Sunil Dutt rose to prominence in the 1950s and quickly became known as the charismatic hero who could charm his audience with his suave appearance and striking screen presence. duttwhose family was displaced after the Partition, moved to Bombay in the early 1950s to complete his college education and did multiple jobs to make ends meet. He worked in the BEST bus department and was a radio interviewer at Radio Ceylon while still a student, and it was his job at the radio station that led to his big break in film.
Dutt once said that he happened to be on the sets of Dilip Kumar’s film Shikast to interview the star when director Ramesh Saigal saw him and decided to audition for him. Dutt shared on Jeena Isi Ka Naam Hai, “Saigal asked saab ‘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 get the hero part, I’m ready.) I was in my third year at the time.” For his screen test, Dutt was asked to wear a suit that belonged to Kumar and that was a big moment for him.
Dilip Kumar, who was also a guest on the show, looked proudly at Sunil Dutt when he recalled the incident. “I still remember that. Aapka jacket, aapki pants jo maine pehni. Aapki pants mujhe zara thodi si choti lag rahi thi, aur sleeves bhi (I wore your jacket, your pants. Your pants were a little short for me, and even the sleeves of the shirt),” he recalled with a smile. After his screen test was done, Dutt felt like he had done a terrible job and hurriedly left the studio. But unbeknownst to him, he had actually done well when 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 told about his roster and was given a signing fee. Saigal saab said: ‘Chal tujhe held banata their main’ (Come, I’ll make you a hero). The first check I got for that was for Rs 300,” he recalled proudly.
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Ramesh Saigal then told Sunil Dutt that he should now drop out of college and focus on his acting career, which the actor humbly declined. †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 mom I’m going to study and I’ll finish my BA.) He just got up and he hugged me.”
It probably sounds like a scene from the movies of the time, but Dutt’s promise to his mother was the most important thing in his life and this took Saigal completely 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 hello actor banunga. Kehte chalo tere liye main waiting karunga’ (People are desperate to be actors and you’re canceling it because of a promise you made to your mom to finish your BA. He said he’ll wait for me).”
Sunil Dutt recalled that Ramesh Saigal started filming with Ajit Khan on January 26 and after Dutt finished college, he started filming for Railway Platform, his debut, and he kept his promise.