All-time favourite

Back In The Day

Overcoming the gloom that had gripped the industry after the demise of Dev Anand, Bollywood stalwarts felicitated the doyen, even though the actor, suffering from multiple ailments including bouts of severe amnesia, had reportedly been oblivious to the activity around him.

This is just a feeble attempt at unmasking some of the lesser known aspects of a man originally known as Yusuf Sara Khan. Dilip Kumar had his schooling and early college education in Bombay before joining his father’s fruit-selling business. A chance meeting with the legendary Devika Rani during a business trip to Nainital resulted in a brief interview at the Bombay Talkies office, and a break into movies in 1943.

His first release was Jwar Bhata in 1944. In the following six decades, he starred in precisely 62 films, two of which were in Bengali, and four of which were guest appearances.

In 45 of these, he had only 11 leading ladies. He was hopelessly in love with at least three, interested in another, and married to the fifth. There were at least three other aborted romances, apart from the infamous second marriage to Asma. And the whole exercise of first denying the relationship and then humiliating the lady by summarily divorcing her, left a bad taste even in the mouth of his most die-hard fans.

His performances won him a record eight Filmfare trophies. He was also awarded the Padma Bhushan in 1991, Filmfare Raj Kapoor Lifetime Achievement Award in 1993, the Dadasaheb Phalke Award in 1994, the controversial Nishan-e-Imtiaz, the highest civilian award in Pakistan in 1997, aside from numerous others.

Although he had several favourites in Hollywood — the one film in which he always wanted to act, but had to wait nearly 30 years before eventually doing so, with disastrous results for all, was the Marlon Brando movie,Viva Zapata. Although the movie also included Paul Muni, it was Brando who became his ‘first enduring inspiration’.

That Dilip Kumar imparted a certain intensity to every role he essayed, and laboured on every character he portrayed on-screen is almost a legion now, though his range and manners were limited, and repeated.

The late Motilal, his co-star in Devdas, once said: “I have watched Dilip in several films since Jwar Bhata. He is very definitely the great lover, but what else? He gives masterly emotional performances in all his pictures, but in his roles there is a sameness which he must avoid if he wants to remain right on top. He must give himself a chance to be versatile.”

Dilip Kumar’s nearly-six-decade-long acting career can be divided  into six phases. The tentative, ‘anaemic’ actor of the early years, the director’s actor, the actor’s director, the interfering actor and the director’s director.

The sixth phase began at the end of 1960s or the early 1970s, when, technically, he became a character actor, brightening even the mediocre films with his power-packed performances. In this phase came films like Shakti, Karma, and Vidhaata. He surpassed all his previous performances in the home production, Gunga Jumna.

Some of Dilip Kumar’s better known films are a detailed analysis, made in socio-political context, of a secular, democratic nation on the move. Some of these became memorable because of the actor’s highly charged performances. This is because Dilip Kumar, unlike his other illustrious colleagues, seldom sought to get into the skin of the characters he was portraying.

But that gave Dilip Kumar’s critics the handle to run his achievements down. They contend his range and reach was limited, and it was by sticking to them that he was able to dominate, and endear himself.

Forgetting that some of Dilip Kumar’s outstanding performances were in films like Daag, Amar and Devdas, where the actor hardly had any choice. With the exception of Mughal-e-Azam, he portrayed mostly Hindu characters.

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