ENTERTAINMENT  :   Bollywood : In Focus

The icon turns 93

Saturday , 12 December 2015

The legendary actor Dilip Kumar recently completed 93 eventful years on December 11, 2015. We take a look at the life and times of one of India’s most outstanding personalities

The journey of Dilip Kumar, from the day he was born in Peshawar on December 11, 1922 to date, has been almost aptly summed up by Sharmila Tagore, when she said: “Few personalities attain the stature in their lifetime, where they transcend comparisons. Dilip Kumar belongs to this elite club. A great thespian, an icon of icons, and actor’s actor, versatile, mercurial, charismatic—Dilip Kumar is all of these and more.”

It’s a glowing tribute to the legend. But, one feels that the “and more” that Sharmila Tagore referred to, needs to be further explored, if we are to do justice to the phenomenon that is Dilip Kumar, on the occasion of his 93rd birthday.

Through his memorable performances in a wide-ranging body of cinematic work, Dilip Kumar has firmly established himself as one of the greatest, if not the greatest, actors in Indian cinema. In addition to his acting abilities, it is also worth considering his other attributes, many of which deserve to be highlighted.

We will briefly dwell on his career and then, his personal qualities and contributions to society.

Cinematic brilliance

Muhammad Yusuf Khan, who took the screen name ‘Dilip Kumar’, debuted in Devika Rani’s 1944 film, Jwar Bhata. He went largely unnoticed, for the next few years, until he was paired with Noor Jehan in the 1947 film Jugnu, which became his first box-office hit. The rest, as they say, is history.

In the next two decades, Dilip Kumar delivered box-office hit after hit, firmly entrenching himself, as the first superstar of Indian cinema. So many of the films he acted in, became classics. So many of the roles he played, became legendary.

What’s more, he was equally brilliant in tragic roles as he was in comic roles. He even made a negative hero’s role appealing. Audiences thronged to the theatres, in hundreds of thousands, to see his stellar performances. Shaheed (1948), Devdas (1955), Naya Daur (1957), Kohinoor (1960), Mughal-e-Azam (1960), Ganga Jamuna (1961), Ram Aur Shyam (1967), are just a few of his starrers that continue to enthrall audiences.

His standing in the industry has been appropriately described by yet another living legend, Amitabh Bachchan, as: “The history of Indian cinema shall, in my reckoning, be ‘before Dilip Sahab’ and ‘after Dilip Sahab’, because of his impeccable presence. When you measure a journey, you never change the milestone. Dilip Sahab to me is that milestone in our film industry. That landmark is permanent, whether you wish to count the miles before or after it!”

Public life

Over almost half a century, Dilip Kumar has been respected, admired and befriended by the country’s tallest leaders, across two generations. The fact that he was equally at ease with Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Indian Prime Minister, as he was with Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the 10th, speaks volumes about his eminent stature in public life.

As a matter of fact, in his recently released book, former Pakistani Foreign Minister Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri claims that, during the Kargil conflict, Vajpayee even had Dilip Kumar speak with Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to try to defuse the crisis between the two countries.

For such a person, it was but quite natural, to be offered public positions. He accepted two and as expected, did well in both. First, he took up the position of Sheriff of Bombay in 1980. And much later, in the year 2000, he was elected as a member of the Rajya Sabha for a six-year term. He conducted himself, in both these assignments, with dignity and a great sense of responsibility.

Social causes

As early as the 1960s, when Dilip Kumar was at the zenith of his film career, he was approached by Vijay Merchant, a former cricket captain, on behalf of the National Blind Association, for support. He readily agreed to lend a helping hand and, for ten long years, was the first to donate Rs 50,000 himself each year. He also travelled in a special train from Bombay to Pune, where ordinary passengers could interact with him and donate to the cause.

Dilip Kumar has often been at the forefront of the industry for raising funds for numerous noble causes, over the past five decades. He even transcended the geographical divide, by agreeing to inaugurate a blood bank in Peshawar (the city of his birth) and to participate in Imran Khan’s fundraising drive for the Shaukat Khanum Cancer Hospital in Lahore.

Linguistic prowess

Perhaps, not many are aware of the fact that Dilip Kumar is fluent in as many as 11 languages. His command over English, Urdu and Hindi is well-known. However, he is equally fluent in Pashtu, Punjabi, Marathi and Bengali, besides his ability to converse quite comfortably in Konkani, Bhojpuri, Tamil and Telegu.

This versatility enabled him to connect with his fans, in particular, and with the masses, in general, with ease.

Awards and recognitions

It is a given that an icon of the stature of Dilip Kumar would receive a truckful of awards, during his lifetime. There is a real possibility that he may be the most awarded person in India. However, the ones that need to be mentioned are the Dadasaheb Phalke Award (India’s highest award in cinema), which was presented to him in 1994 and the Padma Vibhushan (India’s second-highest civilian award), which was conferred upon him by the Government of India in 2015.

Again, in his case, transcending the geographical border, even the Government of Pakistan honoured the thespian by conferring upon him the Nishan-e-Imtiaz, the country’s highest civilian award, in 1997.

Dilip Kumar in a nutshell

His countless gifts, coupled with an immense humility, have won Dilip Kumar praise and accolades from his peers, past and present, as well as from national leaders and fans, across generations, over six decades.

One of the finest Indian actresses of all time, Shabana Azmi sums up, beautifully, the persona of Dilip Kumar, when she says: “The first image that comes to mind when you think of Dilip Kumar, is dignity. He arouses awe and respect. He walks into a room and people automatically stand up, because such is his aura and his commanding presence. He has always been a cut above the rest, because he has never succumbed to anything crass in the name of popular appeal… The long and short of it is simply this: if you desire legitimacy as an actor and as a human being, simply follow in the footsteps of Dilip Kumar.”

Happy birthday, Dilip Sahab, on your 93rd! May you be blessed for years to come!