Once known as Amitabh Bachchan of Punjabi cinema, Satish Kaul died a lonely man in Ludhiana some days back. Satish acted in more than 300 Punjabi and Hindi films besides playing the role of Lord Indra in the popular TV show ‘Mahabharata’. He also acted in some more popular television serials .
Satish was a brilliant actor who had flawless Urdu and Hindi accent something unusual for an actor from Kashmir. Add to that ,he neither had a godfather nor did he belong to a family directly connected with Hindi cinema. In spite of all these issues, he managed to go up the ladder both in Hindi and Punjabi cinema primarily due to his acting skills and handsome looks.
After a brief struggle period, he was signed as hero for ‘Ang Se Ang Lagale’, though Ved Rahi’ s ‘Prem Parbat’ was released first. He continued to get important roles in Hindi films but it was the 1975 Punjabi film ‘ Morni ‘, opposite Radha Saluja, which brought him instant fame as the lead actor. Dhanu Bhagat, Lacchi, Jatt Punjabi, Saidan Jogan, Sassi Punnu, Ishq Nimana, Roop Shaukinan Da, Rano, Jeeja Sali, Guddo, Patola, Suhag Chooda, Jatt Da Gandasa ,Vohti Hath Soti,etc. were some of his notable and successful Punjabi films. For sometime , he dominated the Punjabi cinema and became a much sought after actor. He worked with Mehar Mittal, Raza Murad, Rama Vij, Kanchan Mattu, Bhavana Bhatt, Mumtaz Shanti, Sudha Chopra, Daljeet Kaur and every prominent actor, producer and director of Punjabi cinema.
In Hindi films, he worked for big production houses with actors like Dev Anand, Dilip Kumar, Vinod Khanna , Shahrukh Khan, Mala Sinha,Anil Kapoor, Jackie Shroff, Nasserudin Shah, Bharat Bhushan, Dara Singh , Randhir Kapoor and many more top actors of yesterdays. About him ,a widely circulated film magazine wrote ,’ Finally Hindi cinema gets the face that it needed . Satish is going to stay long in the industry’. I am told that a Hollywood production house wanted to cast him in a project that was planned with some reputed actors . I can’t vouch for authenticity of this information but looking at the profile of some Bollywood actors who worked in Hollywood projects, it could be true as well. And then AR Kardar’s “Mere Sartaj” (that had Satish in the lead role) was simultaneously running in seven cinema halls in Mumbai . He enjoyed enormous goodwill and support from one and all in the industry including Yash Chopra, Muzaffar Ali, Subash Ghai, Dev Anand, Anupam Kher and many more.
Even at the peak of his acting career, Satish remained down to earth and socially connected. He met friends, helped people , attended social gatherings and visited relations . My friends tell me how once he served food to guests in a Hawan organised by Kashmiri Pandit Sabha at Mumbai. Known as Billu Ji or Billa, Satish had been an affectionate brother to his sister Sushma and an obedient son to his parents before his life took a tragic turn.
Satish had studied at the National School and DAV School, Srinagar. Later, he did a diploma in cinematography from FTII ,Pune where Jaya Bachchan, Danny, Om Puri, Zarina Wahab, Raza Murad were a few of those who were his batch mates.
His wife parted company with him within a couple of years of their marriage .The death of his parents rendered him without support on emotional front. Things worsened for him after the death of his mother. He had no work . He brought himself into a financial mess .Unfortunately, he had to live in Mother Teresa Home in Mumbai for some years before moving to Punjab, somewhere in the year 2008.
From the film industry, Preeti Sapru , daughter of veteran actor Sapru, tried to help him . Yusuf Bhat , producer , director and a fellow Kashmiri in Mumbai’ s film industry also remained a lifelong sincere well wisher of Satish . In fact Yusuf was like another son to Mohan Lal Aima and his wife Rani Ji. Yusuf had also been at the FTII, Pune with Satish. Yusuf Bhat told me this :-
“What can I tell you about Billa or Satish . He was my brother. I was another son of his parents . Mohan Lal Aima whom I called Papa Ji , treated me like his own son. Rani Ji or Billa’s mother treated my wife as her own daughter in law. It really pains me and I turn emotional to remember Aima Sahib or Rani Ji and the loving family . Mohan Lal Aima was a great musician and a very helpful person. Very clear at heart and far above from any distinction of caste , creed , colour or religion in dealing with people . I am really indebted to him and his goddess like wife who braved many rough seasons in her life. When Rani Ji died , I wept like a child. I felt I had lost a great emotional and motherly support in Mumbai . Ashok Pandit’s mother performed the last rites of Rani Ji. She too was a great lady . Nimmi , Satish’s wife was also a nice and well behaved girl. Very unfortunate that this marriage ended in their parting .I feel sad when I recollect everything.
