Friends recall him as the gentle giant. The world hails him as the original machoman – Rustam-e-Hind of wrestling and Bollywood’s first action hero, who gave the mythological Hanuman a He-Man twist.Deedar Singh Randhawa – Dara Singh to the world – became a phenomenon long before stars created by crafty marketing strategy came into vogue.His ability to balance the two unrelated spheres of wrestling and films is what makes Singh unique in our pop culture.He passed away on Thursday at his residence in Mumbai after a cardiac arrest. The 83-year-old was hospitalised last Saturday after he complained of chest pain and uneasiness. With little chance of recovery and keeping with his family’s wishes, Singh was shifted to his residence on Wednesday. The last rites were performed on Thursday afternoon.A file photo of Dara Singh with his wife at an event.Bollywood’s fondness for the big man with a bigger smile is evident from the galaxy of celebrities – Amitabh Bachchan, Dharmendra, Rishi Kapoor and Raza Murad – who came to mourn his death at the funeral.Bachchan, who played Dara Singh’s son in Manmohan Desai’s 1985 blockbuster Mard, aptly defined him as “an entire era of celebrated presence”.Singh’s debut film saw him essay a prop role in the 1952 Dilip Kumar-Madhubala drama, Sangdil. He was last seen on screen as Kareena Kapoor’s grandfather in the 2007 hit, Jab We Met.The intervening years saw him constantly redefine his charisma. He brought alive Hanuman twice – once in the sixties’ film, Ramayan, and then again in the eighties when Ramanand Sagar cast him in the role in his superhit serial on the epic. He also played Bhimsen in the 1965 screen adaptation of Mahabharat.advertisementAs a wrestler, his bouts were nothing short of spectacles. Along with Australian champion King Kong and Canadian ace Flash Gordon, Dara Singh created the first template of the entertainment sport that has today become a TRP topper in its various avatars such as WWF, WWE and TNA wrestling. A famous fight where Dara lifted King Kong above his head and flung him to the ropes is stuff that legends are made of in the wrestling world.Given his 6-foot, two-inch frame, wrestling glory was only expected. But Dara had a far bigger challenge to overcome when he entered Bollywood.Not many leading film-makers were willing to cast a wrestler stud as hero in an era when intense drama ruled. Dara chose to carve his niche in smallbudget Hindi and Punjabi action films of the fifties and the sixties, in the process turning the genre into a peculiar kitschy art form.With little script or cinematic finesse to offer, films such as Sikander-E-Azam, Jagga Daku, Toofan, Do Dushman, Daku Mangal Singh, Aandhi Aur Toofan, Jawaan Mard, Faulad, Tarzan Comes To Delhi, Tarzan And King Kong, Samson and Hercules found a fiercely loyal fan base riding solely on his brawn power.He went on to direct a few films too, notably Rustom with Tanuja and Sohrab Modi in 1982 and the 1978 film Bhakti Mein Shakti that also featured Bharat Bhushan.Singh was a true star, revered by die-hard fans as the larger-thanlife demigod he normally played on screen. So much so, many in his ancestral village of Dharmoochak near Amritsar reportedly refused to believe he was no more. For these fans, their Hanuman will remain immortal forever.He was born here in November 1928 to Balwant Kaur and Surat Singh Randhawa and it is here that he first learnt the ropes of wrestling.Soon after the villagers learnt about his death, the residents of the village, including some of his contemporaries, gathered outside his house to reminisce about their lost gem.Dara was affectionately called Balwanji (wrestler) in the area. No wonder then that the village has come to be known as Balwan da pind (wrestler’s village) – but not solely owing to his fame. Village lore is replete with tales of Singh’s philanthropy.– Inputs from Vikas Kahol in Chandigarh.