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Karachi-born Sushil Kumar – A Forgotten Actor of Hindi Film Industry

Sushil debuted as child artist in Sindhi film Abana and then acted in several movies but shined after his role as crippled teenager in 1964 movie Dosti with memorable song ‘Dukh to apna saathi hai’.

“As far as my character in Dosti is concerned, it has lot of resemblance with me in my real life. Like Ramnath in movie, I also faced lots of hardships, acute poverty, and sorrows in real life since my childhood” – Sushil said in an interview in 2014.

Due to insecurities, he started feeling dejected from the films and had joined Air India as Flight Purser in 1971, and never looked back to the film industry. 

Monitoring Desk

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Any discussion around the 1964 classic Dosti is incomplete without marveling how a little film with two fairly new actors and a splendid soundtrack emerged as the third highest earning movie of the year. Dosti was Rajshri Productions’ second outing; they had ventured into filmmaking only two years earlier with the Meena Kumari-starrer Aarti. The project was helmed by Satyen Bose, known for the iconic Jagriti (1954) that also focused on the theme of youngsters and idealism. With commendable performances by its lead actors, Sudhir and Sushil Kumar, and the combined musical prowess of Majrooh Sultanpuri’s soulful lyrics, Mohammed Rafi’s dulcet voice, and Laxmikant Pyarelal’s melodious tunes, Dosti became a cinematic milestone.

Sushil Kumar
Sushil Kumar (Right) and Sudhir Kumar in Dosti

A remake of the Bengali film Lalu Bhulu (1959), Dosti, as the title suggests chronicles a friendship between two poor and orphaned disabled boys. Mohan (Sudhir), who is blind, and the crippled Ramu (Sushil) form a team using their respective musical talents of singing and playing the harmonica to earn a livelihood and survive the cruelties of a hand-to-mouth street existence. But the film is much more than the kinship between these plucky physically-challenged teenagers. Beyond its well-worn tropes of heartbreaking tragedies, crushing struggles, sacrifices, and eventual triumph, Dosti trains its gaze on imagining a society that is empathetic, educated, and equitable.

Sushil Kumar and Sudhir Kumar - DostiAs the decades passed, the two actors became the forgotten characters and nobody knew about their whereabouts. It was 2014 when an Indian film researcher and writer Shishir Krishna Sharma unearthed the life story of the two actors. According to Sharma, he was forwarded a question of a listener from Gwalior by a FM radio, who wanted to know whereabouts of Sudhir Kumar and Sushil Kumar. During Google surfing he knew that the two actors were murdered by a big star of that era. However, later he came to know by a blog writer Harish Raghuwanshi that one of the two actors was murdered, and also that Sushil Kumar was a Sindhi, and possibly acted in one more film, while Sudhir Kumar was Maharashtrian. “One of them died, who died, I don’t know” was his answer.

Sushil Kumar and Sudhir Kumar - Dosti-1At this stage, famous character actress Farida (known as Farida Dadi), who had played a role in Dosti as Baby Farida, gave the answer. “Sudhir Kumar is no more. He died long back. But I don’t know whereabouts of Sushil Kumar.”

During the quest, Sharma found a comment on internet by one Ms. Sharmila Belani, a Sindhi woman that Sushil Kumar is very much alive and is settled in Chembur, Mumbai.” He contacted Ms. Sharmila and got the contact number and address of Sushil Kumar.

It was evening of July 11, 2014, when Mr. Sharma interviewed Sushil Kumar at his flat in Navjivan Society Chembur for three and half an hour.

