Once Famous Now Forgotten!
Surendra (1911 - 1987)
It was the era of singing stars. Surendra was brought by Mehboob in the 30s as Bombay's counter- strategy to Calcutta's reigning singer K.L. Saigal. Surendra became a part and parcel of Mehboob's Sagar Movietone, after his very first song, "Birha Ki Aag Lagi More Man Mein"(Deccan Queen) became an instant hit. Since the song was inspired by Saigal's hit song, "Balam Aye Baso More Man Mein", Surendra came to be known as Bombay's Saigal. However, when "Tumhi Ne Mujh Ko Prem Sikhaya"(Manmohan), from his second movie with Mehboob, became hugely popular with the masses, Surendra made his place for himself as a very talented singer-actor, independent of the Saigal tag. Then followed Surendra's hit musicals, Jagirdar, Gramophone Singer, Jiwan Sathi, Alibaba, Aurat, Gharib, Jawani etc. and movies made in Bombay were on top of the Box Office charts, the place they had been missing for want of a singing talent. Surendra's peak time as a popular singing star continued into the 40s when two of his movies became the greatest musicals of that time. "Bhartrihari", a mythological with music by Khemchandra Prakash, and Mehboob's alltime musical hit, "Anmol Ghadi", with music by the maestro Naushad. "Bhiksha De De Maiya Pingla' from film "Bharthari" is still played, after 60 years of its rendering, wherever the classic play on the life of the king-turned-saint is staged every year during the festival season. The duet from "Anmol Ghadi", "Aawaz De Kahan Hei" has immortalized both Surendra and Noorjehan as the most popular singing pair in movies.
After the Partition when Noorjehan moved to Pakistan, the popular pair of Lal Haveli and Anmol Ghadi never got another chance to sing and act together. Surendra did sing some solos in movies thereafter, including the haunting melody, "Teri Yad Ka Dipak Jalta Hei"(Paigam). The era of playback singing had ushered in and Surendra eventually switched over to character-actor roles. Some of his movies became greatest hits of 50s and 60s, such as Baiju Bawra, Waqt, Mughal-E-Azam, Milan, Johar Mehmood in Goa, Dil Deke Dekho, Evening in Paris, Sarswati Chandra, Haryali Aur Raasta etc.. A few years before his death in 1987, Surendra, then better known as Surendranath, started an advertising company and devoted much of his time to making TV commercials for some of the big brands like Colgate and Lyril. The TV commercials are continued to be made till date by his sons Jeet Surendranath and Kailash Surendranath who have also made some highly acclaimed short films including Mile Sur Mera Tumhara.
Chandra Mohan (1905–1949)
Chandra Mohan was famous for his work in Hindi cinema in the 1930s and 1940s. He was known for his large grey eyes, voice modulation and dialog delivery. His eyes form the opening sequence in V. Shantaram's 1934 film Amrit Manthan. He later appeared in lead or important roles in some of the most famous movies of 1930s and 40s made by icon moviemakers of the era: V. Shantaram's Dharmatma (1935), Amar Jyoti (1936) and Shakuntala (1947), Sohrab Modi's Pukar (1939) and Bharosa (1940), Mehboob Khan's Roti (1942), Taqdeer (1943) and Humayun (1945). His other notable movies include Jwala (1938), Apna Ghar (1942), Naukar (1943), Mumtaz Mahal (1944), Draupadi (1944) and Panna Dai (1945). His last appearance was in Ramesh Saigal's 1948 film Shaheed. As Rai Bahadur Dwarka Nath, he played father to Ram, who was portrayed by Dilip Kumar. Mohan's character in this film initially supports the British Government but later favors the Freedom Struggle.
Chndra Mohan took to heavy gambling and drinking and died penniless in 1949 at the age of 44.
