In the glitz and glamour of Bollywood, stories of stars rising from poverty to opulence are not uncommon. However, one actor’s journey stands out as a stark contrast to fate. Bhagwan Dada, a mill laborer-turned-actor and director from the 1940s and 50s, experienced the highs of wealth and success before facing a heart-wrenching downfall.
Born as Bhagwan Aabaji Palav, he earned the name Bhagwan Dada during his wrestling days. While working in the textile mills of Bombay in the 1930s, his dreams soared higher – he wanted to be a film star. His relentless pursuit of this dream led him to learn filmmaking, and he began crafting low-budget movies, even handling various production tasks single-handedly. In 1938, he co-directed his first film, “Bahadur Kisan.”
Bhagwan Dada’s breakthrough came in the 1940s, with a series of successful low-budget and action-packed films that won hearts in small towns. In 1942, he ventured into film production with Jagruti Productions. However, mainstream stardom remained elusive until the advice of Raj Kapoor inspired him to create a social film. Thus, in 1951, “Albela” was born, becoming a massive hit and turning Bhagwan Dada into a household name.
His dance on the song “Shola Jo Bhadke” became a sensation, further adding to his popularity. Following this success, he churned out blockbusters like “Jhamela” (1953) and “Bhagam Bhag” (1956). Unfortunately, his golden era faded as the late 1950s approached.
During the pinnacle of his stardom, Bhagwan Dada lived in a luxurious 25-room bungalow facing the sea in Juhu. He owned a fleet of seven extravagant cars, one for each day of the week. With immense fame and fortune, he ranked among India’s richest and highest-paid actors, standing shoulder to shoulder with the likes of Dilip Kumar, Raj Kapoor, and Dev Anand. However, as the 1960s arrived, the tides turned, and Bhagwan Dada transitioned into character roles. Work opportunities dwindled, and he faced financial struggles, forcing him to sell his prized cars and bungalow. In his later years, he found himself residing in a modest chawl in Dadar.
In 2002, at the age of 89, Bhagwan Dada passed away due to a heart attack, and by that time, he had largely been forgotten by the film industry. His journey serves as a reminder of the transient nature of fame and fortune in the world of Bollywood.