Sushil Kumar and Sudhir Kumar - Dosti-2Sushil Kumar also known for Shriman Satyawadi (1960), Sangram (1976) and Kala Bazar (1960), narrated his life story as under:

“I was born on 4th July 1945 in Karachi. Ours was a joint family consisting of my grandparents, parents, two uncles, their wives and children. We lived in a palatial house and had a thriving and flourishing business of dry fruits. My father’s name was Kishan Chand Somaya and mother was Tulsi Bai. Though we were Sindhis yet we had a deep impact of Kachchhi-Gujarati culture on our language, food habits and traditions. I was hardly two and half a year when the partition took place and we had to run away from Karachi leaving behind everything we had. We migrated to Gujarat’s Navsari City where we started out dry fruit business afresh. But our business failed to take off in the new place and due to continuous losses, we had to leave Navsari City within six years. We shifted to Mumbai in 1953 and started living in a Chawl in Mahim. I was admitted to a municipal school in Mahim in 3rd standard as I had already passed 2nd from Navsari. But we hadn’t seen worst of days which were destined for us.”

Sushil Kumar and Sudhir Kumar - Dosti-3“Having lived a prosperous and luxurious life, my grandfather, father and both the uncles couldn’t cope with the shock of bankruptcy and within a year they all died. Our financial condition went from bad to worse and our joint family got scattered. My maternal aunt and uncle lived in Chembur. They had directly migrated to Mumbai after partition and were well-settled here during all these years. Our family was now left with my mother and us – three siblings. I was the eldest, then came my sister and youngest was my brother.”

“Maternal aunt proved to a great support to us. They called us to Chembur from Mahim to live near them. I was just nine years old at that time. We started living in a barrack in Chembur Camp and I got admitted to municipal school. My maternal uncle was in service with a Danish Company Lumas. My mother also got a job with Larson & Toubro (L&T) which helped us bring our financial condition under control to some extent.”

Sushil Kumar and Sudhir Kumar - Dosti-4
Sushil and Sudhir with Prithviraj Kapoor

“I loved dancing an enthusiastically participated in dancing programs organized during the Ganpati festival. One day our old family friend from Karachi – Kishen Lal Bajaj came to our home. He was a Multani and his whole family had migrated to Delhi after partition. Kishen Lal Bajaj lived in Mumbai and worked as an extra in films. He offered my mother to get me roles in films against a 20 percent commission which my mother happily accepted.”

Sushi Kumar and Sudhir Kumar- Dosti“My debut movie as a child was ‘Abana’, made in Sindhi in the year1958. This was actress Sadhna’s debut movie as well. ‘Abana’ was directed by Dharam Kumar, who with the screen name of Deepak Asha, had played the main villain in the Lahore production ‘Paraye Bas Me’ (1946). Dharam Kumar also directed Hindi movies ‘Ghamand’ (1955), Road No: 303 (1960), Sangdil (1967), and Murder on Highway (1970). Along with ‘Abana’, I also acted in another Sindhi movie ‘Insaf Kithe Aa’, which was released in 1959.”

“As a child artist I did many movies like ‘Phir Subah Hogi’ (1958), Dhool Ka Phool, Mainne Jeena Seekh Liya (Both in 1959), Kala Bazaar, Shriman Satyawadi, Dil Bhi Tera Hum Bhi Tere (All 1960), Sanjog, Sampoorna Ramaya, Ek Ladki, Saat Kadke (All 1961), Phool Bane Angaare (1963), and Saheli (1965). Meanwhile, Kishen Lal Bajaj returned to Delhi after Ek Ladki Saat Ladke where he died sometime later.”

“Rajshri Productions owner Mr. Tarachand Barjatya was looking for two teen age boys of 17-18 for the main lead of Dosti which he was planning to produce as the remake of 1959 release Bangla movie Lalu-Bhulu in Hindi. His daughter Rajshri had already seen me in the movie Phool Bane Angaare and she was very much impressed with my work. She suggested my name to her father and one fine day, a person from Rajshri Productions came search for me at my home.”