Shanta Apte (1916–1964)
No film star created as much sensation by her behavior as did Shanta Apte, who was aptly described as “the stormy petrel of the Indian screen.” Shanta Apte had a very eventful career as both film and stage star. Shanta Apte learnt singing in childhood and made a name for herself as a singer at Ganpati festivals in Poona. When the movies began to talk, there was a demand for artistes who could sing. The teenaged Shanta was cast as Radha in Saraswati Cinetone’s mythological “Shayamsunder”, opposite Shahu Modak as Krishna. The Hindi version did not fare well, but the Marathi version was a phenomenal success. It was the first talkie to run for 25 weeks at one theatre, in Bombay. Her first film for Prabhat was “Amritmanthan”, based on a story by N. H. Apte. Set in the Buddhist period, the picture was a plea against religious sacrifice. Her songs (especially Raat Ayi Hai Naya Rang Jamane Ke Liye) became a popular craze. “Amritmanthan” was the first Hindi film to celebrate a silver jubilee in Bombay. During her contract with Prabhat she appeared in “Amarjyoti”, “Rajput Ramani”, “Duniya Na Mane”, “Wahan” and “Gopal Krishna”. “Amarjyoti” and “Duniya Na Mane” were directed by V. Shantaram. In “Amarjyoti” she played the romantic lead and the ward of a woman who hated men. In “Duniya Na Mane” she was cast as Nirmala, a young girl married to a man old enough to be her father. Instead of accepting the marriage as a ‘failed accomplishment” she revolts, refusing to have conjugal relations with her husband and making him realize his mistake. Her performance in “Duniya Na Mane” proved beyond doubt that Shanta Apte was a very talented actress.
A singer of repute herself Shanta Apte was vehemently opposed to playback singing by ghost voices.
Shanta Apte went to Lahore to appear in Pancholi’s “Zamindar”. “Zamindar” was a success. And Shanta Apte’s song Chhotasa Sansar scored by Ghulam Haider became a memorable hit. Back in Bombay Shanta Apte appeared in Debaki Bose’s “Apna Ghar”. She played the role of Meera, a young girl married to a widowed forest officer who lives in the jungle. With Chandramohan cast as her overpowering husband, who represented the ruling class, Shanta Apte symbolized mother India trying to break the fetters. She was ideally cast as the girl rebelling against old concepts. She gave a sterling performance. Her other important role during that period was as Mahashweta in “Kadambari”, based on the Sanskrit classic of the same name. Shanta Apte looked glamorous in this film. Her performance in “Swayamsiddha” won her accolades. “Swayamsiddha” was Shanta Apte’s last great performance. Indeed, her three outstanding performances were as a rebel revolting against injustice in “Duniya Na Mane”, “Apna Ghar” and “Swayamsiddha”.
Shanta Apte was perhaps the first star to write a book. Entitled “Jaoo Mi Cinemat” (Should I join films) it was meant as a warning and guide to young aspirants. A Marathi play “Kachecha Chandra” (Glass Moon) was based on it. It has been a big success.
Shahu Modak (1918 - 1993)
Mostly famous for playing mythological characters, especially Lord Krishna, Shahu Modak was a well-known actor of Hindi and Marathi movies in the 30s and 40s. He acted in numerous films from 1932 to 1986, playing the role of Lord Krishna's character in around 30 movies. He also sang two songs for movie Bharat Milap. His most noted movies include: Shyam Sunder (1932), Nand Ke Lala (1934), Begunah (1937), Aadmi (1939), Manoos (1939), Sant Dyaneshwar (1940), Apna Paraya (1942), Bharat Milap (1942), Vasant Sena (1942), Dulhan (1943), Maharathi Karn (1944), Meghdoot (1945), Nar Narayan (1949), Veer Ghatotkach (1949), Bhagwan Shri Krishna (1950), Bhishma Pratigya (1950), Bhakta Puran (1952), Dashera (1956), Bhakta Dhruva (1957), Narsi Bhagat (1957), Ram Bhakta Vibhishan (1959), Sant Tukaram (1965), Hari Darshan (1972), Har Har Mahadev (1974), Meera (1979) and Razia Sultan (1983). Out of all these films V. Shantaram's Aadmi (1939) was Shahu Modak's most famous film ever. Not only this was Shantaram's masterpiece movie and a landmark in the annals of Hindi as well as Marathi (Manoos) cinema, it made Shahu Modak famous for his brilliant performance as an honest police official. Even an award, Shahu Modak Manoos Award, has been instituted in his memory. The Rangat Sangat Pratishthan gives this award since 2001 to a senior artist of Marathi cinema. This award is given at the hands of police commissioner since Shahu Modak played the role of a police in film Manoos.
Shahu Modak was a renowned astrologer as well, and it is said that he knew his day of judgment in advance. His wife was Pratibha Modak, who was earlier a Jain sadhvi. When Shahu Modak had met her, he had predicted with his palmistry skills that one day she will leave her sainthood. She has written a book on Shahu Modak. The book is unique for it is the first one to give an insight into the personal life and deep intellectual acumen of one of India’s best known lead actors.
