Dilip Kumar, the legendary actor who redefined acting in Hindi films, passed away today at the age of 98. Revered as ‘The Thespian’, referred to as ‘Tragedy King’, known for his realistic acting, Dilip Kumar was an icon who inspired many a cine lover, young and old. Sundeep Pahwa writes a heartfelt note, recalling his first brushes with those classic films.
Today 7th July 2021 would go down in history as a sad day when one of the greatest actors of Hindi Cinema Dilip Kumar passed away early in the morning. Today while posting a song from Tarana in a tribute to Anil Biswas on his birth anniversary, in an FB group at around 7 am, I wrote that all have passed away except Dilip Kumar who is bravely fighting his health conditions at the age of 98. The song was Talat Mahmood’s Ek main hun ek meri. Little did I know that in half an hour I would have to edit my comment that Dilip Sahib was no more.
The news spread like wildfire on the social media. In fact, The New York Times was so quick, it posted an obituary titled ‘Dilip Kumar, Indian Film Star Who Brought Realism to Bollywood, Dies at 98’. on its website very early.
An institution is gone. Deeply saddened, Amitabh Bachchan tweeted:
T 3958 – An institution has gone .. whenever the history of Indian Cinema will be written , it shall always be ‘before Dilip Kumar, and after Dilip Kumar’ ..
My duas for peace of his soul and the strength to the family to bear this loss .. 🤲🤲🤲
Deeply saddened .. 🙏
— Amitabh Bachchan (@SrBachchan) July 7, 2021
My first awareness of an actor called Dilip Kumar, was thanks to my late father who was a big fan of the thespian. Later I realised that among people of my father’s era, there was hardly anyone who did not appreciate his work as an actor.
As a young boy, the first film I heard about Dilip Kumar being discussed much was Mehboob Khan’s Andaz and the songs sung by Mukesh picturised on him. Subsequently Mela, Babul, Aan and a host of other blockbusters released in the 50s took him to greater heights. I remember as a young boy, I watched Dilip Kumar for the first time in a theatre – the film was Ram aur Shyam and the dual role made a deep impression on me.
I will give some extra points to Andaz because of personal reasons. My late father belonging to a rich family of Punjab developed a liking to a girl who happened to be his elder brother’s wife’s sister. A great fan of Mukesh, he would sing Tu kahe agar jeevan bhar, main geet sunata jaaoon in family gatherings to woo her. Ultimately he did marry her and had three children. I am the eldest son. My mother is still very much with us and gets very emotional when she hears the song. My father told me about this song when I was just out from school. I was very fortunate to have seen Andaz for the first time with him in a hall in a rerun in the late 60s.
Tu kahe agar jeevan bhar, main geet sunata jaaoon (Andaz, 1949) Naushad / Majrooh Sultanpuri / Mukesh
A method actor who was very choosy in selecting roles he did and never bothered for quantity, Dilip Kumar will remain an inspiration for so many generations to come. The three super stars of the 50s – the trio Dilip Kumar, Raj Kapoor and Dev Anand – who ruled the golden era of cinema would have reunited in the heavens today. Its truly the end of an era.
As a young student of cinema, I would be a silent observer in my house during discussion about Hindi films and needless to say most of the time, the subject would be Dilip Kumar and how he essayed the role of Shankar in Naya Daur, or played Salim in Mughal e Azam with elan or how he was “overshadowed” by Prithviraj Kapoor or Madhubala. Bimal Roy’s Devdas would be a hot topic – the director had so many choices for the roles of Paro or Chandramukhi but only one actor could play the title role. So would be Ganga Jumna, the film he produced for his family, and how his involvement in films went beyond his roles, how he would have a say in the music and the actors to be cast or the direction. These were stories heard many a time, but the fact was except for a few who were part of his regular team, many in the industry would have given their right hand for an opportunity to work with him.
One of the stories I heard was that Dilip Kumar had attended the premiere of HS Rawail’s Mere Mehboob in Bombay and liked the film immensely. While being escorted out of the auditorium by Rawail Sahib himself, he expressed a desire to work with him. Many would not believe that Rawail Sahib did not sleep that night. The reasons were two. First, Mere Mehboob was a hit and secondly, the great Yusuf sahib had agreed to work on his next project. That desire culminated in the film Sanghursh, where Dilip Kumar was cast opposite Vyjayanthimala. BR Chopra, one of the leading producer-directors of Bombay film industry was so keen to work with him after Naya Daur that Dilip Kumar finally agreed for Dastaan after many years. Kalyanji Anandji never had the opportunity to work with him in his hey days. When they scored music for Gopi, it was like a mission fulfilled and also for Mahendra Kapoor as his playback voice although Dilip Kumar was past his prime then.
The Times of India, dated March 23rd 1954, wrote about Dilip Kumar after he received the First Filmfare Trophy for Best Actor – “Extremely good looking, with dark, intense eyes and a superbly modulated speaking voice, Dilip Kumar has no equal in dramatic performance on the Indian Screen, today…A serious student of life, this dashing young Hero believes that a higher purpose should guide us in life.”
Special mention has to be made for the male playback singers for him in the films. Initially he preferred Talat Mahmood and later Rafi Sahib is well known for singing his song, but the songs sung by Mukesh in Andaz, Mela, Yahudi and Madhumati are classic too.
Like Dharmendra and Salim-Javed, there would be many many others in our generation who flocked to Bombay to try their luck in the industry, either in front or behind the camera. Their struggles to make it big is part of film folklore. But probably there won’t be any mention of the thousands of hopefuls who set off for Bombay, inspired by Dilip Kumar and his films.
The Thespian moves on to eternity, leaving behind a legacy that will be impossible to match.
Aye mere dil kahi aur chal (Daag, 1952) Shankar Jaikishan / Shailendra / Talat Mahmood, Lata Mangeshkar
As Sushrut Vaidya wrote to me in an email:
“He regaled me and countless fans and admirers like me with his superb acting. But he gave us something deeper still. An ordinary spectator like me could see myself in him, could see my griefs and sorrows, my disillusionment with the world, my despair, my lament that the world never gave me my dues, never respected me, my inner – innermost – restlessness, my hurt dignity, so immaculately, poignantly and intensely expressed on the screen. And through that, I could get a sense of overcoming the limitedness of my existence, even if it were for a fleeting moment, and get an illusion of completeness, of the restoration of my dignity. This vicarious fulfillment could neither be described in words, nor could it ever be valued in material terms.
All I can say with a deepest sense of gratitude is – Thank you, Dilipsaab.”
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