Satish was a very affectionate, sincere and obedient boy. He would believe every person . Pure at heart. As actor ,he was very talented. Unfortunately , he failed to realize value of time and money. He cultivated some such habits as drained his time and money. Being a gentle soul, many people exploited him . We made many attempts to put him on track and he also cooperated but he couldn’t make it up . Aima Sahib would weep privately about all that was happening in Satish’s life. Even his uncle Omkar Ji was deeply concerned about him. Everyone wanted to see him on right track. Satish had no sincere friend in the industry. This industry is sympathetic to none during bad days. Nobody looks towards the sunset area over here and people salute the rising sun only . To help him primarily , I cast him in the film ‘ Zanjeer- The Chain’ produced by me in 1998 . It was directed by Shibu Mishra. We engaged Anand Milind as music composers .It had Kiran Kumar, Tej Sapru , Pratibha Sinha, Aditya Pancholi , Shakti Kapoor and many other actors . I also cast Virendra Razdan of Mahabharat in this film. He was a good human being and an equally talented actor. I wanted to give more space to Satish but he was sincere like a child in refusing it. He told me that I should focus on other popular actors for the commercial success of the film. He wanted me to earn good money from the project by sacrificing his role. That was his emotion and love for me . I can’t tell you how sincerely Preeti Sapru wanted him to start his life again. Just four days before his death , I had a detailed telephonic conversation with him. May eternal peace be upon his soul. May eternal peace be upon the souls of Aima Sahib and Rani Ji. May they reunite in Swarga . ”
Preeti Sapru remained in touch with him all along . She also visited him in Ludhiana hospital and wrote to Punjab Government seeking monetary assistance for him . In an interview to a leading newspaper in 2020 , Preeti Sapru said this:-
” He calls me whenever he is in distress. That’s how I am aware of his situation. He has been staying at Satya’s home since three years; she was nursing him when he was in an old-age home in Ludhiana. I once visited him at her place during a shoot. I also tried to raise funds for him and wrote to the government of Punjab, as he worked in the Punjabi film industry. The Punjab government gave him Rs 5 lakh and others helped him, too. He didn’t save when he was working. Now, he is completely dependent on others. He met with an accident and fractured his backbone. He had to be operated upon immediately. Back then, my sister and I had sent him money for the surgery.The government and the film industry should collectively devise a plan to secure the future of artistes, who are old and out of work. There is no one to help the needy in the industry.”
Padamshri Pran Kishore Kaul told me this:-
” Satish or Billa as we used to call him, was a lovely boy who grew up before my eyes. He grew up with my children. For many years ,we were living almost together ; initially in the Radio quarters in the Arts Emporium complex . Satish was affectionate and well behaved boy.He had gone to FTII to become a cinematographer but became an actor with his debut in a Dev Anand film or may be Ved Rahi’s Prem Parbat and then with a grand break in Punjabi films , Satish was a star. Possibly Prem Parbat was released first. I am not sure but he had acted very well in Prem Parbat . He did many key roles in Hindi films . I know how he was exploited in Mumbai. The rest is a very tragic and unfortunate story .When he went out of work, I also made a sincere attempt to rehabilitate him in “Saaye Deodar Ke ” a serial that we were making for DD National channel. He lived with me and the unit in the Palace Hotel, Chail (HP) where we were shooting for more than a month. He did extremely well and was very happy and excited. You can’t imagine how happy I was when groups of people would come to see Satish Kaul even when he was doing no film.But then” Kisamt ke kheil niraale Meray bhaiya”. I won’t say more. I was pained to know that he died under unfortunate circumstances. This lovely boy went through a lot of pain and suffering. I only wish him a Moksha . ”
It is also a fact that during the period he ruled Punjabi films, regional cinema more particularly Punjabi cinema was evolving and undergoing metamorphic changes in terms of skills, techniques, style , aesthetics and technology. Did he fail to update and upgrade himself to retain his position and place. I can’t say conclusively .
None from the film industry ever sought his welfare .He had many close and intimate friends in the industry. The well known dancer from Hindi cinema with whom he had reportedly developed some closeness, did not see him when he needed help and support.
I am sad as I conclude this brief tribute to Satish who was talented, affectionate, sincere and emotional. Was he prodigal? I can’t say anything except wishing him Sadgati and Moksha. Let me conclude with a couplet of Urdu poet Ahmed Faraaz:-
‘Zindagi hum tere daghon se rahe sharminda,
Aur to hai ke sada aaina-khwaane maange