In an age when stardom is evanescent, Dilip Kumar
is that rare actor who continues to be a marquee draw even after
58 years in showbiz,
writes DINESH RAHEJA.
In a career spanning
career over six decades, Dilip Kumar worked in over 65 films.
But he has well
employed his extraordinary gift for performance and his ability
to instantly communicate with the audience to help fashion
several classics of Hindi cinema.
In 1940, while still
in his teens, Yusuf Khan, as the Peshawar-born Dilip was known
before he was rechristened Dilip Kumar, ran away from his home
to Pune after his father’s dressing down for forgetting to fetch
some sewing thread for his sister.
With the help of a
Parsi cafe owner and an elderly Anglo-Indian couple, Kumar met a
Without letting on
his family antecedents, he got the job on the merit of his
knowledge of good written and spoken English.
As assistant manager at an army canteen, he was entrusted the
job of setting tables for the British Tommies.
Dilip Kumar with Noor Jehan in Jugnu.
When he had saved a
reasonable sum, he managed to set up a sandwich stall at the
army club and when the contract ended, he headed home to Mumbai
having saved Rs. 5000.
In 1942, anxious to
start some venture to help out his father with household
finances, he met Dr. Masani at Churchgate Station, who asked him
to accompany him to Bombay Talkies, in Malad.
Devika Rani, the
controlling figure of Bombay Talkies, was looking out for
someone to fill the void by the exit of Ashok Kumar.
Impressed by Yusuf,
she asked him to sign up with the company on a salary of Rs.
1250 per month and gave him a break as hero of Jwar Bhatta
 which went unnoticed.
suggestions like Jehangir and Vasudev, a new screen name was
chosen for him: Dilip Kumar.
After a few more
unsuccessful films like Pratibha  and Milan , it was
Jugnu (1947), in which he starred alongside Noor Jehan, that
became his first major hit at the box office.
Devika Rani ruled
the studio with an iron hand and a sense of discipline. The
well-stocked library and the culture of creativity helped set
the foundation for an actor par excellence.
Dilip struck gold in
1948 when Shaheed and Mela came quick on each others heels and
helped him dig his heels into the Hindi film world.
He memorably teamed
with Raj Kapoor and Nargis in Mehboob Khan’s blockbuster love
triangle, Andaaz , involving a couple and the wife’s
friend played by Dilip, whose tragedy is his unrequited love for
unfulfillment now seemed an integral part of Dilip Kumar’s
screen persona; he won the label of Tragedy King.
fuelled this image further. In Babul  his love (Munawar
Sultana) marries another, while the woman who loves him (Nargis)
is snatched away by death.
In Jogan , he
was again ill-fated as a man who follows a mendicant (Nargis).
In Deedar  he plays a blind man who recovers his sight
only to deliberately blind himself again when he learns that his
childhood love (Nargis) is married to his eye surgeon (Ashok
suffered from depression due to portraying many tragic roles.
on-screen pairings with many of the top actresses at the time
including Madhubala, Vyjayanthimala, Nargis, Nimmi, Meena Kumari
and Kamini Kaushal, the dapper Dilip became a romantic icon.
Every nation needs a
hero and in the post-Partition, nation-building fervour of the
‘50s, Dilip Kumar was India’s.
A handsome Muslim
who quoted Ghalib, threw himself into nationalist campaigns, was
fond of the company of Left
Dilip Kumar with his Mughal -E -Azam costar Madhubala.
reprised dark, tormented characters to perfection on screen—who
wouldn’t fall in love with him?
Nine of his films in
the 1950s were ranked in the Top 30 highest-grossing films of
In the 1950s, Dilip
Kumar became the first actor to charge 1 lakh (equivalent to 75
lakh or US$110,000 in 2017) per film.
But Dilip seemed to
gravitate towards roles that scorched the viewers with sheer
He was paired
alongside Madhubala -who was 18 at the time- during the shooting
of Tarana in 1951.
During these days,
she sent a letter to Dilip written in Urdu with a red rose and
asked him to accept it if he loved her.
Dilip accepted the
letter and the red rose.
They became a
romantic pair appearing in a total of four films together.
Actor Shammi Kapoor
recalled that “Dilip Kumar would drive down from Bombay to meet
Madhubala... he even flew to Bombay to spend Eid with her,
taking time off from his shooting stint...”
father Ataullah Khan initially did not give them permission to
Dilip Kumar said:
“She was a very, very obedient daughter”, and who, in spite of
the success, fame and wealth, submitted to the domination of her
father and more often than not paid for his mistakes.
“This inability to
leave her family was her greatest drawback”, believed Shammi
Kapoor, “for it had to be done at some time.”
Kumar later revealed
that her father eventually gave them permission to marry and was
“glad to have two stars under the same roof.”
Dilip Kumar with wife Saira Banu.
However, her father,
who owned his own production company, wanted to make “a business
venture out of their proposed marriage” according to Kumar,
which he did not approve of, after which the relationship began
hey remained in a
relationship for 7 years until the Naya Daur, film of 1957,
court case happened in which Dilip Kumar stood by the Chopras
had gave evidence against Madhubala and her father.
