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Coastweek -- Raj Kapoor, Dilip-Kumar and Dev Anand with Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. [right].
Ashok Kumar - The Jewel in Bollywood’s Crown

 Coastweek -- 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 canteen contractor.

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.

 

Coastweek -- 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 [1944] which went unnoticed.

From amongst suggestions like Jehangir and Vasudev, a new screen name was chosen for him: Dilip Kumar.

After a few more unsuccessful films like Pratibha [1945] and Milan [1946], 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 [1949], involving a couple and the wife’s friend played by Dilip, whose tragedy is his unrequited love for the heroine.

Romantic unfulfillment now seemed an integral part of Dilip Kumar’s screen persona; he won the label of Tragedy King.

Dilip’s films fuelled this image further. In Babul [1950] his love (Munawar Sultana) marries another, while the woman who loves him (Nargis) is snatched away by death.

In Jogan [1950], he was again ill-fated as a man who follows a mendicant (Nargis). In Deedar [1951] 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 Kumar).

Kumar briefly suffered from depression due to portraying many tragic roles.

Forming popular 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

 

Coastweek -- Dilip Kumar with his Mughal -E -Azam costar Madhubala.

intellectuals, and 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 the decade.

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 intensity.

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...”

But, Madhubala’s father Ataullah Khan initially did not give them permission to marry.

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.”

 

Coastweek -- 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 turning sour.

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 [1958], Yahudi [1958] and especially Devdas [1955].

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 (1960).

With two critically applauded superhits in two consecutive years - Mughal-e-Azam [1960] and Ganga Jamuna [1961] - Dilip entered the 1960s on a triumphant note.

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.

Kumar reveals 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.

“The classic 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 director.

Dilip was 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.

 

Coastweek -- Dilip Kumar in a candid mood as Raj Kapoor tries his hands at harmonium.

Pushing 40, Dilip Kumar seriously considered retirement at this stage. His next film, Leader [1964] was released after three long years. Both Leader and his next, Dil Diya Dard Liya [1966] 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 the limelight.

Saira proved to be Dilip’s lucky mascot as his first release post-marriage. Ram Aur Shyam [1967] 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 [1970], Sagina [1974] and Bairaag [1976] - 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 [1981] made by Manoj Kumar, often dubbed as a Dilip Kumar wannabe. Dilip Kumar was a character actor now; but significantly, the roles continued to be pivotal.

The early 1980s were a happy period, winning Dilip artistic acclaim, courtesy Ramesh Sippy’s Shakti where he was pitted against superstar Amitabh Bachchan.

His virtuoso performance in Shakti had Raj Kapoor calling him in the middle of the night and telling him ‘there is only one Dilip Kumar’,” he adds.

A reaffirmation of his box-office clout came with Subhash Ghai’s Vidhaata [1982].

He married a second time in 1981 to Hyderabad socialite Asma Sahiba, but the marriage ended in January 1983.

Two more multistarrers with Subhash Ghai, Karma [1986] and Saudagar [1991] followed. Both featured Dilip Kumar prominently. In Saudagar, Dilip sparred on screen with screen giant Raaj Kumar (they worked earlier in Paigham [1959]).

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 [1998], 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.

Critics have acclaimed him as one of the greatest actors in the history of Indian cinema.

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