Kanhaiyalal Chaturvedi (1910-1982) was a veteran Indian actor known for his work in Bollywood films. He is predominantly known for playing the role of Sukhilala in the popular film ‘Mother India’ (1957). In a career span of almost 45 years, he has worked in more than 150 films.
Kanhaiyalal Chaturvedi was born in 1910 (age 72 years; at the time of death) in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, British India. He received his education up to the fourth grade in Hindi Medium. He wanted to pursue a career in the film industry since childhood. Though his father did not want him to pursue a career in the film industry, he managed to convince his father and started doing some odd jobs in the troupe at an early age. He started writing for stage plays at the age of 16 and later started playing small roles in theatre plays. After his father’s death, he and his elder brother tried to run his father’s drama company; however; they didn’t succeed and ended up closing the company. After this, Kanhaiyalal moved to Bombay to pursue a career in the film industry.
Parents & Siblings
His father, Pandit Bhairodutt Choube, was the proprietor of the Sanatan Dharm Natak Samaj in Varanasi. His elder brother, Sankata Prasad Chaturvedi, was an actor who mainly worked in silent films.
Wife & Children
He was married twice. His second wife’s name was Jambanti Chaturvedi with who he had seven children, four daughters and three sons. His daughter, Hemaa Singh, is a filmmaker.
Kanhaiyalal made his acting debut with the film ‘Jhul Badn’ (1938) starring Motilal and Sabita Devi. In an interview, he revealed how he landed the role. He explained that the actor who was supposed to play Motilal’s father was absent from the studio. As a result, the director asked Kanhaiyalal to read the dialogue. He read them in his own poetic style, which impressed the director and led to his selection for the role. While talking about this in an interview, he said,
An actor playing Motilal’s father had not reported on the sets, so there was an opportunity to step into the breach. The dialogue I had to speak ran to a full sheet of foolscap paper. Almost everyone on the sets was ready to laugh at me trying to be an actor, but God helped me and I did my job.”
In the same year, he appeared in the film ‘Sadhana,’ a film by Sagar Movietone. He played the role of Hero’s grandfather in the film and considered the role to be his first big role. He also wrote songs and dialogues for the film. In 1939, he appeared in the film ‘Ek Hi Raasta’ in which he played the character of a villain for the first time.
In 1940, he wrote the dialogues of the film ‘Civil Marriage.’ He rose to fame for playing the role of Sukhilala in the film ‘Aurat’ (1940), directed by Mehboob Khan.
He played the role so well that when Mehboob Khan remade the film after seventeen years under the title ‘Mother India’ in 1957, he asked Kanhaiyalal to replay the role in the remake of the film. After this, Kanhaiyalal became the first in Hindi cinema to the same role again after a long gap of 17 years.
His performance as Moti, a good-natured pickpocket, in the film ‘Bahen’ (1941) received immense appraisal from the audience. Initially, there were only four scenes were planned for him in the film, but by the end of the film, the number of scenes was increased to fourteen.
Over the course of his career which lasted nearly 45 years, he appeared in more than 150 films. Some of his most notable films include ‘Bhookh’ (1946), ‘Devdas’ (1955), ‘Upkar’ (1967), ‘Gaon Hamara Shaher Tumhara’ (1972), ‘Satyam Shivam Sundaram’ (1978), and ‘Haathkadi’ (1981).
Kanhaiyalal departed the world on 14 August 1982, at the age of 72.
- Initially, Kanhaiyalal wanted to become a writer and director and did not have any plans of becoming an actor. However, he started his career in the film industry as a background extra in Sagar Movietone’s ‘Sagar Ka Sher’ (1937) and later worked hard to establish himself as a successful actor.
- Before entering the film industry, he used to work in theatrical productions in various capacities. He has performed various self-written plays such as ‘Pandrah August’ in Mumbai.
- After his father’s death, he and his elder brother ran a grocery shop to manage the household expenses.
- Kanhaiyalal got injured while shooting the scene of a house collapse for the film ‘Aurat.’ He was so dedicated to his work that when the director asked him for calling a doctor, Kanhaiyalal refused and said to finish the remaining shots.
- In an interview, Kanhaiyalal revealed that during the shooting of the film ‘Aurat,’ there was no makeup artist ready to do his makeup and he did the film without makeup. He played the character of a middle age moneylender in the film though he was young at that time. While talking about this in the interview, he said,
There was no make-up man free or willing to attend to me. When I explained this difficulty to Faredoon Irani, the cinematographer, he calmly said, ‘Don’t worry. Just appear as you are and I will photograph you without makeup.’ He did just that. My make-up consisted only of a moustache.”
- The actor played the role of an old man in most of his films. In an interview, he revealed that he started playing the role of an old man at a very young age. While talking about this in the interview, he said,
I was quite young but I thus started playing old roles. And, down the years, I got older and older but my roles didn’t grow younger and younger!”
- Besides acting and writing, he had a profound interest in music.
- Kanhaiyalal’s daughter, Hemaa Singh, made a documentary film about his life and success called ‘Naam Tha Kanhaiyalal’ in 2021. It was released on the OTT platform MX Player and was also screened at various film festivals under the title ‘Cradle to Grave.’
- In an interview, Kanhaiyalal’s daughter Hemaa Singh said that her father deserves the ‘Dadasaheb Phalke Award’ for his remarkable contribution to the film industry. She said,
My father, who has acted in over 120 films, has made an immense contribution to the film industry and now needs recognition in the form of Dadasaheb Phalke award.”
- Bollywood actor Govinda is a family friend of Kanhaiyalal as Kanhaiyalal and Govinda’s father were good friends.