Reena Roy, the actress, thought he was Chinese. Can't blame her: most Indians still think that all people with Mongloid features belong either to China or Nepal. But in spite of his 'Chinese' looks, he blended so well with 'Indian' characters that he went on to become one of the top villains of Bollywood.
As far as my knowledge goes, only in one film did Danny Denzongpa actually play a Chinese, that too a half-Chinese. The film is Lahu Ke Do Rang, in which he turns out to be the half-brother of Vinod Khanna. Their father is a freedom fighter -- also played by Vinod Khanna -- who ends up sleeping with a Chinese woman who gives him shelter while he is escaping from British forces.
Other than that, Danny has always played 'Indian' characters. I have seen countless films of him, but the ones that stand out in my memory are Dhund and Jawaab. Both very powerful fims, minus the usual frills of Bollywood.
Danny, by the way, is -- or at least was -- a good singer too. Search for the song Sun sun kasam se from Kala Sona on You Tube, and you will know what I mean. He has sung it so well that one of the two persons who posted this song on You Tube has credited the male voice to Shailendra Singh, blissfully unaware that it was Danny who did the playback under the baton of R.D. Burman.
This is one song I listen to when I am struck by hypochondria, and it does cure me most of the time. Danny, after all, is a man of clean habits -- someone you can look up to if you want to lead a healthy life. Way back in 1994, when I was a journalist on probation with the Press Trust of India in Delhi, one of my jobs was to scan all the 12 newspapers published from Delhi at the time and make a report on how the PTI had scored against its rival, the UNI, or the United News of India.
One Sunday morning, while scanning the papers, I came across an interview of Danny in The Sunday Observer. It was one of those interviews that changed your life or least inspired you to make amends. But those days, as a young bachelor, I could only feel inspired because there was no provision to make amends. The interview was about the eating habits of Danny.
Sadly, there was no internet then, and the newspaper itself is defunct now, so neither can I produce a link nor can I paste a scanned copy. But it's all pasted in my head. I can sum up for you what I had read then:
Danny hates eating out. He does not trust any food other than what is cooked in his kitchen, with spices brought from Sikkim, where he hails from. He loves jeera, or cumin, because he believes it can make even the blandest of dishes interesting. One evening, Danny and Jackie Shroff were attending a Bollywood party when they scooted just when dinner was about to be served. They did not want to eat the rich dinner, so they returned to Danny's home.
Since it was late in the night, the servants were fast asleep. Danny decided to cook himself. He opened the fridge and found a few brinjals. He cut them into small pieces. He then heated a spoonful of oil in a frying pan and spluttered cumin seeds and added the brinjal pieces. Jackie, who had found a couple of green apples in the fridge, wondered why they could't be chopped and put into the pan as well. Danny thought that was a good idea. When the brinjal and the apple pieces were mildly fried, seasoned by jeera, he added curd to the pan and covered it.
Whatever came out must have been delicious. They had the brinjal-apple dish with bread, accompanied by a bottle of red wine that Jackie had just opened. A perfect dinner. From the interview, I also gathered that Danny, whenever he was shooting outdoors, always sent his boy to the nearest village to get the local, freshly-cooked food. If nothing else, just curd and rice.
I got to emulate Danny Denzongpa only seven years later when I came to Chennai in 2001, when I finally had a functional kitchen of my own. And I realised that any vegetable, no matter how much you hate it, tastes heavenly when you season it with cumin seeds and add curd to it. Cumin and curd are a deadly and a delicious combo.