The king of tragedy

Legendary actors

The king of tragedy

Dilip Kumar

“Though there were many who thought that Mughal-E-Azam was more engaging in black-and-white, I was quite happy with the colour version, which enhanced the grandeur and opulence of the sets and costumes. Similarly, Naya Daur was a film I enjoyed being a part of as it was shot mostly outdoors in Pune, a city I was familiar with and Bhopal, which fascinated me. In colour, the outdoors came fully alive,” says Dilip Kumar, about the two films.

A complex system of calls and e-mails get you answers from the thespian, who lives a relaxed and reclusive life with wife Saira Banu (whom he wed in 1966 at the age of 44 when she was a fast-rising 22-year-old star). “I spend my time with my wife, her brother, his lively grandchildren, my sister Akhtar, Saeeda and their kids who visit us. I read for some time, mostly books that my nieces and friends recommend or bring as gifts for me. I watch tennis, cricket and soccer events telecast live on sports channels. I also have friends who drop in for a chat or lunch,” writes the actor.

For those who came in late, Dilip Kumar, whose real name is Mohammed Yusuf Khan, has remained a textbook in acting for generations, a fount so rich that even those who self-admittedly copied him, like Rajendra Kumar and Manoj Kumar, became lasting successes themselves. Born in pre-Partition India in Peshawar to a prosperous fruit merchant of Afghan origin, his family reached Bombay way before the Partition, but Yusuf ran away to Pune after a quarrel with his father. India’s first female superstar Devika Rani happened to sight him there and offered him a role in Bombay Talkies’ Jwar Bhata (1944) directed by Amiya Chakravorty. Amiya suggested that he call himself by the screen name of Dilip Kumar, and a star was born.

But Dilip Kumar had to wait for three years and experience two flops before his breakthrough in Jugnu (1947), a film that began his long association with Mohammed Rafi who almost became his permanent screen voice, followed by Mela that started his professional ties with his prime composer-lyricist team — Naushad and Shakeel Badayuni. But it was Andaz (1949) that catapulted him to the top. Interestingly, his 16 films between 1948 and 1953 was his busiest phase, for by the late 50s, Dilip Kumar came to be known as a man who was ultra-choosy and never took on more than two films at a time.

About his music, Kumar says, “Naushad-saab was more than a friend. He always invited me to be part of his creative process. It was awesome, the way he combined instruments and percussion accompaniments to give body and dimension to lyrics. I often joined him in the humming or singing of the tune and he truly appreciated that. He never failed to tell me that I had the requisite murqis in my voice to be trained in classical singing. However, I was far too focussed on my efforts as an actor to my own satisfaction and that of those who entrusted me with the job. As for Rafi-saab, I was indebted to him for the marvellous voice he gave to the characters I portrayed, thereby endearing them and me to the masses.”

He is incidentally the most awarded actor of his generation. But he says, “I have never been enamoured by the recognition that popular awards give. I get true satisfaction when the hard work I put in, along with other equally hardworking artistes, technicians and workers, gets unanimous recognition from the cinema-going public. I have always believed in the rewards that come from the Almighty when one has done full justice to the merits with which he or she has been endowed. Each time I get a loving letter, a warm smile or a handshake, I silently thank Allah.”

Films like Deedar, Daag, Arzoo and Babul established him as the ‘tragedy king’ and since Dilip was very meticulous in his approach to roles, he got very involved with his characters and had to consult a psychiatrist as he was disturbed. On medical advice, he then signed on only light entertainers like Aan, Azaad and Naya Daur, and romantic films like Madhumati. Insaniyat, Paigham, Kohinoor, his home production Gunga Jumna and Mughal-E-Azam saw him reach his commercial peak. His favourite filmmakers, he lets on, are Bimal Roy, Mehboob Khan and S Mukerji.

In the mid-60s, Dilip suffered major setbacks in Leader and Dil Diya Dard Liya but bounced back with the ‘67 South blockbuster Ram Aur Shyam, in which he essayed his trendsetting dual roles of the meek Ram and the fearless Shyam. After that came a flip-flop between the successful Gopi and Bairaag (his triple role of father and two sons, and his official debut as screenplay writer) — his films co-starring wife Saira — and flops like Aadmi, Sunghursh, Dastaan and Sagina.

He then quit doing hero’s roles in the conventional sense and began afresh with the blockbuster Kranti (1981), followed by his towering turn with Amitabh Bachchan in Shakti and the first of his three blockbusters with Subhash Ghai, Vidhaata (both 1982) followed by Karma (1986) and Saudagar (1991), his last blockbuster. His directorial debut Kalinga never got completed.

Among his many awards and honours, the highest remains the Dadasaheb Phalke trophy in 1994. He was also the Sheriff of Mumbai, a Rajya Sabha member and was always involved in charity work.

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