Subhash K Jha takes a look at the various actors

Hanuman has always been a favourite character from the Ramayan. Without him, Rama would not have been able to conquer Ravan and bring Sita back to Ayodhya. Hindi cinema for a very long time focused on other pivotal characters from the Ramayan and sidelined Hanuman until Dara Singh came along to give Hanuman the pride of place he deserves.

The first noticeable Hanuman in Indian cinema was played by an unknown actor named Pal Sharma in Babubhai Mistry’s 1961 mega-hit Sapoorna Ramayan where mythological cinema’s favourite Pauranic pair Mahipal and Anita Guha played Ram and Sita. Pal Sharma left a pleasant impression as Hanuman. He was the first actor in Hindi cinema to make a mark as Hanuman.

Not until Dara Singh came along did Hanuman gets his due in Hindi cinema and on television. Such was the all-pervasive impact of Dara Singh’s Hanuman in Ramanand Sagar’s long-running Doordarshan serials Ramayan that he became the face of Hanuman in numerous Hindu households and the calendar impression of Hanuman.

“Devotees of the real Hanuman would fall at my feet when I went out into the public. I protested very strongly against this deification. ‘Arrey Bhai Hanuman nahin hoon. Main sirf Hanuman ka kirdaar nibha raha hoon’ I would plead with them. But to no avail. They insisted I was the real Hanuman and put up my photograph in their puja rooms, etc,” Dara Singh said.

From then on Dara Singh was the face of Hanuman. Interestingly in 1966, there was a film on Hanuman titled Veer Bajrang and though Dara Singh was in the cast he did not play Hanuman. It didn’t start with Ramanand Sagar’s Ramayan either. That came much later.

In 1976 the very reputed director Chandrakant made a feature film called Bajrang Bali where he cast Dara Singh as Hanuman. The film was a blockbuster, something as big as Jai Santoshi Maa, and Dara became a household name as Pavan Putra Hanuman.

Eleven years later, Dara Singh landed the role of Hanuman in Ramanand Sagar’s historic mythological. Producer-director Ramanand Sagar had a dream in which he saw Dara Singh as Hanuman. Dara, then pushing 60, was still an active wrestler and as fit as a fiddle. He took to the role as though his own.

After Dara Singh’s death, his son Vindu Dara Singh was cast in the role of Hanuman in the television series Jai Veer Hanuman. He also played Hanuman in director K Raghvendra Rao’s Telugu hit Sri Ramadasu in 2006.

But after Dara Singh, the most memorable Hanuman was played by a Muslim actor. In the television serial Siya Ke Ram, Danish Akhtar Saifi, a wrestler turned actor like Dara Singh, become a household name as Hanuman.

Two other interesting though failed modern interpretations of Hanuman were portrayed by Satish Shah in Manoj Kumar’s Kalyug Aur Ramayan and Govinda in Mani Ratnam’s Raavan.

Says Govinda, “It was a very strange interpretation of Hanuman. Mujhe baad mein pataa chala ke main Hanuman play kar raha tha. I would love to play a real Hanuman in an authentic take on the Ramayan.”

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