It was a Wednesday night when we, a family of six, huddled together for our midweek soiree in front of a 14-inch black and white Sonodyne television, eagerly waiting for Chitrahar to begin at Doordarshan. After a few songs, when we heard the strumming of a guitar and the chirping of birds, my father, a lover of Hindi films, preached: “The actors of today put a lot of effort into a song. They dance in three different locations to hold your attention for a four-minute song. Now comes an actor who can complete the whole song by picking leaves from a twig. And believe me, you will never know kigaana kab khatam ho gaya (when the song ended).”
Dilip Kumar was introduced to me through Salil Chowdhury’s melodic Dil Tadap Tadap Ke song from Bimal Roy’s classic Madhumati (1958).
For a kid who grew up in the early ’90s, didn’t have a hangover from Amitabh Bachchan’s stardom, and still struggled to embrace Aamir Khan as l’amour de la vie, discovering the charismatic actors of the black-and-white era soirée de délice.
In a family where a mother beaten by Rajesh Khanna named her firstborn after him, and where Amitabh Bachchan was simply Amitabh, and Rajendra Kumar “Jubilee” Kumar, Dilip Kumar was always Dilip Saab. Even when, as a gaon ka chhora, he flirted and flirtatiously danced with a bunch of gaon ki goris in Nain Lad Jaiye Ki Manwa Ma Kasak Hoibey Kahi in Ganga Jamuna (1961), Dilip Kumar was always the “gentleman”.
Life imitating art and art imitating life have never been mutually exclusive, and we never knew when the two lines blurred while watching Dilip Kumar. So it happened that my father, who wanted his children to learn the moral of life from the cinema, always told us to “be like Dilip Saab” and “not Amitabh”. His modesty, his personality, his composure and even his very ordinary looking haircut all had to be sucked in. When he was in his teens, when a series of rebellions saw occasional outbursts in a family of four siblings, our father always had a Dilip Kumar scene for us to pursue, even during our rebellions. It was the scene from the 1960 magnum opus Mughal-e-Azam. When Salim, played by Dilip Kumar, confronts his father Akbar the Great, played by the legendary Prithiviraj Kapoor, with the love of his life, he doesn’t move, his hands motionless, but his voice remains firm. It could have been a movie scene, but Dilip Kumar and director K Asif have elevated it to a kind of textbook on familial maryada.
In Bimal Roy’s Devdas (1955), Dilip Kumar made a feudal, arrogant and nagging lover, a tragic hero, and acquired the title “Tragedy King”. In a scene from the movie where he hits his childhood sweetheart Paro, played by Suchitra Sen, after being offended by her boldness and not-so-laughable (helpless) avatar, only Dilip Kumar could save the terrible side of Devdas’ maligned lover character. with his deeply wounded voice and moist eyes as he bandaged Paro’s bloodied forehead with a piece of cloth torn from his silk kurta.
At the same time, he charmed us as tangewaala in BR Chopra’s socialist critique of Nehru’s industrialization policy – Naya Daur (1957) – when we saw him singing and dancing with the beautiful Vyjayanthimala, in OP Nayyar’s beneficent Ude Jab Jab Zulfein Teri. And many, like me, couldn’t help but emulate him even in the ’90s as they spent winter break in my village, which bore an uncanny resemblance to the song’s setting—same mud houses, same mud roof tiles ( khapra) and the same hanging kerosene lanterns.
And then there were many qissas – stories of Dilip Kumar’s life off-screen that we learned during my father’s weekend drinks with tea and chanachur, while reading interviews with his contemporaries in magazines, or watching Rangoli on Doordarshan in which Sharmila Tagore, as host, used to share wonderful anecdotes about the filmi duniya of yesteryear.
