Om Prakash – Memories
I was born on December 19, 1919, in Lahore. We were three brothers and one sister, I, being the fun loving child. I also loved to act from a very young age. My first role was in the play Ramlila, where I played Sita! I was very fond of classical music as well and studied it for 12 years, from my guru, Bhailal. He is the best classical singer in India.
My father was a very rich man and we had bungalows in Lahore and Jammu. He was a farmer who looked after vast acres of land. Because of my love of classical music, I joined All India Radio as an actor and a singer. I was paid rupees 25 per month as a salary. My hobby was writing plays and all my dialogues were written by me. My name in the programme was Fateh Din and I soon became a household name. The programme was so popular in Lahore and Punjab, that people would crowd near a radio when my programme was being aired. Even now, my friends in Punjab who are still alive, remember Fateh Din.
During this time, my romance with a Sikh girl from the royal family began. Every day, after my programme ended, I would meet her at the paan shop and we would go for a walk. We were very much in love and I wanted to marry her. Since my elder brother refused to get married, my mother urged me to do so. She wanted to see at least one of her sons married before she died. I did not have the guts to tell her about my romance. But I knew that if she got to know of it, she would not object to my marrying the girl I loved. The girl’s family were very much against me, since I was a Hindu.
One day, while I was standing at the paan shop, an elderly lady came up to me. She said she was a widow with four daughters, the eldest being 16 years old. She wanted me for a son-in-law and added that once the first girl was married, she could marry off the rest. She had spoken to my mother about this match who said that if I agreed, there would be no problem. She spread her pallu in front of me imploring me to agree. I was moved and immediately did so. The next day, I met my girlfriend and related what had happened. I told her it was better this way, since her family was totally against our match. As soon as she heard this, she just sat down on the pavement with her head in her hands. After that, she went home.
But she attended my wedding. Now, she is a grandmother and is happily married. My wife used to stay in Amritsar, while I was in Lahore. One day, I asked my younger brother to go and fetch my wife. There, he saw my wife’s sister and fell in love. So I broached the subject to my father and soon after, they were married.
At the radio station, I met my guru of dialogue delivery, Sayyed Imtiaz Ali. He was a great writer and he is the man who wrote Anarkali. I resigned from AIR because they were paying me a salary of rupees 40, when even the peons were getting more. But I still parted on amicable terms.
My entry into films was typical. As I said, ‘I am fun loving and create a hangama wherever I go. I was at a friend’s marriage party, having the time of my life dancing and laughing, where Dalsukh Pancholi, a big producer from Lahore, noticed me. After the wedding, I went to my uncle’s house in Jammu where I received a telegram. It read: ‘Come immediately — Pancholi’. I was sure my friends were playing a joke but my uncles and cousins persuaded me to go. I arrived at Lahore and called Pancholi from the station. But he said he did not know anybody called Om Prakash. I decided to return to Jammu that night and booked my ticket. To kill time, I met a few friends and went to my favourite paan shop. There I met Pran, who was not an actor then. He told me that Pancholi had indeed sent for me, only he did not know me as Om Prakash. He knew me as Fateh Din! I was thereafter introduced to his chief Production Manager, Ram Narain Dave, who appointed me at a salary of rupees 80 a month, to act in their film Daasi.
The role was of a comic villain and the film went on to be a super hit. Soon after though, I got a telegram stating that my services were no longer required. I was shocked because I had been given to understand that I would be with Pancholi Studios for at least a year. I sent back a telegram which read: ‘Thanks’. After a few months I was sitting at a bar with my friends, when Dave entered. He asked me to re-join them. This time, Sayyed had written a script for them. The film was Dhamkee and I was again playing a full- fledged villain, for the same salary. Mr. Pancholi was in the habit of watching the rushes of each day’s shooting and once remarked, ‘I like Om Prakash, he is a very good actor’. I was then urged by others, to ask him for a raise. People in the film were getting Rs. 2000 and more. I went to his office and he again complimented me on my work. I told him, ‘Sir, I am working under an inferiority complex, as I am paid only Rs. 80’. Mr. Pancholi called Dave and demanded to know why I was not paid a starting salary of Rs. 500 as instructed by him. Angrily, he scribbled out a cheque and thrust it into my hand. Thinking it must be something like Rs. 250, I opened it and nearly fainted. It was for Rs. 1000!
