Guess who gave the name 'Danny' to Danny Denzongpa?

Farhana Farook
·Contributor
·9-min read

Sexy as hell even at 73… Danny Denzongpa is a baddie we love to love!

“Bejaan cheezon mein khoon nahi hota!” says the wheelchair bound Thakur Ranjit Singh in B.R. Chopra’s Dhund (1972) vindicating his lust for killing innocent creatures for sport. Danny Denzongpa, very early in his career, gave menace a new meaning. That he was terribly good-looking only added to his devastating appeal.

Ruddy complexion, glossy mane, suave and fit, he reinvented the screen baddie. Dharmatma, Agneepath, Hum, Khuda Gawah, Devta, Barsaat, China Gate and more recently Enthiran… Danny’s characters were never incidental in his films. They were catalysts to the drama.

At 70-plus, his fit form could pale a gym geek. Lean and mean, Danny Denzongpa perhaps owes it all to his rustic genes. Born and bred in Sikkim, he remains a child of the mountains in his love for the wild. That explains why he spends most of his time in the north-eastern state. In fact, he’s lent the fragrance of his homeland to his exotic bungalow in Mumbai by naming it Dzongrilla (abode of peace) after the meadow in his village Yuksom.

Attachment-detachment is his tool-kit. Attached to his work, unattached to its trappings. Music, sculpture and painting keep him engaged apart from his breweries in Sikkim and Guwahati.

“I’m neither a good husband nor a good father. I’m a detached person. Buddha’s teachings stress on impermanence and that attachment only brings pain. Yes, I am a provider but I don’t impose myself on my wife and children,” once said the seeker from Sikkim.

His mother’s tears changed the trajectory of his life. Danny was all set to join the Indian Army. But seeing the dead bodies of young soldiers returning to her hamlet in Sikkim during the Chinese aggression in 1962, left his mother disturbed. No way would she allow her son to join the forces.

Danny, fond of music and arts, then enrolled at the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), Pune. But it was not a dream he’d imagined it to be.

“I dreaded stepping out at the campus because people would stare. Jibes like Gurkha, Chinese, Nepalese and chinki were thrown at me,” he recalled in an interview to a leading newspaper. “I lived through hell. It was unfair and insensitive,” he was quoted saying against the racial bias.

He recalled that on the first day, newcomers had to introduce themselves to the class. When he introduced himself as Tshering Phintso Denzongpa, they couldn’t get it and kept saying, ‘Come again, come again!’ “My classmates (unable to pronounce his name) would call out to me saying ‘Shhssh shhhssh…’ as though I were a puppy,” he shared in another interview.

Fellow student and close friend, Jaya Bhaduri, suggested the name Danny and gave him a ‘cool’ identity. Years later he paired opposite her in Roshan Taneja’s Abhi To Jee Lein (1977).

Although Danny was a gold medallist, work didn’t come easy either. “I didn’t fit in. I was told that I neither looked like a father nor a brother – the only part I could get was that of a servant or an outsider,” he shared.

Danny first featured in B R Ishara’s Zaroorat (1971) as the hero’s sidekick. Next came Mere Apne (1971), Gulzar’s remake of Tapan Sinha’s Bengali film Apanjan, in which he played a puppeteer. One reason for doing the film was Meena Kumari. “She’d tell me, ‘Tu toh mera asli bachcha hai (you’re my real son), your nose is like mine’.”

Danny Denzongpa, Sanjay Khan and Zeenat Aman in Dhund
Danny Denzongpa, Sanjay Khan and Zeenat Aman in Dhund

B. R. Chopra’s Dhund (1972), based on Agatha Christie’s play, The Unexpected Guest, was a turning point. As the sadistic Thakur Ranjit Singh, Danny was compelling. Chor Machaye Shor, Kalicharan, Kala Sona, Fakira and Laila Majnu followed validating his talent.

In Yeh Gulistan Hamara (1972), Danny gave expression to his talent for music giving playback for the song Mere paas aao for Johnny Walker. He also sang the popular Suno suno kasam se from Kala Sona (1975), which featured Farida Jalal and him.

Danny was slated to play the iconic Gabbar Singh in Ramesh Sippy’s Sholay (1975), eventually played by the late Amjad Khan. But he’d already signed Feroz Khan’s Dharmatma and couldn’t let him down.

Danny preferred to see the positive in the loss. “Amjad started charging Rs 11 lakh after Sholay. I was next in the line and availed of it. Overall, the status of the character artiste rose,” he stated.