Prem Adib (1917 - 1959)
Famous as cineworld's Ram, Prem Adib's first film as a hero opposite Shobhana Samarth was NIRALA HINDUSTAN(Industrial India). He appeared once again as a hero in GHUNGHATWAALI, BHOLBHOLE and SADHANA (1939). In SAUBHAGYA (1940), again as a hero with Shobhana Samarth, Prem Adib also sang the songs. From 1936 to 1940, there were 11 films released with acting by Prem Adib. In terms of popularity, the decade of the 1940s was his career's best phase. In the early 40s, Prem Adib joined the prestigious Prakash Pictures. Prakash Pictures films in which Prem Adib acted were: DARSHAN, BHARAT MILAP, CHUDIYAAN, STATION MASTER, RAM RAJYA, POLICE, VIKRAMADITYA and RAAM-BAAN.
Ram of Bharat Milap and Ram Rajya became the most memorable role of his career. Released at Super Cinema in Mumbai, Ram Rajya scaled the peaks of popularity. It ran continuously for 108 weeks. People started worshipping Prem Adib as Ram after BHARAT MILAAP and RAM RAJYA. He was showered with Ram roles. Tired of crazy fans Prem Adib used to explain to them that he was just an ordinary man like them and that they should not worship him and insult Lord Ram, but it had no effect on people. Believing that Ram's visit would get rid of their sorrows, many people would insist on inviting him to their homes. In a village near Udaipur, the idol of Ram for a newly built Ram Temple was made to look like the Ram of RAAM RAJYA. On seeing the publicity vehicles that had posters of RAM RAJYA, people would worship and offer gifts to the images of Ram(Prem Adib) and Sita(Shobhana Samarth).
After Ram Rajya, Prem Adib had 30 film releases. Most of them were religious films with the notable exception of Mehboob's musical Anokhi Ada (1948) in which he costarred with singing star Surendra and beauty queen Naseem Bano. On 25th December, 1959 Prem Adib had gone to a party with his wife Pratima. During the day he was healthy and fine, but after coming back he had an attack of brain hemorrhage due to high blood pressure. When his fans came to know they complained that if they had been informed they would have given him a farewell befitting Ram.
Karan Dewan (1917-1979)
There was a time when Karan Dewan was known as a jubilee star; in fact over 20 of his starrers celebrated jubilees. In 1941 Karan Dewan made his debut as Puran in “Puran Bhagat” (Punjabi). He got his first big break in “Tamanna” in which he was cast opposite Leela Desai. His next big film “Rattan”, co-starring Swaranlata, celebrated a golden jubilee and the song Jab Tum Hi Chale Pardes sung by Karan himself for Naushad, set a new vogue for sad songs. In 1945 two pictures starring Karan Dewan celebrated silver jubilees, Zeenat and Bhai Jaan (both with Noor Jehan). The spell of success continued with movies like “Mehndi,” “Do Dil,” “Krishna Sudama,” his only mythological film, and “Shakti”. Karan Dewan proved popular in an era when the hero had to be meek and non-violent and suffer defeat and frustration with equanimity. He was ideal for such roles.
His post partition success started with a Punjabi film “Chaman,” produced by his brother. It was followed by “Lahore” (1948) and “Chhoti Bhabhi,” (1950) in which Nargis was his co-star, V. Shantaram’s “Dahej” (with Jayashree), “Duniya” (Suraiya), “Rakhi” (Kamini Kaushal) and “Pardes” (Madhubala). Karan played the lead opposite newcomer Meena Kumari in Ranjit’s “Piya Ghar Aaaja” in 1947 and opposite Vyjayanthimala, also a newcomer, in A.V.M.’s “Bahar” in 1951. Other hits to his credit included V. Shantaram’s “Teen Batti Char Rasta” (opposite Sandhya) and M.Sadiq’s “Musafirkhana”. He co-starred with Meena in Shorey’s “Jalwa” and “Aag Ka Dariya.” He appeared opposite Geeta Bali in “Sau ka Note.”
After his days as the leading man were over, Karan Dewan made occasional appearances on the screen. He contributed excellent cameos in “Daadi Maa”, “Shahid Bhagatsingh”, “Jeene Ki Raah” and ”Maa Aur Mamta.”
All fame is ephemeral but there are still some who still sparkle and not completely gone into eclipse? I would welcome and appreciate comments from readers who can recollect and share their knowledge of any other names from Bollywood's once famous now forgotten.