I went to Jammu and placed the cheque at my father’s feet. He was very happy that I was doing so well in films. Dhamkee too, was a runaway hit.
In 1946 the riots started and Lahore was declared to be in Pakistan. There was lot of bloodshed and fires were burning everywhere. I was trapped with my family, my elder brother’s wife and children and my younger brother’s family. To reach Lahore railway station, we had to pass through Muslim inhabited areas. And it was a Muslim family who rescued us and took us to the station. It was crowded with people clamouring to pay astronomical prices for tickets. My elder brother opted to stay behind and I was the only male with a whole lot of women and children. There were two ways to leave Lahore. One could either go to Jammu or to Amritsar and we decided on the latter.
At the station, I met a famous hockey player, Noor Mohammed. I had known him in Lahore. He took us through the tracks and we climbed into a waiting train. After an hour, the train started to move and we breathed a huge sigh of relief once we reached Amritsar. We then left for Delhi and stayed at Brindavan.
While staying with a friend in Mussoorie I received a telegram from B.R. Chopra. (I had signed a film with him in Lahore.) He stated that he wanted to make the film in Bombay. I didn’t have a place of my own and went from one friend to another. Meanwhile, B.R. Chopra left for Punjab, promising to return soon. I then met Naqsab, who is a brilliant song writer. He really helped me a lot and took me to meet S. Mukherjee.
By now, my money had run out and there was still no sign of B.R. returning. I was literally starving and wrote to B.R., saying that he had called me to Bombay in the first place, while he had left me to starve. Did he have any intention of returning? B.R.’s reply shocked me to the core. He wrote back to say, ‘If you are starving, it is not my fault. You are roaming like a dog from studio to studio. That should keep you busy!’ I would have killed him had he been in front of me.
Jallandhar radio made me an offer but I was determined to stay in Bombay and make it big. I met Mr. Khushiram, who gave me a small room to stay in and ‘I wrote to my wife daily, saying I was very happy. But things came to a head and I was jobless. I am a great worshipper of Lord Hanuman and one day, in utter frustration, I abused God. I threatened that if I did not get something to do, I would throw his idol out of the window the next day. The next minute, there was a knock at my door. A person had come from Bombay Lab saying there were two reels on Mahatma Gandhi who had just been assassinated. They wanted a Punjabi commentator and Krishen Chandra had recommended me, I saw the reels and compared to them, the commentary was extremely dry. I said I would write it and if they did not like it, they could have me read the original. They agreed. I asked for bun-maska and a packet of cigarettes after which, I sat down to write. In 45 minutes my piece was ready.
I asked them to run the reels once more. They were going to listen my commentary first and then record it. I read what I had written and when I had finished, there was pin drop silence. I was crying by the time I had finished and so were all the people in the recording room. I told them they could now record it and they said they already had. They paid me well. I rushed back to my room in a cab and folded my hands in front of God, thanking Him.
After a few days I was broke again. That’s when Khushiram and a few others, decided to buy a room, each pooling in Rs. 500/-. I had no money. Every evening, I would travel by train from Elphinstone to Churchgate and one evening, I met Ramdas Chand Kishore. We had been very close as children. I borrowed the money from him to buy the room in the chawl. At least it was a roof. Later, when I made it big, he was going through a bad period. I called him to Bombay from Calcutta and set up a huge cloth shop for him. I could never forget his having helped in my hour of need.