Watch and Listen to: Dukh to apna saathi hai  

“I was introduced to director Satyen Bose and actor Sudhir Kumar at Rajshri Production office. Satyen Bose took us to Shri Sound Studio at Dadar where our makeup was done for the screen test. Both of us were tested on camera with dialogues for both the roles (of the blind and the crippled). The next day we were shown the Bangla movie Lalu Bhulu at Bombay Lab. Eventually I was selected for the role of crippled and Sudhir Kumar for blind. We signed a 3-year contract with the company for Rs.300/- per month salary.”

Released in the year 1964, Dosti was a big hit. Actor Sanjay Khan also debuted with this film. This was the debut movie of Pune-based Marathi actress Uma Rajoo as well. Apart from Best Movie Filmfare Award for the year 1964, Dost also won the Filmfare for best music, story, dialogues, playback and the lyrics. I was given the Maharashtra State’s Best Actor Award for the same film. I was studying in 12th standard at Jai Hind College at the time after passing my 11th standard from the municipal school. Tarachand Barjatya had started planning for his next production with Sudhir Kumar and me in the main lead again and we received our salary Rs.300/- every month which used to be a handsome amount at that time.

Sushil Kumar - Now and then
Now and then

Meanwhile, Sudhir was offered a role by the A. V. M. Company of Madras in the movie Laadla (1966) for which he got the contract with Rajshri Productions cancelled. He even paid the compensation as per the terms of the contract to the Rajshri Productions. I was in Moscow at that time for promotion of Dosti, which was to be shown in the International Children Film Festival 1965 being held there. Sudhir Kumar’s action compelled the Rajshri Productions to abandon the idea of abandon the idea of making another film with both of us actors and the company had to cancel the contract with me as well. But Tarachand Ji promised me that he would call me soon.

On the other hand, producer-director Devi Sharma and producer R. Laxman called me for their films Gunahon Ka Devta (1967) and Anokhi Raat (1968) respectively. But despite calling me again and again they failed to reach any decision. Due to such insecurities, I started feeling dejected from the films. I focused on my studies. Meanwhile, as per his promise, Tarachand Badjatya Ji called me for an important role in the movie Taqdeer which released in the year 1968 and proved to be a hit. But I had already decided to bid adieu to the film world.

I passed B. A. from Jai Hind College. Sometime later I got the job of a flight purser in Air India. Though I was seen as a flight purser in a scene which was shot inside an aeroplane in Dev Anand’s 1973 movie Heera Panna I still never looked back at films.

Sushil KumarI served for Air India from the year 1971 to 2003 and then took retirement. During my service, I saw the whole world. I married my childhood friend Koshi Kotwani who was my neighbor in Mahin and was from a well to do family. Kotwanis had a family business of dry fruits and an ice factory in Mumbai’s Masjid Bandar area. Our only child, a daughter Kiran lives in Florida in U. S. Her husband Ravi Nagpal is a software engineer. I and my wife live in Mumbai though we often visit our daughter as well. My younger brother, sister, my cousins and their families are all in Mumbai and the majority of them stay nearby around Chembur itself.

As far as my character in Dosti is concerned, it has a lot of resemblance with my real life. Like Ramnath in the movie, I also faced lots of hardships, acute poverty and sorrows in real life since my childhood. As such I identify very closely with a song of the movie wich goes something like this – Sukh hai Chhaaon dhalti, aati hai jaati hai, dukh to apna saathi hai.

Sudhir Kumar and I had become close pals during the shoot of Dosti. He was around two and a half years younger to me and his full name was Sudhir Kumar Sawant. He was Maharashrian and lived in Lalbaag, Parel. We were family friends who often visited each other’s homes. In 1994, I was informed in London about the death of Sudhir, which came as shock to me. His father had died long back. On reaching Mumbai, I met Sudhir’s mother, wife and daughter. His mother informed that during the 1993 riots in Mumbai, Sudhir suffered an injury to his throat due to a chicken bone being lodged to his throat while eating food. He couldn’t be given immediate treatment as the area was under curfew.

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Source: Indian Film History, Flashback Bollywood, Cinemaazi

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