Remembering the megastar whose classic movies live on in Bollywood history6 min readReading Time: 4 minutes
On July 7th, the veteran actor and megastar, Dilip Kumar, breathed his last at the age of 98 after battling with a prolonged illness. Let’s look back at the life of this enigmatic star!
Dilip Kumar, affectionately called Dilip Saab, was born as Muhammad Yusuf Khan on December 11, 1922 in Peshawar (now in Pakistan). He was one among twelve children of Lala Ghulam Sarwar, a fruit merchant, and his wife, Ayesha Begum. He used to live in the city’s Qissa Khwani bazaar (market of the storytellers) area. Later, Kumar credited his love for stories to this phase of his life. Growing up, Kumar joined his father’s business and also ran a British army club canteen in Pune.
Clearly films were nowhere on Dilip Kumar’s mind.
But all of this changed when he met the actor Devika Rani. Her husband was the founder of Bombay Talkies, and offered Kumar a role. Rani suggested that Kumar change his name to Dilip Kumar. Bombay Talkies released his first film in 1944 called Jwar Bhata. Kumar’s career started before India’s independence, and before India as we now call it came into existence.
The Indian film industry had brought the stage to screen with its loud gestures and movements. Moving against this current, Kumar developed a style of acting that was realistic and natural. As the pioneer of method acting in India, Dilip Kumar has left an influence on the industry that is unparalleled.
What is method acting?
Method acting is an acting technique wherein actors step into the shoes of their characters, identifying with and understanding each and every emotion the character is meant to go through. Take for instance the case of actor Adrien Brody who played the role of Holocaust survivor and pianist Wladyslaw Szpilman. To embody the character, Brody lost thirteen kilograms, sold off all his worldly possessions like his phone and car and withdrew into a life of seclusion. As a reward for his dedication, he took home the Oscar for Best Actor that year!
Kumar learned to play the sitar for a song he shot for the film Kohinoor to make it look realistic. Once, he also stayed up all night to justify the character of the exhausted, and tortured Devdas the next day.
Kumar slipped in and out of characters seamlessly. Called the tragedy-hero for a generation that idolised his depictions of unrequited love, he also played light-hearted roles in films like Azaad. He could play the role of a struggling farmer and a role of a Mughal prince with equal ease. Kumar took up social causes more than any one of his contemporaries in his movies. He played the role of anti-British nationalist in Shaheed (1948) immediately after Independence and also starred in the movie, Leader, that defends India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru’s dream of a secular India. In a similar vein, he starred in Kranti (1981), a story of India’s freedom struggle against the British.
Kumar went beyond he freedom struggle, and showcased the struggles of a newly independent India in his movies as well. He played the role of a struggling farmer in Mela (1948). He also made Naya Daur in 1957 to mark the changing landscape of the rural India. In 1960, he played a rural bandit, Ganga, in Ganga Jamuna, and he played a trade-unionist in Paigham (1959).
From 2000 to 2006, Dilip Kumar was part of the Rajya Sabha as a member of the Congress Party from Maharashtra.
He was decorated with the Padma Bhushan in 1991 and the Padma Vibhushan in 2015. He was also the recipient of the the Dadasaheb Phalke award in 1994 for the contributions he made to Indian cinema. He also received the Pakistan civilian award Nishan-e-Imtiaz in 1998.
in a career spanning over more than fifty years, Dilip Kumar had selectively acted in around sixty-five movies. But he holds the Guinness Record for having received the most number of awards among Indian actors.
He is survived by his wife of 55 years and yesteryear actor, Saira Banu.
Watch the charismatic Dilip Kumar bring the screen to life in this beautiful track from his movie, Madhumati :