring scripts are rare. People say, Arey, Dharmendra ne kya kiya! The credit should go to the unsung hero, the scriptwriter.

So your own favourite character, script, film?

Have you seen “Satyakam” (Hrishikesh Mukherji, 1969)? It is everyone's dream to be like “Satyakam”, totally honest, completely truthful, untouched by lies and deceit. But he is unable to survive in this world of evil, falsehood, hypocrisy. Mother India, we say, but how do we treat our motherland? Our golden land, how riddled with corruption! I feel helpless… so many wrongs… painful to see, not be able to do anything.

Didn't you try to right some wrongs as a politician, even get brickbats for absence from your constituency (Bikaner) and Lok Sabha?

It was an emotional decision to enter politics. People forced me into it saying good people must take responsibility… I'd go home from the airport because I hated going to Delhi… I banged my head against the mirror in the bathroom. I can't play the game of scoundrels. But I got a new park out of a rubbish dump, a sanction for a bridge over the railway crossing, and a rangmanch for artistes before running away from the system of bureaucratic blocks and nonsense.

You've been a hero for three decades and done fine character roles but have often talked about Dilip Kumar as your hero.

Even today when I'm at any function with Dilip Sahib I feel how incredible that I'm sitting beside this great actor.

The women in the life of the star called the handsomest on the Hindi screen?

I respect all women; my parents have taught me to respect all women. (Laughing) I know what you want and so let me tell you that, to me, Hemaji is the most divinely beautiful woman I know, also most graceful, dignified, caring. I respect her a lot. What? Her dancing? Arey, I'm a Punjabi, what do I know about Bharatanatyam? (Mischievously) Yamla Pagla Deewana…

You constantly talk about affection and care. You are good-natured to a fault they say. How have you held on to this simplicity in the world of magnified glamour?

One can't escape one's nature. I know how to give love and get love. Today's stars, yesterday's stars, spot boys, light boys, peons, drivers, they all love me because I love them. I'm in everybody's heart. I care for humanity.