CM – Dilip Kumar: The great old man of the legendary life of Indian cinema


Legendary actor Dilip Kumar died on Wednesday in a hospital in Mumbai, where he was admitted for about a week. He was rushed to the hospital after complaining of shortness of breath – it was the second hospitalization in the same month. « He died at 7:30 am due to a prolonged illness, » said Dr. Jalil Parkar, who treated Dilip Kumar, told the PTI news agency. A tweet posted by family friend Faisal Farooqui from the actor’s official grip read: « With a heavy heart and deep sorrow, I announce the death of our beloved Dilip Saab a few minutes ago. We are from God and return to him we back.  » He was 98.

Dilip Kumar had been to the hospital several times in the past few years and had spent his 94th birthday in the hospital. Star of cult films such as Devdas and Madhumati, Dilip Kumar has often been named as the actor they admire most by peers such as Amitabh Bachchan and Shah Rukh Khan. He is survived by Saira Banu, his 50-year-old wife.

Described by Satyajit Ray as « the ultimate method actor », Dilip Kumar’s résumé contains many of the seminal, genre-defining roles in Indian cinema. His appearances as a drunken, doomed lover in Devdas and as a rebellious prince in Mughal-e-Azam have been quoted endlessly on screen by his followers. In Madhumati, he set the trend for reincarnation films. In Ram Aur Shyam he founded the twin-separated-at-birth formula. In 1954 he became the first winner of the Filmfare Award for best actor for Daag and won the award seven more times. Only one other actor has achieved Dilip Kumar’s eight Filmfare victories – Shah Rukh Khan, who has often cited the older actor as his inspiration.

The young Dilip Kumar was born as Yusuf Khan in Peshawar on December 11, 1922 and went to school in Deolali, Maharashtra, where his fruit merchant father owned orchards. In 1940 Dilip Kumar moved to Pune and set up a dried fruit shop and canteen. Three years later, the actress Devika Rani and her husband, the actor-director Himanshu Rai, discovered him in a military canteen and cast him in 1944 as the leading actor in Jwar Bhata. The writer Bhagwati Charan Varma changed his name from Yusuf Khan to Dilip Kumar and the young actor took his first cautious steps towards fame.

However, Jwar Bhata fell without a trace at the box office, as did his next film, Pratima. Then his luck turned with Jugnu of 1947, which starred actresses Noor Jehan and Ruby Myers and a little-known Mohd Rafi who would later become one of the most legendary voices in cinema. After the success of Jugnu, Shaheed came out in 1948 with a patriotic theme. Then, in 1949, the groundbreaking Andaz starred with Raj Kapoor and Nargis Dilip Kumar.

This was followed by a series of dramatic roles in Deedar (1951), Daag (1952), Devdas and Azaad (1955). In 1958 he played with the actress Vyjayanthimala in the reincarnation and revenge theme Madhumati. In the epic Mughal-e-Azam (1960) he played Prince Salim, who fought against his father, Emperor Akbar, to save his romance with the dancer Anarkali. Dilip Kumar, who was crowned « Tragedy King » of Bollywood, was famously recommended by his doctor to switch to lighter diets, which he did with great success in films such as Aan (1952), Azaad (1955) and Kohinoor (1960). In Naya Daur from 1957 he played a Tongawalla who dealt with industrialization in independent India. In 1961 he produced and played with his brother Nasir Khan in Ganga Jamuna. In 1967 he played a double role in Ram Aur Shyam, the film that later inspired blockbusters Seeta Aur Geeta and Chaalbaaz.

During this time, Dilip Kumar reportedly turned down the role of Sherif Ali in David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia, who was then was played by the Egyptian star Omar Sharif. Dilip Kumar’s career collapsed in the 1970s with the superstar of Rajesh Khanna and the rise of Amitabh Bachchan’s Angry Young Man. After a five-year hiatus, he returned to celluloid in the super hit Kranti (1981) as part of an ensemble cast with Manoj Kumar, Shashi Kapoor, Hema Malini and Shatrughan Sinha. He then moved seamlessly from hero to supporting roles, starring in acclaimed films such as Ramesh Sippy’s Shakti (1982), Yash Chopra’s Mashaal (1984) and Saudagar (1991), in which he starred alongside Raaj Kumar and Manisha Koirala. Qila was his last big screen appearance in 1998.

During his career, Dilip Kumar formed successful partnerships with actresses Vyjayanthimala, Madhubala, Meena Kumari, Kamini Kaushal and Nargis. Mohd Rafi often sang backing tracks for him, as did Mukesh, Talat Mehmood and Kishore Kumar.

An alleged romance with co-star Madhubala is the stuff of Bollywood legend, with a planned secret marriage allegedly by the actress’s disapproving father Germ was nipped. In 1966, Dilip Kumar married actress Saira Banu, his co-star in films such as Gopi and Bairaag.

Dilip Kumar received the Padma Vibhushan, India’s second highest civilian award, in December 2015. Interior Minister Rajnath Singh presented the award in his residence because the actor was unable to travel to New Delhi for health reasons.

Dilip Kumar also received the Padma Bhushan in 1991, India’s third highest civilian award. In 1994 he received the Dadasaheb Phalke Award. In 1998 Pakistan awarded him the Nishan-e-Imtiaz, an honor he kept despite the shrill objections of Bal Thackeray’s Shiv Sena. He was also nominated for a term for the Rajya Sabha.

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