Dilip Kumar, original king of Bollywood, who lorded over silver screen like none other : The Tribune India

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December 11, 1922 -July 7, 2021

Dilip Kumar, original king of Bollywood, who lorded over silver screen like none other

Dilip Kumar, original king of Bollywood, who lorded over silver screen like none other

In this Friday, May 4, 2012 file image, Bollywood veteran actor Dilip Kumar attends Dadasaheb Phalke Academy awards ceremony in Mumbai. PTI

Nonika Singh
Tribune News Service 
Chandigarh, July 7

How his fans wish that this too was a hoax. If a wife’s love and dedication could ensure immortality, legendary actor Dilip Kumar would have defeated death. But alas, we all are mortal. Only as Ernest Hemingway said, “Every man’s life ends the same way. It is only the details of how he lived and how he died that distinguish one man from another.”

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Much before the Khan triumvirate was invented, much before superstars like Rajesh Khanna and Big B rode to success, lived this super-duper star.

The original badshah of Bollywood, he lorded over the silver screen and people’s hearts like few can.

Dilip Kumar aka Yousuf Khan might have fallen silent, but his dialogues that created frenzy back in time live forever. Heralded as the ultimate method actor by Satyajit Ray, here was an actor whose acting prowess was sworn by millions, and generations of actors have tried to emulate his inimitable style. But then he learnt the first lesson in acting from none other than Ashok Kumar, who told him, “Acting is about not acting.”

Early on he realised that if he had to stand out he had to imbibe a bit of his personality in his acting. So he gave exhibitionism a miss and learnt to deliver dialogues softly with an even cadence and sought inspiration from real life experiences. Some of his dialogues 'Kaun kambakht hai jo bardasht karne ke liye peeta hai. Main toh peeta hoon ke bas saans le sakoon' in Devdas remain etched in the memories of cinephiles. His portrayal of the doomed lover became a reference point for actors for all times to come. 

The scene in Mughal-e-Azam in which he caresses Madhubala with a feather is deemed to be the most sensuous in cinematic history. Never mind that at that point they were not even on talking terms with each other. He was not merely an undisputed role model in acting but also in the department of adulation. 

Shah Rukh Khan is believed to have said, “I want more fans than Dilip Sahib for he was my parent’s favourite actor.”

Not just his but yours, mine and everyone’s parents or grandparents, remotely connected to Hindi cinema have grown up idolising the great actor. Never mind that his last film 'Qila' came in 1998, his  hold over people’s imagination did not faze even by an iota.  Laurels came easily. If the Government of India honoured him with the Dadasaheb Phalke Award in 1994, he received the highest civilian honour Nishan-e-Imtiaz in 1997 from Pakistan where he was revered like a god. If his stellar performances in movies such as 'Andaz', 'Aan', 'Devdas', 'Azaad' and the historical 'Mughal-e-Azam' and the social 'Ganga Jamuna' earned him a name in the hall of fame, his refusal to act in several famed movies such as 'Pyasa' and 'Sangam' stirred people’s curiosity as much.

He didn’t want to be a part of 'Mother India' for he didn’t like the thought of playing the son of Nargis who played his romantic interest in movies such as 'Mela' and 'Babul'. Of course, he rubbished rumours of his supposed rivalry between another great the showman Raj Kapoor. Raj’s chance remark, “You are so handsome, you should be an actor” might have subconsciously set him on the path of acting. But his first acting assignment in 'Jwar Bhata' and his screen name came from Devika Rani. His debut performance may not have set the cash registers ringing but he discovered his midas touch with 'Jugnu' and delivered one hit after another. With a career spanning six decades, he ruled the box office and the hearts of his leading ladies. His love affairs with Kamini Kaushal and Madhubala set the grapevine abuzz. But it was for the real love of his life his wife Saira Banu that he said, “Who can be luckier than me?” 

In his autobiography 'Dilip Kumar: The Substance and the Shadow', his romance with Saira unfurls like a fairytale, his picture with her that went viral a couple of years ago captured tenderness and love at its best. But then the man who was an epitome of dignity and quietude could only bring out the best in others, including his co-actors, about whom he spoke rather fondly. His second innings in tinsel town saw him rubbing shoulders with the superstars of later era. But be it 'Kranti' or 'Shakti', the audience rooted for him and him alone. If his life was a compelling narrative, his performances spellbinding, the lesser known facets of his personality equally fascinating.

Hailed as the tragedy king, it’s not just viewers who were fascinated by the pathos and melancholy that he imbued to his characters as in 'Devdas'. So intense was his involvement with his characters that his own psyche was adversely impacted and he had to seek the help of a psychiatrist. Thus, perhaps the lighter side of Dilip Kumar was born and he turned towards comedy in films like 'Azad' and 'Kohinoor'.

As measured on screen as in real life many accused him of not being candid enough. Many interesting anecdotes of his childhood years such as how a soothsayer had predicted he would be famous one day and must be guarded from the evil eye were revealed in the book.

However, he missed out important details on his second marriage with Asma, dismissing it as the only regret he has ever had. But whether discretion was his middle name or not as some critics observed, acting was certainly his first and last name. For times to come he will be remembered as just that an actor extraordinaire. Sue Mengers said: “Stars are rare creatures not everyone can be one.” He was the brightest of them all and will be a beacon for all times to come.

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