Dilip Kumar : The Legend

Amit Ranjan

Amit Ranjan, Ph D, researches and writes on international affairs. He can be reached at amitranjan.jnu@gmail.com.

Book Review

Dilip Kumar: The Substance and the Shadow by Udayatara Nayar/Hay House India, New Delhi, 2014 / Rs 699/pp 456.

On 9th December 2013, during my visit to Pakistan, I met Saeed Ahmed, author of Dilip Kumar: Ahadnama-E- Mohabbat, at his model town residence in Lahore. He informed me that in Pakistan there are a few individuals who every year on 11 December gathers at Dilip Kumar’s ancestral home in Peshawar to celebrate his birthday. As a Dilip Kumar fan himself, Saeed Ahmed is a part of the group. Unfortunately, that year, due to fever and cough, he was not going to Peshawar. He was sad about missing this annual ritual. This anecdote reflects the respect Dilip Kumar commands beyond the physical border of India.

Photo from Dilip Kumar's twiiter page (https://twitter.com/TheDilipKumar/)
Photo from Dilip Kumar’s twiiter page (https://twitter.com/TheDilipKumar/)

In Bollywood, many actors from succeeding generations have tried to imitate Dilip Kumar’s acting style but no one is his true successor, though some of them have achieved stardom. On Dilip Kumar’s screen roles Lord Meghnand Desai in his book Nehru’s Hero: Dilip Kumar in the Life of India has correctly portrayed him as a Nehruvian hero. Inadvertently or by sheer choice, in a few of his post-independent films, Dilip Kumar has played characters   imbued with the political agenda of India’s first Prime Minister Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru. Those characters acted as a medium to transmit or disseminate the values needed to confront existing social problems and economic underdevelopment in early decades of the post-independent India. In his second innings he played different roles because situations had changed. Now he was an honest police officer (in Shakti or Karma) fighting against criminals and trying to implement the rule of law or an honest journalist (in Mashal), fighting against social ills like corruption etc. In both innings, his acting was engrossing. The perfectness was such that his on screen character in Ganga Jamuna, Naya Daur, Gopi etc make many to  believe that Dilip Kumar was either from  Uttar Pradesh or Bihar (Two Hindi/Bhojpuri speaking states in India). This list of many includes Amitabh Bachhan (198).

In this autobiography, narrated by Dilip Kumar and written by Udaytara Nayar, he starts with his birth place Kissa Khawani Bazaar in Peshawar which, as he mentions, was famous for story telling and story listening. The city was blessed with pristine beauty. After achieving stardom he visited Peshawar in 1988 to inaugurate the first blood bank in that city (284). Using that opportunity, General Zia-ul-Haq’s military government decided to welcome him as a state guest. Later on in 1998 the government of Pakistan conferred him with the highest civilian award Nishan-e-Imtiaz.

Unfortunately, at present Peshawar and entire Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) has become a base of the radicals and militancy.

Like a few others, Dilip Kumar too decided to become an actor accidentally. He is a family man.  As mentioned in this autobiography, he supported his siblings to achieve their goals. Some tried and failed, others annoyed him through their decisions; still he was there for everyone. Not only to his family members, Dilip Kumar has also helped a few individuals during their struggling phase in Bollywood.  In her reminiscence yesteryear actress Mumtaz writes after she was given a role in Ram aur Shyam by Dilip Kumar her career took a major leap forward. Prior to it, actors who were not even stature of Dilip Kumar refused to work with her (403). In this autobiography for the first time Dilip Kumar has revealed why he could not get married to Madhubala. This is interesting because there are many versions of his love-affair and reasons for separation in the gossip market. In chapter thirteen of the book he presents his side of story. He mentions that contrary to popular notions, Madhubala’s father, Ataullah Khan, was not opposed to her marrying him. He had his own production company and he was only too glad to have two stars under the same roof. Ataullah Khan’s business intentions made Dilip Kumar to break his relationship with Madhubala, though they worked together in K.Asif’s blockbuster Mughal-e-Azam. He says that she did not try hard to persuade her father (167). He has also disclosed about how he married to Saira Bainu, who is half of his age, and their post-marital life. Also, he has talked about his short-lived second marriage with Asma Rehman (308). DK   

Talking about his professional career Dilip Kumar begins with his encounter with Devika Rani, who gave Yousuf Khan his screen name. He has talked about his films and people like Ashok Kumar, S. Mukherjee, Nargis etal with whom he had a great rapport. As an honest artist, from his formative days itself, he had worked because of his interest in character, and not for remittances (296). Dilip Kumar has also talked about his non-Bollywood friends and has shared various anecdotes with the reader.

With change of time, subjects of the films will change and acting style will amorphously transform, yet Dilip Kumar will remain a role-model for people in the Indian film industry. Most of his films are evergreen, and on-screen characters are immortal; and they will remain so forever.

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