One such qissa was about Deedar, the 1951 mega hit in which Dilip Kumar plays a blind man who only gains sight to blind himself to love. The qissa was that he spent hours observing a blind beggar outside a Mahalaxmi theater in Bombay to perfect a blind man’s antics, as he found that until then actors were portraying a visually impaired with their eyes closed, which he says is not true in the real world. life. He played the part with his eyes wide open and the audience understood that Shyamu could not see.
Then there was a qissa of his who discovered new talents in the industry. Watching Devdas’ climax, Dilip Kumar was impressed by the shot from a flaring train engine oven as Devdas takes a sip of whiskey. He asked Bimal Roy: Who did the video editing? Roy told him that a young guy named Hrishikesh Mukherjee edited the film. Dilip Kumar met Hrishikesh – both were the same age – and encouraged him to make films. Hrishikesh told him he has a story but doesn’t know who would do it. One day, Hrishikesh invited Dilip Kumar to an empty flat and showed him the empty walls. Dilip Kumar curiously asked: What are these signs on the walls? Hrishikesh replied: They are the prints of every tenant who lived here. They leave, but some of their nishanyaniyas are etched on these walls forever.
Hrishikesh then told the story of Musafir to Dilip Kumar. The movie starring plenty of big names including Dilip Kumar came out two years later (1957) and the movie industry got a director who brought the middle class life of the 70’s to the screen with movies like Anand, Chupke Chupke, Guddi.
We were even told that Dilip Kumar never negotiated money. There is a qissa from a producer who asks him to make a movie. He signed the contract. After several months, the producer invited Dilip Kumar to Eid lunch. After lunch, when he started to leave, the producer gave him an envelope like Eidi. On the return journey, Dilip Kumar curiously opened the envelope and found a check for Rs 10,000. He immediately rushed back to the producer’s house and asked him to take the check back because it was a huge amount for an Eidi. The producer apologetically told him: Yusuf Saab, sharminda toh aap humein kar rahein hai. Aapne ye nahin bataya tha ki aapko 30,000 rupaiye spleen hain, ek movie ke liye. Humein pata nahi tha, aur aapse 20,000 rupaiye ke contract sign karwa liya. Ye 10,000 Rupaiye Fees Maan ke rakh lijiye (I am the one who is ashamed. You didn’t tell me you usually get Rs 30,000 for a movie. I didn’t know so I got you to sign a contract for Rs 20,000. Accept this Rs 10,000 as part of your fee.)”
Such qissas were told as Panchatantra stories on Sunday afternoons and told us how morally superior the people of yesteryear were.
We have never seen the two legends – Dilip Kumar and Guru Dutt – work together. The two came close to making a movie. It was Pyaasa, who initially offered Guru Dutt to Dilip Kumar, but he declined because playing tragic roles influenced him, and Pyaasa’s story was more like Devdas. Even in his sixties, when Dilip Kumar worked with young stars be it Amitabh Bachchan in Shakti and Anil Kapoor in Mashaal, he stole the scene with his acting rather than the script. Who can forget the trauma of an aging man, left homeless, screaming for help – “ae bhai ko hai” – in the empty streets of a soggy Mumbai night in Mashaal (1984).
We don’t know how he felt in recent years: a man born as Yusuf Khan in Peshawar in then India and celebrated as Dilip Kumar across the subcontinent. A man who healed the two divided nations with his movies to such an extent that it didn’t matter whether Dilip Kumar Yusuf was more and Dilip less, or Dilip more and Yusuf less. In a world where all kinds of hatred grow, we can always cling to his only dialogue from Mughal-e-Azam: “Taqdeerein badal jaati hai, zamaana badal jaata hai, mulko ke taarikh badal jaati hai, sahenshah badal jaate hai. Magar is badalti hui duniya mein mohabbat jis insaan ka daaman thaam leti hai, wo insaan nahi badalta. (Fortunes can change, the world can change, the history of nations can change, emperors can change. But in this changing world, a man touched by love doesn’t change.)”
Dilip Saab never changed, because he was held by love until the end – “Zindabad, Zindabad, Ae Mohabbat Zindabad!”.