“Hamaare baad ab mahafil mein
Afasaane bayaan hoge
Bahaare ham ko dhundhegi,
Na jaane ham kahaan hoge” – Majrooh Sultanpuri
The Tragedy King, Dilip Kumar, was regarded as one of the greatest actors of Indian cinema, who worked in almost 65 films and some unfinished projects. He was considered to be an institution in himself. A whole generation of film lovers modeled Dilip Kumar as their fashion icon with the famous ‘Dilip Cut’.
My grandfather, who was a die-hard fan of Kumar told me that there was a time when every salon had a picture of Yusuf Sahab. He was among the last Nehruvian actors of Hindi Cinema.
He started his career with Bombay Talkies and his first film was Jwar Bhata which was not a big success. He established himself as one of the leading actors only in the 1947 release Jugnu. Jwar Bhata was directed by Amiya Chakravarty, a filmmaker par excellence. Chakravarty is known for films like Daag and Seema. He is credited along with Devika Rani for discovering Dilip Kumar.
He was a young shy Pathan who was working at a canteen in Pune and had a sandwich stall. It was for a business meeting that he had come to Bombay and was waiting for Mumbai local at the Churchgate Station where Yusuf Khan accidently met Dr. Masani who was a psychiatrist.
They started a conversation and Kumar told Dr. Masani that he was looking for a business opportunity and as destiny would have it, Dr. Masani was going to Bombay Talkies to meet Devika Rani. So, he asked Kumar to join him.
Dilip Kumar who had never seen a film in his life before, though he once watched a documentary, had heard about Bombay Talkies from his college friend Raj Kapoor, whose father Prithviraj Kapoor was an actor there. This was the first time he was entering a film studio. When he entered the office of Devika Rani, Amiya Chakravarty was also sitting on the couch.
Dr. Masani introduced young Yusuf Khan to Devika Rani and told Rani about his family’s fruit trade business. As we say in Hindi, “Heere ki parakh sirf johri ko hoti hain,” it was Devika Rani who saw something in Dilip Kumar and she offered him employment as an actor at her studio on a monthly salary of Rs.1250, at a time when even actors like Raj Kapoor were getting Rs. 170 per month.
She probably somewhere knew that Dilip Kumar would someday become the greatest actor of all time.
Raj Kapoor was an old friend of Kumar. Both were born in Peshawar (now in Pakistan), in the same year and month. Though both Raj and Dilip were friends from their student life at Khalsa College, Raj was the person who introduced shy Dilip to girls in his college, but Andaz was the only film in which they came on the screen together.
In his autobiography, Dilip Kumar mentioned an anecdote from the first meeting with Devika Rani. He told her that he knew nothing about acting, he never watched a film let alone acting. Devika Rani asked him, “How much experience do you have of your family fruit trade?”
He said that he was learning. She interrupted and told him that if he could learn about selling fruits, he could learn how to act.
Starting his career from Jwar Bhata, which was not a hit at that time, three years after that film, he acted in Jugnu (1947) opposite to Noor Jehan, which became his first box-office hit. Kumar did some classic films including Naya Daur, Mughal-e-Azam, Azad, Andaz, Ram Aur Shyam, Mela, Devdas, Yahudi, Aan and also produced Ganga Jamuna.
He was awarded the Padma Bhushan and Padma Vibhushan. Pakistan conferred him with its highest civilian award, the Nishan-e-Imtiaz, in 1998.
Most of the songs of Dilip Kumar were composed by Naushad Ali, written by Shakeel Badayuni, and were sung by Talat Mehmood and Mohammed Rafi. My grandfather would often sing one of the songs of Andaz, “Hum Aaj Kahin Dil Kho Baithe, Yun Samjho Kisi Ke Ho Baithe”.
Two songs of this film were picturized on Dilip Sahab, where Dilip Kumar was seen playing the piano and the other song was “Tu Kahe Agar Jeevan Bhar Mein Geet Sunata Jau.” Imagine an actor playing the piano and doing nothing else in a song in today’s Bollywood film, the audience might just leave the cinema hall but there was magic in Dilip Sahab’s eyes and expressions that could keep the audience engaged throughout.
Dilip Kumar was the ultimate method actor of Bollywood. He immersed himself in every role he played, which took a toll on his real-life apart from reel life. After doing a series of tragic roles like in Devdas, the actor had to consult a psychiatrist.
He was in London for his consultation where the psychiatrist advised him to stop working in tragedy genre films and work in films with lighter content.
He was the “Shahanshah” (Emperor) of the silver screen and many generations of movie buffs will remember the thespian for his art and contribution to cinema. It is very difficult to write what we have lost with Dilip Kumar. Today, we have lost a Kohinoor from this world.