One day, as was my habit, I was travelling by train and two men were seated in front of me. Soon, they started smiling at me. When I asked why, they said they had seen both my films, Daasi and Dhamkee, in Lahore and recognised me. One was Rajendra Kishen and the other gentleman was O.P. Dutta. I soon became very close to Rajendra Kishen and we would meet often. Sometimes, we would go to the bar for a drink. They would always offer but I would refuse, explaining that I drank whisky but was in no position to stand them a drink. The day I was, I would accept a drink from them.
Though I was very fond of Rajendra Kishen, I did not like O.P. Dutta. Even now, I don’t. When Rajendra alighted at Charni Road, I too would and walk with him up to his building. But I never went up to his house. One day, he could not contain himself and said ‘I know you are starving. I am earning good money. I will pay you Rs. 50 per week. At least eat something’. I refused but I will never forget this gesture for the rest of my life. I knew that one day I would really shine and asked him never to make an offer again. We continued to be friends.
Rajendra came to me after a few weeks and said that O.P. Dutta was directing a film and that I should meet him. I said, ‘O.P. Dutta knows I am looking for work. If he feels he needs me, he will come to me. I will not go to him and beg for work. Moreover, I don’t like that man’.
Once, it so happened that I had not eaten anything for three days. I was standing at Khodadad Circle and I felt giddy and faint. Afraid, that I might fall down, I went to Elphinstone hotel nearby. I ordered biryani, chicken masala and lassi. I was sitting in a cabin. These hotels had a system where, as the customer leaves, a voice calls out the amount of the bill. As I left, the voice called out Rs. 16/-. It was a very big amount in those days. I went near the manager and read his name plate as Mr. Mehra. I told him, ‘I am unemployed and I have not eaten for three days. I couldn’t control myself anymore so I came in and ate. But I promise you, I will come and pay you back the day I make it big’. Mehra was not impressed but he let me go.
I always believed in God and destiny. I would often visit Shree Sound Studio at Dadar, making people laugh and generally having a good time. One day, the director Jayant Desai called me and said that he had a villain’s role for me in his film. I agreed, thinking he would offer me about Rs. 250. But to my utter delight, he gave me Rs. 1000 as an advance and signed me for Rs. 5000 a month. He thought I had a bank account so I asked him to give me a bearer cheque. I encashed it at the bank at Elphinstone and the first thing I did, was go to the hotel. The owner did not recognise me but I reminded him and paid my bill.
Hailing a cab, I went to my digs and took Khushiram out to an expensive lunch. I hadn’t smoked a cigarette in three months, so I went to a cigarette shop and bought 100 packets of cigarettes! I was literally throwing money away and in a month’s time, it was over. The film got delayed by three months and I was back to square one.
Some evenings, I would spread a mattress outside my room and sit and have fun with my cronies. One evening, I was called by Jaimani Deewan and I went to his studio. He was making a Punjabi film which he wanted me to work in. He wanted to know my price. I was still with the thought of Rs. 5000 and named that as my price. They were all shocked and the producer told me scornfully, ‘You are starving, yet look at the price you are quoting. We will pay you Rs. 350’. I was furious. I abused him and told him, ‘If I am starving, I have never asked you to feed me. I have never been a free-loader. I didn’t ask you for work. I didn’t even drink tea at your office’. And I stormed out of his office.
By the time I had reached the studio gate, they sent a peon to call me back. I refused to speak to the producer until he had apologised. He did so and I signed the film. It went on to become a runaway hit and I haven’t looked back ever since.
Right after this, I called my wife to Bombay, as also my brothers and their children. I made films for my brothers, making them producers. Khushiram died and I brought up his children. I made his daughter my daughter- in-law.
Ihave worked in this industry for over 50 years. I stopped acting because I suddenly lost my family. In a space of one year, my elder brother, my wife and my younger brother, all died. So there was no happiness in my life. Now, my brothers children live with me and make me happy. But I realise that sitting idle gets very boring, so I have started accepting TV serials.
I have been very happy in this industry where I have received a lot of love and respect. I have directed films like Kanhaiya and Gateway Of India. It was also I who introduced the concept of a guest appearance. Yes, I am content and happy (This interview was conducted in 1994)