In one of his rare forays into comedy, Sunil Dutt played Waheeda Rehman’s suitor in Ek Phool Char Kante (1960), who has to impress each of her four uncles in order to marry her. The task is Herculean. If one uncle (Dhumal) believes that piety and belief in Hindu mythology makes for a good husband, another (Rashid Khan) believes that only a fit man proficient in yoga is the perfect ‘Mr Right’ for his niece. If the third geezer (David) wants the man in question to be an actor par excellence, the fourth (Johnny Walker) insists the man be Elvis Presley’s equal.
In the film’s opening titles, the ‘Supported By’ card features the name of Iqbal Singh among a group of other actors acting in the film. Singh, in fact, appears in two songs in the film. In the first of them, he is electric as he headlines the Beautiful Baby Of Broadway rock ‘n’ roll number as both dancer and singer. The song comes at a time in the film when Dutt finds himself falling for Rehman. But he hasn’t been able to quite figure her out, seeing her in different avatars with four different men, not realizing they are her uncles. This particular song sees her boogie away at the club with uncle no. 4, Johnny Walker, much to Dutt’s chagrin.
Singh appears again the film when Dutt returns to the club to woo Johnny Walker. Singh introduces Dutt on the mike here for the latter to take over with the O Meri Baby Doll song. As the song picks up, Singh revels as one of the dancers in the club with some truly signature rock ‘n’ roll moves.
So who was this Iqbal Singh?
Iqbal Singh Sethi was educated in Pune and after clearing his SSC, joined the Indian Navy where he was a decorated officer following the 1965 war with Pakistan. Traveling all over with the Indian Navy, he picked up dancing and singing while in England. He was a junior sailor, an Engine-room Mechanic Class II, in a coastal minesweeper, one of four commissioned in the August of 1956. The vessels sailed to the Royal Navy minesweepers base at Hythe where its men worked under the guidance of Royal Navy personnel. Singh became quite the favorite at the port town’s social gatherings and would go on to win the top spot at the South of England rock ‘n’ roll championship.
Returning to India, Singh also took lessons from Ruby Aaron, who, along with husband Sam, were among the earliest teachers of Ballroom and Latin American dancing in India. He won the title of ‘King of rock ‘n’ roll of India’ at a competition held at the Taj Hotel in Bombay. He subsequently became famously known as the Indian Elvis and was an integral part of Bombay’s vibrant nightclub scene, often performing at Venice Restaurant in Hotel Astoria, when Dutt and composers Shankar-Jaikishan approached him for Ek Phool Char Kante. Bombay aside, Singh also performed at the landmark tearoom turned bar and restaurant, Trincas, at Park Street in Calcutta.
Following Ek Phool Char Kante, Singh (naturally) received more film offers but had to choose between a career in showbiz and the Navy. He decided to stick it out with the Navy.
Incidentally, Ek Phool Char Kante was revisited by David Dhawan as the Salman Khan–Karisma Kapoor starrer Dulhan Hum Le Jayenge (2000). Khan this time has three uncles and not four uncles to win over– Paresh Rawal, Om Puri and Anupam Kher. However, Dhawan’s version is no patch on its charming feel-good predecessor, easily one of Hindi filmdom’s more memorable rom-coms.