By Rajesh N. Gaur & Suneel V. Gaur
Jeetendra was born into a Punjabi business family that dealt in imitation jewellery, in Mumbai on April 7, 1942 as Ravi Kapoor. It was while delivering imitation jewellery to V. Shantaram that he got the chance to act as a hero for the first time in ‘Geet Gaaya Patharon Ne’ in 1964.
Jeetendra earned his first major success with Ravikant Nagaich's ‘Farz’ (1967), which went on to become a golden jubilee hit. The white shoes he picked up from a retail store for ‘Farz’ became his trademark. The success of ‘Farz’ helped him shift from his humble chawl in Girgaum to a palatial house in Colaba. Later on he bought his first bunglow at Pali Hill which was owned by actor Bharat Bhushan. His energetic dancing in films like ‘Farz’, ‘Humjoli’ (1970) and ‘Caravan’ (1971) won him the epithet of the ‘Jumping Jack’. We reproduce excerpts from a tete-a-tete with the evergreen Jeetendra on the occasion of his 70th birthday.
Is it true that you are the brains behind Balaji? It is said that you are the one who is actually running the company and it is because of you it has reached its present stature?
Jeetendra: That's not true at all. Till today, I have not seen a full episode of any programme made by Balaji Telefilms. Does that answer your question well? Ektaa and Shobha (my wife), literally slogged to make things happen. By the grace of God, their painstaking efforts paid off; it is totally their effort. They worked very hard and whatever little I did, I did as a father and husband.
You did over 200 films and co-starred with some of the biggest heroines of your time.. Yet, you were never really in the league of heroes like Dharmendra or Amitabh Bachahan. Why is that so?
Jeetendra: Let me tell you, I survived beautifully the way I wanted to. I think I led a very, very successful life from the beginning to the end of my career. And then phased my way out and joined my daughter's company. My films were fairly successful – almost all of them – except for a few.
Jeetuji, is it true that Rajesh Khanna was your childhood buddy and it was he who coaxed you into becoming an actor? Can you tell us a little bit more about your association with him during those days?
Jeetendra: Rajesh Khanna and I lived in the same area of Bombay (now Mumbai); he lived in Thakurdwar and I lived in Girgaon, only five minutes away. We both studied in the same school – St Sebastian Goan High School. His mom and mine were pals. When in college I knew Rajesh Khanna was doing a lot of stage plays. So I got together with Rajesh in the K.C. College canteen and he made me learn some lines for a play. That's the only time when Rajesh helped me and I think that's what you are referring to here. As for my being in touch with Rajesh, I can say that after school, when we got into films, we drifted apart.
At a time when fashion was not the buzzword in India, how did you devise your own style?
Jeetendra: Actually, in our times, there were no dress designers – for males at least – except for Kachins who was practically dominating the scene. But I was aware that with dark clothes, one looked slimmer. Hence, with that in mind, I started wearing very light coloured clothes. I am very particular about certain aspects of dressing. Like with black pants I will wear black shoes and then I adopted the same (style) philosophy with white.
Who has been your biggest inspiration and why?
Jeetendra: My late father was my inspiration. And of course, the circumstances I was in. I belonged to a lower middle class family. I always felt that with sheer hard work I would reap rewards.