August 2, 2022 Akshanth Gunda

Jankidas Mehra

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Did you know that the on-screen tragedy of the Bollywood queens Madhubala, Meena Kumari and Mala Sinha that tugged at the emotion of Indians through the 40’s and 50’s is strangely connected to a relatively obscure sport of the time, Cycling? 

Director Moti B. Gidwani came up with a blockbuster murder mystery “Khazanchi” in 1941. It was one of the most successful movies made in pre-independent India. In that movie, one certain Jankidas Mehra played a cameo role of “Ram Das”.

This was the beginning of a stellar career of Jankidas that spanned for about 6 decades and over 1,000 films. However, his superlative skills were not only limited to the art of acting. It is widely accepted that he was the first production designer in the Hindi film industry.

Taking a cue from Hollywood, Jankidas introduced greasepaint and glycerine to make on-screen tragedies look more real. As a production designer, he was also revered by numerous established and upcoming stars of the film industry.

His expert pair of eyes first scouted Madhubala in Sohrab Modi’s “Daulat”, Meena Kumari in Nanubhai Bhatt’s “Hamaara Ghar” and Mala Sinha in Kishore Sahu’s Shakespearean drama “Hamlet”. All of whom went on to become legends of the Indian film industry.

Despite earning staggering success, acting and production designing was Jankidas’s secondary choice of career and passion. His first love and dream career option was a very little-known sport in India at the time, Cycling.

Jankidas was the first person who brought Cycling as a sport to the forefront in India, winning several accolades from around the world. 

He is the only Indian till date to have broken cycling records, 8 in the period between 1934-1942. He also became the sole Indian member of the panel that led the International Olympic Committee during the 1936 Olympic Games held in Berlin.

He became the pioneer of India in the world of cycling that inspired another stalwart, Sohrab H. Bhoot, with whom he later founded the National Cyclists’ Federation of India, registered with the world governing association, Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI).

He was poised to create wonders with his indefatigable stamina, however things took a dramatic turn in 1942 when he met Mahatma Gandhi at the World Sports Congress held in Zurich.

Gandhi shared his vision of an Independent India with him and persuaded him to join the nationalist movement. An emotional Jankidas took an oath to never represent himself again under the banner of British led India and wait until his homeland’s independence.

For his contributions to the Indian freedom movement, Jankidas was given the honour of hoisting the pre-Independence National flag of India at the World Sport Congress in 1946. By then however he had shifted his focus from cycling to the art of acting.

In the pages of Indian history, Jankidas Mehra remains one of the finest examples of grit and passion who lived multiple dreams to the highest level. 

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