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BALRAJ SAHNI : The Gentleman Actor







BALRAJ SAHNI : The Gentleman Actor
by S. S. JOHAR
All proficient actors enact sundry roles with an effortless ease as acting comes naturally to them. They don’t have to make conscientious efforts to cast themselves in any particular mould. Strictly in keeping with the famous saying "A good actor is a good person" he never let the mercenary instinct soak into his mind and joined films only team hare necessities for his family.' He enlivened a doctor lost in his own world in Anuradha' or a Muslim shattered by 'Gio-political and familial debacle in 'Garam Hauva'.  J.S. JOHAR transmits some real life experiences of this renowned artiste who immortalised not just himself but also character that he  played.
 With his wife Damyanti in 1936
 ln London's Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, at the entrance, there is a saying on the wall."A Good Actor is a Good Man".
And that is the only reason that Balraj Sahni was such a good actor. Before joining the ' celluloid world, he was involved in Political activities and was a regular cardholder of the communist Party, taking part in Parades and things like that. Once during one such rally he  got locked up. At that time his wife Damayanti was expectant. And his only son Ajay was a small child. So when he was in jail for his Political activities, his family’s financial condition was in a very bad shape. They could barely man age two square meals and at times there was nothing in the house. At this critical time Balraj's little son Ajay was offered a bit child role by K. Asif in his film "Halchal". Dalip Kumar and Nargis were cast in this film as hero and heroine. Bairaj Sahni too had a role, but was in jail at the time. Every day he was brought to the studio in a police van with special permission. lronically he was playing a police inspector in the film. So he would come to the studio in his jail clothes, change over into his lnspectors uniform and there after the day's shooting, change back into his prisoner’s togs.
For the junior Sahni, it was a harrowing experience. His Dad was the butt  of every body’s jokes on the set. Behind his back and in ftont of his little son, people made fun of him. So, as a child artist, Ajay was exposed to the film people and the milieu....the atmosphere of the film industry in general he under stood how callous, how difficult, how ruthless the film world would be. 'Hulchal' was Balraj Sahni's first movie after 'Dharti Ke Lal, an IPTA film basically. He was in a very bad Physical shape because of malnutrition. He was very thin fast greying and was in his middle age. The emaciated look on his face made him target of fun behind his back and in front of his small but already mature son. They pointed out that he was making a big mistake by trying to act. He would never make it. lt was very painful for a child to listen to the jibes directed against his father. When young Sahni complained about it, Balraj consoled him saying. 'Look, son, I know what they have been sayng about me but let it not worry you. One day l will show them". And he did.
Before joining the films, Balraj Sahni and his wife Damayanti were very much involved with the stage. They were acting in a number of IPTA plays. KA Abbas was also an IPTA man. And 'Dharti Ke Lal' was Abbas Saab's first film and as such like a little. adventure for the IPTA people. The film was about the floods in Bengal. But at that time Balraj had not made it big. lnstead his wife Damayanti had already earned name & fame. Balrai Sahni was still struggling. lnitially he had second thoughts about taking acting seriously.
 Poetry just came to Shelley; Keats and Byron. They did not go to any school of literature to study poetry. lt just came to them. lt applies as much to an  actor although there are acting schools today. Balraj Sahni never went to any film  institute.
And, yet, he was a far far better than those who had received professional training. Shelley said that poetry came to a poet as leaves to a tree otherwise it need not come at all. Earlier Charlie Chaplin, one of the greatest actors  of all times, was the result of his personal background. He as Bernard Shaw once said, was the only genius that the film industry had ever produced. Balraj Sahni, too, Was a brilliant actor to whom acting came naturally. He had once told in an interview that there were two types of actors; One who  really loved the cinema and were totally relaxed in front of the camera. The other worked with a great  deal of tension  there was a sort of 'bright" in front of the camera, and as a result of the stress of that 'bright" the actor suffered several ailments, migraine and heart problems etc.
This "relaxation in camera" makes a good actor ln dubitably Balraj Sahni had it. He could play with ease the character, of a millionaire in ‘Talash' or a pauper in 'Do Bigha Zamin'.
Balrai Sahni was very, fond of his daugter Shabnam and her untimely death shook the actor profusely. During the shooting of his last film "Garam Hawa", Balraj Sahni had to enact a scene at his daughter's death bed which turned out highly realistic. He was shaken to the core while doing the traumatic scene. But he ardently believed that no one is born without pain and blood. And nothing is achieved without suffering and sorrow. And then comes the feeling of exhilaration. Balraj's brother Bhisham Sahni was a well-known writer who wrote the book Tamas. His son Parikshit Sahni is also an actor. Balraj Sahni died on 13 April 1973, of a massive cardiac arrest at the age of 59. He had been depressed for some time by the untimely death of his young daughter, Shabnam.
However according to his son Ajay Sahni, it was rather cruel to have made him do  enacted with the actor's real life tragedy. The memory of his own daughter's death was very fresh in his mind. And she was the one he had loved more than anybody else. ln those days he used to write to his friends that he was going through a very depressed period. And his friends knew from that he was being stabbed in the heart very' very deeply. During the shooting of this scene he had to bring it all back. But that is called art.
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