Manoj Kumar, or as he was popularly known then – Bharat Kumar, is one name which epitomised patriotism on the big screen for many Indians in the turbulent decades of 1960s and 1970s. But he was also a very capable romantic hero opposite leading female actors of his times like Sadhana. Born as Harikishan Giri Goswami in Abbottabad, now Pakistan, Manoj Kumar used to admire Dilip Kumar. So much so that Manoj Kumar adopted the name of Dilip Kumar’s character in the latter’s 1949 film Shabnam. After people began to call him Bharat owing to his patriotism-themed films, he started using the name Bharat Kumar in the movies he did. The resident patriot in the house of Bollywood, Manoj Kumar was given Padma Shri in 1992 and Dadasaheb Phalke Award for his contribution to Indian cinema.
On Manoj Kumar’s 80 the birth anniversary, here are five of his movies in which the veteran actor gave the best performances of his career. These are not necessarily his best films, but still his best performances.
Who Kaun Thi
Before Sadhana was cast in 1966 romantic thriller Saaya, she appeared opposite Manoj Kumar in Who Kaun Thi. Those were still the early days of Manoj Kumar in Bollywood and both the leads delivered superb performances which were helped by Madan Mohan’s music. This was the film in which Lata Mangeshkar’s hauntingly beautiful “Lag Jaa Gale” was filmed.
Before Shaheed in 1965, Manoj Kumar was primarily a romantic hero. This is the film which began Manoj Kumar’s journey towards becoming the resident patriot of Bollywood. Before the likes of Ajay Devgn and Bobby Deol were even born, Manoj Kumar donned the role of revolutionary freedom fighter Bhagat Singh in Shaheed. His performance was much appreciated and it went on to win the Filmfare Award for Best Feature Film. It also gave us some of the most iconic patriotic songs that we can still hear on Independence Day and Republic Day like Rafi’s “Aye Watan Aye Watan” and “Mera Rang De Basanti Chola”.
Purab Aur Paschim
While Shaheed began the journey of Manoj Kumar towards becoming the most favourite pick for patriot films, Purab Aur Paschim established his tag, and is probably the most representational film of his career. By 1970, Manoj Kumar had become as established a director as an actor, and in Purab Aur Paschim, he highlighted how Indians were becoming Westernised and forgetting their roots and Indian values. This film also gave a couple of patriotic songs like “Hai Preet Jahan Ki Reet Sada” which have become the standard fare during Republic Days and Independence Days.
Bollywood’s take on Agatha Christie’s classic suspense film ‘And Then There Were None’, Gumnaam had Manoj Kumar as its lead. Another Manoj Kumar film which had excellent songs especially titular “Gumnaam Hai Koi” by the inimitable Late Mangeshkar. Gumnaam brought out the multi-faceted talent of Manoj Kumar. It showed that he could even do comedy. The film was a huge commercial success and it helped putting in place Manoj Kumar as one of the most versatile and leading stars of the 1960s.
Another patriot film in this list, Upkar was also Manoj Kumar’s directorial debut which took inspiration from the then Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri’s slogan ‘Jai Jawan Jai Kisan’. Manoj Kumar played both a jawan (soldier) and kisan (farmer) in the film. His character’s name is, obviously, Bharat and although he is a farmer, he decides to join the army when war breaks out between India and Pakistan. Although Shaheed was Manoj Kumar’s first patriotic film, it was in Upkar that he constructed his upfront and courageous brand of patriotism which defined much of his later career and his image that still exists for those who have seen his films.