This struck a fatal
blow to the Dilip-Madhubala relationship as it ended any chance
of reconciliation between Dilip Kumar and Madhubala’s father.
In the mid-1950s
came a professionally-fulfilling association with Bimal Roy -
Madhumati , Yahudi  and especially Devdas .
He also played
lighthearted roles in an attempt to shed his “tragedy king”
image upon his psychiatrist’s suggestion such as in Mehboob
Khan’s big-budget 1952 swashbuckling musical Aan.
This marked his
first film to be shot in technicolor and to have a wide release
across Europe with a lavish premiere in London.
He was the first
actor to win the Filmfare Best Actor Award (for Daag) and went
on to win it a further seven times in his career.
He had further
success with lighter roles as a thief in the comedy Azaad
(1955), and as a royal prince in the romantic musical Kohinoor
With two critically
applauded superhits in two consecutive years - Mughal-e-Azam
 and Ganga Jamuna  - Dilip entered the 1960s on a
In K Asif’s
unforgettable quasi-historical Mughal-e-Azam, Dilip Kumar played
a prince willing to renounce the throne and his life for his
love for a courtesan (Madhubala).
His chemistry with
Madhubala in the film is still sighed over. Though Dilip’s
character sang no song in this love epic, he reached a new acme,
combining eloquent silences with the rendition of both ornate
and bombastic lines.
that the feather scene in Mughal-e-Azam, described as one of
the most sensuous moments in Hindi cinema, was shot when he
and Madhubala had stopped speaking to each other.
“The outcome was
that halfway through the production of ‘Mughal-e-Azam’ we
were not even talking to each other.
scene with the feather coming between our lips, which set a
million imaginations on fire, was shot when we had
completely stopped even greeting each other,” Kumar writes.
The actor says
the tribute for that scene should go to “the artistry of two
professionally committed actors” for keeping aside their
personal differences to carry out the vision of the
involved in most aspects of his production, Ganga Jamuna. He
even helped Vyjayanthimala perfect her lines in the Bhojpuri
dialect with the help of a tape recorder. Suffusing his
histrionics with passion and pain, Dilip made his portrayal
of Ganga a textbook performance.
Dilip Kumar in a candid mood as Raj Kapoor tries his hands
Pushing 40, Dilip
Kumar seriously considered retirement at this stage. His next
film, Leader  was released after three long years. Both
Leader and his next, Dil Diya Dard Liya  were box office
disappointments. But his marriage to a 22-year-old fragile
beauty, actress Saira Banu in 1966 kept the 44-year-old Dilip in
Saira proved to be
Dilip’s lucky mascot as his first release post-marriage. Ram Aur
Shyam  went on to be a smash hit. Dilip played twin
brothers --- one tyrannised and the other boisterous --- in this
crowd pleaser. It was the fodder for latter day hits like Jaise
Ko Taisa and Seeta Aur Geeta.
A later series of
films with Saira - Gopi , Sagina  and Bairaag 
- did not have the magic of his earlier films. After Bairaag, in
which the audience was subjected to an overdose of Dilip Kumar
in a triple role opposite Saira, Leena and Helen, the actor took
a sabbatical from films.
Five years later, he
returned to the screen with Kranti  made by Manoj Kumar,
often dubbed as a Dilip Kumar wannabe. Dilip Kumar was a
character actor now; but significantly, the roles continued to
The early 1980s were
a happy period, winning Dilip artistic acclaim, courtesy Ramesh
Sippy’s Shakti where he was pitted against superstar Amitabh
performance in Shakti had Raj Kapoor calling him in the middle
of the night and telling him ‘there is only one Dilip Kumar’,”
A reaffirmation of
his box-office clout came with Subhash Ghai’s Vidhaata .
He married a second
time in 1981 to Hyderabad socialite Asma Sahiba, but the
marriage ended in January 1983.
multistarrers with Subhash Ghai, Karma  and Saudagar
 followed. Both featured Dilip Kumar prominently. In
Saudagar, Dilip sparred on screen with screen giant Raaj Kumar
(they worked earlier in Paigham ).
Karma marked the
first film which paired him opposite fellow veteran actress
Nutan. Three decades earlier however, they were paired together
in an incomplete and unreleased film titled Shikwa. He acted
opposite Nutan again in the 1989 film Kanoon Apna Apna.
Qila , his
last released film, was eminently forgettable. His fans are keen
that Kumar gift them a classic again. After all, over the years,
Dilip Kumar has become an icon for several generations of film
idols from Rajendra Kumar to Amitabh Bachchan to Shah Rukh Khan.
Popularly known as
The Tragedy King and The First Khan, he is credited with
bringing realism to film acting since his first film which was
released in 1944.
He is the winner of
nine Filmfare Awards and is the first recipient of the Filmfare
Best Actor Award (1954). He still holds the record for the most
Filmfare Awards won for that category with eight wins.
acclaimed him as one of the greatest actors in the history of