In the late 70s, a Punjabi Film shoot was underway somewhere outside Punjab. A young teenager, clueless about his future, was standing in the crowd. He found everything about the film shooting so magical that he decided to get into the acting field himself. The young teenager was Shahrukh Khan and the Punjabi film that we're talking about is Dera Aashiqan Da, which had Satish Kaul in the lead role. Years later, Kaul worked with the same Khan in aTV serial - Circus.
Coming to Kaul, in the 60s Kashmir was a hot favourite location for Hindi film shoots. Starstruck young Kashmiri boy Satish decided to join films. He went to Pune Film Insitute to learn acting and Jaya Bachchan, Danny, Om Puri, Zarina Wahab were a few of those who were his batchmates.
After a brief struggle period, he got a film called Ang Se Ang Lagale, though Prem Parbat released first. The magazine columns started describing him as Helen’s toy boy.
He continued to act in supporting roles in Hindi films but it was the Punjabi film Morni, opposite Radha Saluja, which brought him fame in the Punjab region as the lead actor. Even though his command over Punjabi language was not as good as any regular Punjabi speaking person, he was still accepted in Punjabi films and got a couple of film offers. Dhanu Bhagat, Lacchi, Jatt Punjabi, Saidan Jogan, Sassi Punnu, Ishq Nimana, Roop Shaukinan Da, Rano, Jeeja Sali, Guddo, Patola, Suhag Chooda, Jatt Da Gandasa etc were some of his notable and successful films.
During the militancy days after 1984, he was still actively getting film offers but after Veerendra's murder, Punjabi Cinema faced a big blow. Even though it is believed that Satish Kaul left Punjabi films after that incident, he disagrees. He said, "Some of the films I was part of got shelved, offers were not coming like before. I was being offered a comparatively small part and the lead was being offered to new actors, like the one in Qurbani Jatti Di (which he accepted only because Preeti Sapru insisted). So I had no choice and moved to Hindi films and television.
But look at his fate, he is back in Punjab struggling to make his ends meet.
What went wrong ? Where are his family members ?
“My wife wanted to settle in America as her parents were based there. While I did not want to leave my parents behind. Mines were both were cancer patients, I spent all my savings for their treatment.’
He could not look after his acting career either. He got separated from his wife who moved to America with their son. He has not seen his son in years. His Only sister is based in Mumbai. She last talked to him over phone months ago.
Mention about his co stars in Punjabi films and Kaul says, "Veerendra was a dear friend. We worked in a few films together.”
Preeti Sapru a fellow Kashmiri visited him a few months back and contributed financially. He also fondly remembers Daljit Kaur and Bhawna Bhatt. When he got to know about Daljit Kaur’s dementia, he exclaimed, ”She's got dementia? That's sad, she was a very dedicated actress and a wonderful human being”.
Why did he not contact his Mumbai based film friends such as Raza Murad-representive of Artits’s Association and his senior batchmate and co star, or Helen, with whom he was linked to?
He says, "I do not wish to talk ill of anyone. She is someone’s wife and was helpful in my intial years in the industry.”
Talking about others, he said that he had approached a few associations in Mumbai, but nothing came out of it.
Later he lived in Mother Teresa Home in Mumbai and after spending a few years there he decided to come back to Punjab, somewhere in the year 2008. Punjab welcomed him again. He was given PTC lifetime achievement award in that period. A few film offers came his way and Harbhajan Mann was one of the first artists who came forward to help him. Around the same time, he opened a film school in Ludhiana - a failed attempt. Later, he worked as a guest acting teacher at other acting schools in the region.
Thanks to the media attention, then government (Akali Dal) came forward to help him. He was given a job at Bhasha Vibhag Patiala and an accommodation in the hostel. When things were getting better for him, he fell in the bathroom and fractured his hip bone. He got admitted in the local hospital, lying in pain he again struggled to raise funds for his treatment. Once operated, he came back to Ludhiana to live in an old age home.
In 2017, with the end of Akali Dal reign, Congress came to the power in Punjab and all government fellowships were canceled. Since then, Kaul is struggling to make his ends meet. It was during this period that a fan of his named Satya (a Ludhiana based lady) came forward to look after him. Due to the poor quality of food being served in the old age home, Satya shifted him to a rented accommodation. Satya's son requested the local MP Ravneet Singh Bittu to look in to the matter or to least restart Kaul’s fellowship, but it all went in vain.
Some of his fans and other starstruck people do visit him and help him financially, but Satish wants to live with dignity. Sadly, the kind of Punjabi films that are being made nowadays won’t fit Kaul in as an actor, and his health condition might not allow him to act as a full time actor.
A few months ago, a Punjab based Film & TV artist association was formed. Why didn't it come forward to help him?
By the time this article was being written, the Punjab Govt offered him 5 lacs of financial aid. Is that enough for an old man to survive?