Jairaj – Profile
P. Jairaj spent 70 years in the film industry during which he played various roles – from a body-double stuntman to the macho hero, from mythological God to social drama leads and from filmmaker to the custodian of the film industry’s welfare through various associations – and endeared himself to everybody. P. Jairaj joined the industry at the tender age of 19 and lived a full life till the age of 91. He is survived by four daughters and two sons. His second daughter, Deepa Shahi and her son Rajan, a popular tele-serial maker (of Jaisi Jaissi Koi Nahin, Kareena Kareena, Reth and Yeh Rishta Kya Kehlata Hai fame) go into a rewind mode. “Papa was a totally family-oriented person. He would be up at the crack of dawn by 5 am and by 9 pm the lights would be out! He wasn’t a strict father though, he liked to educate us through books, “ recalls Deepa. He amassed a huge library of books on every subject under the sun which he eventually donated to various libraries in Mumbai, Kolkata and to his friends and relatives. “I got the historical section with books on architechture,” elaborates Deepa while her son inherited books on filmmaking and artistic performances.
[title size=”2″]The Silent Era
Born in Karimnagar (Andhra Pradesh) in a cultured family, young Jairaj was schooled in Rishi Valley school. Thereafter he joined the Nizam’s college where he participated in Shakespearean plays. He hailed from a very cultured family with lofty connections – his mama was married to Sarojini Naidu. His father, a government official, passed away and his mother followed suit when he was barely 19 and the youngest among three brothers, Jairaj was totally heartbroken and shifted to Mumbai. “He wanted to join the Navy but he was delayed for the recruitment. He befriended his filmi neighbors, who urged him to join films because of his strapping physique. He was nearly six feet tall,” relates Deepa. His film career took off as a body-double stuntman in the Sharda Film company. He would be interested in all aspects of filmmaking – from camera work, edit to lab processing. Not before long, he got his first acting break as the hero’s friend and his body-double during stunt scenes in Jagmagati Jawani (1929) and graduated to playing the hero. His distinguished looks and physique landed him the lead role. However, his second venture, Raseeli Rani, was his first release. He acted in as many as 11 silent films between 1929-1931. Jairaj in an earlier interview had elaborated on how silent films were made,“All shooting took place in natural sunlight. Our day began and ended early. We reached the sets by 7.30 in the morning and packed up by 5 in the evening… We all learnt the craft by trial and error. We discussed the story together, developed it and then started shooting… It was a challenge, you had to make people laugh, cry or get angry through facial expressions and gestures only. Charles Chaplin is the best example of this art. But then, cinema, unlike the stage, is a visual medium. That was why silent movies had universal appeal.”
[title size=”2″]Variety Time
After the first talkie film, Alam Ara, in 1931, Jairaj also switched over to talkies. Being a Hyderabadi, he was fluent in Urdu and that proved to be a big asset for him. Shikari, replete with tigers, lions and snakes, was his first talkie.
With sound came songs and Jairaj was handicapped by the fact that he was no singer, but he managed to stay in the reckoning by starring in action films. With the introduction of playback singing, he forged forth with films like Rifle Girl, Bhabhi, Panna and Mahasagar No Moti – which were all hits.
1950s and early ’60s was Jairaj’s golden era as an actor as he essayed a variety of roles of hero, villain and even comedian. He was, however, celebrated for his wide range of historical roles, playing Chandrashekhar Azad, Amar Singh Rathore, Prithviraj Chauhan, Rana Pratap, Shaheed Bhagat Singh and Tipu Sultan. “Papa was a natural rider and that helped,” opines Deepa.
[title size=”2″]First Kissing Star, First Superman
Jairaj featured in over 200 films during which he romanced all the top heroines of his times – Devika Rani, Khursheed, Nigar Sultana, Nadira, Shakila, Durga Khote, Nirupa Roy, Nimmi, Suraiya, Madhubala and Meena Kumari. “He was the first kissing star of his times, he was lip-locked with his heroine Madhuri in Jagmagati Jawani. He was also the first superman of the Indian screen,” informs Rajan Shahi about the on-screen shenannigans of his nanaji.
“Although Papa was famous for his parties, he was never involved in any scandal. All his heroines regarded him as their close friend. I remember, Nargis had knitted him a sweater monogrammed with his initials!” Deepa reminisces fondly.
Jairaj started accepting character roles from mid-’Sixties. His roles in Insaniyat, Baharon Ke Sapne, Neel Kamal, Raaste Aur Manzil are memorable. Also his most cameos in Don, Masoom and Khoon Bhari Maang are known to viewers today. Jairaj had also acted in three international films, the Russian co-production with K.A.Abbas Pardesi, MGM’s Maya and 20th Century Fox’s Nine Hours To Rama. The last film was based on Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination and was banned in India!.
[title size=”2″]A Tragic Screen Romance
Jairaj produced and directed Sagar starring Nargis, Dilip Kumar and Bharat Bhushan in 1951. “It was based on Lord Tennyson’s poem Enoch Arden. It was a story about two brothers living in a seaside town and the younger brother sacrifices his love as the elder brother is in love with his sweetheart. But papa lost all his money in his maiden production,” Deepa recalls sadly. Jairaj had confessed in an earlier interview, “I did not have the business acumen to produce and promote a film. Unlike others producers, I had invested my own money,” he had admitted regretfully. Jairaj was forced to sell his office and it was the most frustrating period of his career. He went back to acting and recovered.
He also directed films like Mala, Mohar and Rajghar. He also directed two television serials -Tana-Bana and Katha Sagar.
[title size=”2″]Goodwill Counts
Jairaj was hailed as the industry’s friend. He was a keen sportsman and an artiste. He would organize all the charity cricket matches that stars played. He also designed musical shows and award ceremonies. He also took keen interest in the propagation of classical dance and music. “While he managed the entire show by drawing sketches of the stage to star performances, veteran character artiste David would compere the shows,” Deepa recalls.
He was close friends with the Kapoors. “So much so that both our families would go on vacations together,” Deepa recalls happily how Prithviraj and his sons were like their extended family.
Prithviraj Kapoor and P. Jairaj were the founder members of the Cine Artistes’ Association in 1939. In 1981, most deservingly, Jairaj was honoured with the prestigious Dadasaheb Phalke award for his outstanding contribution to Indian cinema. Interestingly, Jairaj starred in Gujarati and Marathi films but never in Telugu, which was his mother tongue.
Prithviraj’s father had arranged his marriage to a Punjabi girl from Delhi and the two were blessed with six children. Of his two sons Dileep Raj even starred in K. A. Abbas’ Seheer Aur Sapna and was then hailed as the ‘next Raj Kapoor’. “But he couldn’t sustain his success. He now writes films and serials, while Jai Tilak, our second brother, became an engineer and he’s settled in Chicago. All of us four sisters were married out of Mumbai and out of the film industry,” updates Deepa.
Rajan, his grandson, is the sole torchbearer of Jairaj’s showbiz legacy. “Nanaji advised me to build goodwill in the industry. Name and fame will come and go, only your goodwill see you through, he said. That’s the most valued mantra for me,” admits his grandson gratefully.
P. Jairaj passed away on August 11, 2000 at the ripe age of 91, leaving behind a rich legacy.