For the man who set the screen ablaze with a bygone romantic mysticism with his Shola Jo Bhadke or had the audience dancing to his tune with Bhole Surat Dil Ke Khote, films were a lifelong romantic affair. His career may have not reached as far as he had wanted, but there is no denying that Bhagwan Dada will always be remembered in the history of Indian cinema.
The actor who still has the entire nation dancing to his tunes started off his career in films as a junior artiste and rose to become one of the most sought after comedians of his time. His individualistic style of acting and dancing is emulated to this day. Born as Bhagwan Abhaji Palav in Bombay in 1913, he was the son of a poor mill worker. Bhagwan saw poverty-stricken days as he resided in the labour-dominated area of Central Mumbai. He dropped out of school after primary education, took up a lot of odd jobs and devoted himself to bodybuilding, as he wanted to join the movies. It was in 1930 after making rounds of director’s offices that he got his first break in a silent film called Bewafa Aashiqui with the producer Siraj Ali Hakim. During this time, he was very close to his long-term partner Chandrarao Kadam, with whom he acted in the G P Pawar directed stunt movies. He co-directed his first film Bahadur Kisan with Pawar in 1938 and turned producer in 1942 with Jagruti Pictures and owned Jagruti Studios in Chembur in 1947. During this time, he acted in many small-budget films like Jalan, Dosti, Criminal and Bhedi Bangal But his life changed when his film, Albela (1951) turned out to a big blockbuster. Written, produced and directed by the actor, the black and white musical had dialogues by Ehsan Rizvi and lyrics by Rajinder Krishen with music by C Ramchandra. Its cast included Geeta Bali, Badri Prasad, Pratima Devi, Bimala. His drawn-out dialogue delivery style, coupled with his characteristic laugh made him one of the favourite comedians on the Indian screen. However, it was his dancing style, ‘the halt and move’ step with hands alternately swaying forward rhythmically that made him one of the most emulated dancing stars of his time.
Even though Albela was a runaway hit, Bhagwan could not sustain his success and his next films like Jhamela and Rangeela turned out to be big disasters. Even though he acted in numerous films, they failed to recreate the Albela magic and the actor soon found himself slipping down the ladder. Since, he was no longer getting hero roles, the actor started playing a simpleton in many stunt, adventure and comedy movies till the '60s. In the '70s he was relegated to doing cameo roles in Hindi and Marathi films. His last film was Nache Nagin Gali Gali wherein he played a cameo. Bhagwan spent his last few years in abject poverty in a one- room residence in a Chawl at Dadar. The actor who had acted in over 400 movies did not even have a decent house. Bhagwan also suffered a paralytic stroke two years back and that had left bound to a wheelchair. He died alone on February 4’2002 in miserable conditions, lonely and a sad man. Even though he had four sons and three daughters, he was all alone in the end!