Shyam was regarded as one of the most good-looking leading men of Hindi cinema by old timers. Hindi cinema historians are certain that if not for his untimely death in 1951, the face of Hindi cinema in the 1950s would have been very different, for at the time, Shyam was as big a star as the Trimurti that would rule Hindi cinema in the ’50s – Dilip Kumar, Dev Anand and Raj Kapoor.
He was born Sunder Shyam Chadha on February 20, 1920 in Sialkot. However, he spent his growing up years in Rawalpindi and graduated from Gordon College there. He appeared in a screen test for Bombay Talkies in the early 1940s but was rejected and even assisted director JK Nanda briefly. He then made his acting debut in the Punjabi movie, Gowandhi (1942) co-starring Veena, Manorama, SD Narang, Asha Posley and the great character actor, M Ismail. However, Shyam’s father was not keen for him to work in the film line but his uncle, Tarachand Chadha convinced the family to let Shyam work in films.
Shyam appeared in WZ Ahmed’s Man Ki Jeet (1944), opposite Ahmed’s ‘discovery’ Neena and in Room No. 9 (1946) opposite Geeta Nizami but was finding the going tough. Following partition of India in 1947 and screen testing again for Bombay Talkies, Shyam starred in their production, Majboor (1948), co-starring Munawar Sultana. He received good notices for his work even from the hard-to-please Baburao Patel in Filmindia magazine and did not have to look back thereafter. His association with Bombay Talkies also led to a close friendship with writer Saadat Hasan Manto, described in rather touching detail by the latter. That year, he also appeared in Shahid Lateef’s Shikayat opposite Nigar Sultana.
Shyam finally broke through big time in 1949 with a string of hits including Dillagi (1949), Kaneez (1949) and Patanga (1949). Dillagi, co-starring Suraiya, remains his best known film. Directed by AR Kardar, the film showed Shyam had it in him to be a fine actor as well. The film, a tragic romance, was a huge success at the box office with the song Tu Mera Chand Main Teri Chandni hummed all over the country. The Shyam-Suraiya hit pair would go on to do Naach and Char Din as well. Another extremely popular film, Kaneez, saw Shyam caught between his wife, Munawar Sultana, and sexy vamp, Kudip Kaur, who all but destroys his marriage, forcing Sultana to live like a servant in her own house.
As he became a star, Shyam acted with heroines like Naseem Banu (Chandni Raat (1949)), Nargis (Chhoti Babi, Meena Bazaar (both 1950)), Rehana (Surajmukhi, Nirdosh (both 1950)) and Meena Shorey (Kale Badal (1951)). While shooting for the Filmistan swashbuckler, Shabistan co-starring Naseem Banu, Shyam fell off a horse and suffered major head injuries. He succumbed to his wounds in hospital on April 25, 1951.
On the personal front, Shyam was married to a Muslim woman, Taji, who migrated to Pakistan after his death. His daughter, Sahira, went on to become a popular TV artist there. He also had a son, Shakhir, whom he did not live to see as the latter was born a couple of months after his death.
Some other films that Shyam acted in include Raat Ki Rani (1949), Samadhi (1950) and Sangeeta (1950) .