I have recently shifted to Mumbai, a city I see as a limitless sea of stories – of dreams, failures, survival, success and devastation. However, before I was introduced to it in person, I saw it through the eyes of a man who boasts of five decades in it, who came a dreamy-eyed youth in his twenties to ‘Bombay’, lived the famed glitzy life of Hindi cinema, earned fame and built a fortune, but returned to his roots empty-handed and, worse, into the loneliness and hollow of an old age home.
He is Gurudarshan Singh Josan, a yesteryear actor who I met in Punjab during an assignment for Hindustan Times, and took a shine to him. I met him regularly in the months to come, helping him vent out his pent up emotions for, as he says, “lack of company to talk with is what kills me the most”.
Darshan at Red Cross Old Age home in Sarabha Nagar, Ludhiana
Aged, wrinkled, but surprisingly strong-built and tall, that’s how he looks. Josan joined the film industry in the 60s and swayed with it up and down for many years. His close friends’ list boasted of names such as the famous Mukherjees (Rono, Joy, Deb) and he owned a three-room flat on the Juhu beach. Josan quickly reached immense popularity after essaying a negative character in ‘Tu Hi Meri Zindagi’ (1965), a superhit. However, a family issue led him to give up playing villain and take up character roles, considered far lesser in hierarchy in the acting world.
Poster of ‘Tu hi meri Zindagi’
“After ‘Tu Hi…” I signed one film after another with negative roles, only to return the signing amount a year later as my wife never approved of my negative characters, mainly due to the scenes involving rape or molestation act. I left films but returned five years later, only to realise that popular faces such as Amrish Puri, Ranjeet and Prem Chopra had completely taken over the roles with negative shades. Heeding the advice of film producer Subodh Mukherjee, I took up a character role in his next venture ‘Sharmeelee’. The 1971 film starring Shashi Kapoor and Rakhi went on to become a major hit and celebrate its silver jubilee in theatres across the country. I was again in demand and, for the next decade, there was never dearth of work. I did three shifts a day. Money was good. I was neck deep with work and was enjoying every moment,” recalls Darshan, who also wrote dialogues for a couple of films including 1977’s Haiwan.
The result: he went on to become no Bachchan but a considerably successful man, with bank balance, property, and popularity. However, the death of his wife and two children (in separate accidents) spiralled him into depression and led him to what he says “lose my mind entirely”.
So, he simply left the expensive house behind (promptly taken over by his sister’s brothers, he says), squandered away a major part of the savings, cut ties with his friends (friends in film industry, he says, are no more than ships that pass in the night) and moved to his roots – Punjab. “I didn’t know what was happening around me when friends and relatives took away whatever money I had earned,” he recalls.
He imagined he would be taken care by relatives in his home state, but was shown the door to an old age home within months, he tells me.
Any conversation with him involves interesting insights into the city and the then film industry, with impressive names like Raj Kapoor, Nargis, Rajesh Khanna and even Amitabh Bachchan always dropping in casually, much to my fascination.
Today, he earns no money; his savings, that have seen him through for a decade in the old age home, are on the brink of exhaustion. There is some help by the relatives indeed, but he tells me he awaits death.
When I told him about my transfer to Mumbai, all he said was “I will lose a good friend”. When I assured him I will always meet him during regular visits back to Ludhiana, this is what he told me: “I will wait. But do not tell me any stories about that city. It was great to live in. But it’s best forgotten.”