When Sunil Dutt was ready to come out of his first film to defend his ‘maa ka vaada’: ‘Yahan log taraste hain hero banne ke liye’

Sunil Dutt rose to prominence in the 1950s and was quickly known as the charismatic hero who could charm his audience with his suave looks and arresting screen presence. Duttwhose family was moved after partition, moved to Bombay to finish college in the early 1950s and worked several jobs to make ends meet. He worked in the BEST bus department and was a radio interviewer at Radio Ceylan while attending college, and it was his work at the radio station that led to his big break into film.

Dutt once shared that he was on the set of Dilip Kumar’s film Shikast interviewing the star when director Ramesh Saigal spotted him and decided to audition him. Dutt shared on Jeena Isi Ka Naam Hai, “Saigal saab asked ‘Tum khud kyun nahi actor ban jaate?’ Toh maine kaha agar mujhe hero ka role milega toh main tayyar hun.’ (“Why don’t you become an actor? I said if I got the role of the hero, I’d be ready.) I was in third grade at the time.” For his screen test, Dutt was asked to wear a costume that belonged to Kumar and it was a big moment for him.

Sunil Dutt was working multiple jobs while attending college when he got his first break. (Photo: Express Archive)

Dilip Kumar, who was also a guest on the show, looked proudly at Sunil Dutt as he recalled the incident. “I still remember it. Aapka jacket, aapki jo maine pehni pants. Aapki pants mujhe zara thodi si choti lag rahi thi, aur sleeve bhi (I wore your jacket, your pants. Your pants were a bit short for me, and even the shirt sleeves),” he recalled with a smile. After completing his screen test, Dutt felt he had done a horrible job and left the studio in a hurry. But unbeknownst to him, he had actually done well as Saigal was looking for him.

The principal’s assistant landed at Dutt’s college to meet him and escorted him to Saigal’s office. As soon as he met the director, he was informed of his selection and given a signing amount. “Saigal Saab said ‘Chal tujhe hero banata hun hand’ (Come on, I’ll make you a hero). The first check I received was for Rs 300,” he recalls proudly.

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Ramesh Saigal then told Sunil Dutt that he should now quit college and focus on his acting career, which the actor humbly refused. “Maine kaha, nahi Saigal saab, agar aap bura na maane, mujhe BA toh pass karna hai kuch bhi ho jaaye. Kyunki main apni maa ko vaada karke aaya hun ki main padhne jaa raha hun aur BA pass karke aaunga (I said, no Saigal saab, if you don’t mind, I have to finish my BA no matter what. Because I promised my mother that I was going to study and finish my BA. ) He just got and he kissed me.

It probably sounds like a scene from the movies of that era, but Dutt’s promise to his mother was the most important thing in his life and it took Saigal by surprise. “He said ‘Yaar tune maa ko vada kia hai, yahan log taraste hain hero banne ke liye aur tu apni maa ke vaade ke liye kehta hai ki main BA pass karke hi banunga actor. Kehte chalo tere liye main wait karunga’ (People are desperate to become actors and you are waiting because of a promise you made to your mother to finish your BA. He said he would wait for me).

Sunil Dutt recalled that Ramesh Saigal started filming on January 26 with Ajit Khan and after Dutt completed his studies, he started filming for Railway Platform, his debut, thus fulfilling his promise.