On the 110th birth anniversary of the iconic actor, director and producer, Bhagwan Dada, whose unique dancing style continues to resonate across generations, and who has had a profound impact on Indian cinema, Sunetra Palav, the legend’s granddaughter, pays a heartfelt tribute.
Born as Bhagwan Abaji Palav on August 1, 1913, to a humble mill worker in Parel, Mumbai, Master Bhagwan Dada’s life was as diverse as the myriad characters he portrayed on the silver screen. From being a devoted son, a caring brother, a loving husband, a nurturing father and grandfather, to being a cherished friend, he effortlessly embodied every role he played in his life. Moreover, he proved his mettle as a visionary producer, a skilled director, an accomplished actor, a mesmerizing choreographer, and a dancer who could make the art form feel like floating in the clouds.
It was his exceptional skills in the game of wrestling that earned him the moniker “Bhagwan Dada,” despite his short stature. Notably, he could place a drop kick on the chest of an opponent twice his size and land on his feet with grace and agility. However, his love for contact sports eventually led him to scale the walls of a nearby movie studio, Ranjit Studios in Dadar, where he observed action scenes being filmed.
Perched between the worlds of wrestling and filmmaking, this accidental encounter sparked his insatiable curiosity in the art of movie-making. Master BhagwanDada’s journey from that wall to the heart of the cinematic world was serendipitous, marking the beginning of an extraordinary odyssey.
Years of dedication, perseverance, and a relentless pursuit of knowledge became the pillars of his success. Lady Luck finally smiled upon him, and a star was born. Master Bhagwan Dada’s creative genius and self-starter attitude drove him to make a string of successful movies, leading to the establishment of his movie studio and production house. As his cinematic ventures flourished, so did his family.
As a ground-breaking filmmaker, he gifted the Hindi film industry its first horror film, “Bheedi Bungla,” and won the hearts of the masses with the timeless classic, “Albela” (1951). Master BhagwanDada’s distinctive and graceful dancing style became his trademark, endearing him to millions who cherished his artistry and followed him with unwavering devotion.
Despite reaching the pinnacle of fame and fortune, Master Bhagwan Dada never lost sight of the world beyond the studio walls, where he spent his humble childhood.
Witnessing the transition of the film industry from silent movies to the era of sound, music, dance, and Technicolor, Master Bhagwan Dada’s career was a witness to the creative changes of Indian cinema. He proved to be a guiding light for numerous newcomers, providing them with their first break, and his mentorship led many to become pioneers and legendary artists in their own right. Overcoming tragedies, such as losing his studio to fraud and a freak fire destroying nearly all of his film prints, Master Bhagwan Dada danced through life’s storms and left behind the blueprint of facing challenges with grace for those who came after him.
Despite the roller-coaster journey of success and setbacks, Master Bhagwan Dada continued to adapt and innovate, consistently winning the hearts of his audiences, even beyond the confines of the cinematic world.
His magnum opus, “Albela,” not only achieved tremendous financial success but also brought him closer to his family. It was a project that exemplified the sacrifices made by his loved ones during its making. Despite a few post-“Albela” ventures, his heart was no longer in filmmaking. He returned home to his family, leaving behind an indelible legacy in the hearts of the industry and his global fans.
Master Bhagwan Dada never abandoned his humble abode in the heart of Mumbai, a place where precious memories of his late wife, Asha, remained alive, and where his children and grandchildren always found solace. The window through which he gazed upon his adoring fans symbolized his eternal connection with them. On February 2, surrounded by his loving family and close friends, he took his last breath, leaving behind a legacy that still burns brightly today.
The street named after him remains a testament to the man and the legend, an eternal reminder of his contributions to the world of Indian cinema.