Considered among the top suspense films, Phir Wahi Raat (1980) was directed by Danny, revealing yet another facet of his versatility. It starred Rajesh Khanna and Danny’s then girlfriend Kim.

Agneepath
Agneepath

Initially, Danny was wary of sharing the screen with Amitabh Bachchan. He feared no one would notice him if he was in the same frame with him. He kept refusing offers, including films like Mard and Coolie from late director Manmohan Desai. “Once Manji went on his knees and teased me in front of everyone saying, ‘Sir, please do a film for me’. I replied, ‘Sochenge!” he shared in a throwback interview.

But when the late Mukul Anand (the late director) narrated the role of the formidable Kancha Cheena in the Bachchan-starrer Agneepath (1991), Danny was confident it wouldn’t go ‘unnoticed’.

The first schedule was in Mauritius. Not being given the dialogue sheet on the set angered him. Just then Bachchan walked in and reassured him saying he’d just received the sheet and they could rehearse together. That set the ball rolling for a great creative synergy. Kancha’s immaculately tailored suits and shades were a rage. In fact, Vijay Deenanath Chauhan (Bachchan) tells Kancha in the film that he wants his tailor’s address.

Danny won the Filmfare Best Supporting Actor Award for Sanam Bewafa (1991), where he played Sher Khan, who gives in to his son’s happiness but not without extracting his pound of flesh. In 1992, Danny did two films with Bachchan, Hum and Khuda Gawah. He won the Filmfare Best Supporting Actor award for playing Khuda Baksh in Khuda Gawah, the guardian of Benazir (Sridevi), taking to the terrains of Afghanistan with natural ease. As the ruthless Bakhtawar in Hum, his was a pivotal identity.

Bioscopewala
Bioscopewala

His offbeat performances include that of a monk in Seven Years In Tibet (1997), which was closer home given Danny’s affiliation with Buddhism. Just as playing an apricot jam maker Karma in Shivajee Chandrabhushan’s Frozen (2007), based in Ladakh, had the actor blend with the rocky landscape.

A warped scientist in Shankar’s Enthiran (2010), an intelligence officer in Neeraj Pandey’s Baby (2015) and more recently, Bioscopewala (2018), based on Rabindranath Tagore’s story Kabuliwala, are other milestones. As a lonely migrant from Kabul, who bonds with a little girl in Kolkata city, his was a moving take in Bioscopewala.

The offers still keep coming yet Danny, who spends most of his time in Sikkim, predominantly shoots between November and January. “Bombay summers are terrible. It is so uncomfortable that you can’t keep your hair straight. You start sweating,” said he in an interview.

Coming to his personal life, the baddie had a crazy fan base. “Girls get attracted to bad guys,” he reasoned. Once a girl fan from Nagaland threatened to commit suicide if he didn’t reply. “I explained to her that she was just infatuated with my image,” shared the actor. Eventually, the fan got married. She even called up Danny when she delivered a baby.

Coming to his real relationships, his romance with the late Parveen Babi grabbed headlines in the ’70s. “We were two young kids and we lived together for four years. That was big news those days. We had a wonderful time. Later we grew apart. We parted on a good note and remained friends.”

Parveen, who later dated Kabir Bedi and then Mahesh Bhatt, lived in the same colony, Kalumal Estate in Juhu, as Danny. In a throwback chat, Danny once shared that his next girlfriend, Kim, was wary of neighbour Parveen.

“If your ex keeps walks into the house anytime like a mother hen, it would be difficult for any girl to accept. I would pick up Kim from the sets after pack up and reach home only to find Parveen in my bedroom watching a movie on the VCR. I asked Parveen not to do it,” he said with candour.

Danny revealed why Parveen cut off ties with him after she suffered from a mental disorder. “One day she happened to read an interview where Amitji (Bachchan) had mentioned that I was a good friend of his. That was it. When I went to meet her the next time, she looked at me through the keyhole and refused to let me in calling me ‘his agent’. She was frightened of me too,” he was quoted saying in a past interview. Years later, Danny attended Parveen’s poorly-attended funeral.

Danny eventually married Gawa, a Sikkimese princess. “It was arranged-love. I had met her when she was in the final year of school. When my mother was very ill, she insisted I marry her.” The couple has a son named Rinzing, who’s now an aspiring actor and daughter Pema.

Danny roots for marriage. “We actors are like banjaras. We can go out of control. With so many girls chasing you, dimag kharaab ho jaata hai. Marriage hooks you for good,” said he.

True that!