1966 belonged to Dharmendra and Phool Aur Patthar. It was a year he will always remember and viewers will always cherish. A seminal phase in his cinematic journey, it brought him glad tidings. The actor became a star and the Hindi film industry got an action hero. If releases like Aaye Din Bahar Ke, Anupama, Devar, Baharen Phir Bhi Aayengi, Mohabbat Zindagi Hai, Dulhan Ek Raat Ki, Mamta and Dil Ne Phir Yaad Kiya during the period brought Dharmendra recognition, the blockbuster, called Phool Aur Patthar, made him a matinee idol.
An outstandingly handsome man with a robust physique, Dharmendra, who made his debut with Arjun Hingorani’s Dil Bhi Tera Hum Bhi Tere in early 60s, had average success till mid-60s with flicks like Soorat Aur Seerat, Bandini, Anpadh, Shola Aur Shabnam, Aaye Milan Ki Bela, Kaajal, Main Bhi Ladki Hoon, Pooja Ke Phool, Akashdeep and Poornima, in which he played lead as well as supporting roles. Interestingly, most of the actresses with whom he worked in these films like Mala Sinha, Meena Kumari, Nutan and Nanda were big stars already.The kind of commercial and critical acclaim they had won eluded Dharmendra.
It was then that he got the lead role in OP Ralhan’s Phool Aur Patthar opposite the tragedy queen, Meena Kumari. Sunil Dutt was reportedly the original choice ,but things didn’t work out and Dharmendra bagged the role. There were also reports that during the making of the film, Dharmendra and Ralhan had a showdown over something and at one stage, the actor even thought of walking out of the project. However, the two later sorted out the matter.
Come Phool Aur Patthar and the actor became an overnight sensation. A riveting account of a hardened criminal turning a Good Samaritan by nursing an ailing widow to health in a house he had gone to burgle and later fighting against the odds to rescue her from her greedy in-laws and redeeming himself in the process, the film catapulted Dharmendra to stardom.
With songs like Sheeshe se peeya and Sun le pukar, OP Ralhan’s deft direction,tight editing,popular dialogues, action sequences and stellar performances by its actors, the movie became a golden jubilee hit and was the highest grosser of the year. Though Dharmendra didn’t sing any song in the film, his tour de force performance established him as the He-Man of the film industry. Images of the hero in a black jacket and a scarf around his neck were enough to draw the audiences in droves to theatres. A sedate Meena Kumari was the perfect foil to the tough but vulnerable villain.
The lead actors became a hit pair after the film’s release and later starred in more movies like Chandan Ka Palna, Manjhli Didi and Baharon Ki Manzil. Ralhan acquired the status of a prominent director. The hero also won a nomination in the Best Actor category of the Filmfare Awards for that year, a trophy which eventually went to Dev Anand for Guide. Phool Aur Patthar was also remade in Tamil . Sunil Dutt’s loss was Dharam’s gain.