Tragedy King Dilip Kumar, an Icon of Bollywood, a Charming Actor

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Dilip Kumar was born Muhammad Yusuf Khan in Qissa Khawani Bazaar, in Peshawar, Pakistan. His father was a fruit merchant and owned large in Peshawar and Devlali in Maharashtra, near Mumbai. The family relocated to Mumbai, in the 1930s, and in the early 1940s, Yusuf Khan moved to Pune and started off with his canteen business and supplying dry fruits. There he was spotted by a leading actress, Devika Rani, who gave him his screen name. Sameena profiles the tragic hero, in the regular column, exclusively in .

An icon, a legend, Dilip Kumar is considered to be one of the greatest of Indian cinema. Starting his in 1944, he has starred in some of the biggest commercially successful films in the period 1949-1961. He was the first actor to receive a Filmfare Best Actor Award and holds the record for most numbers of Filmfare Awards won for that category. He has done films of other genres occasionally – he balanced out with roles such as the intense Andaz (1949), with the swashbuckling Aan (1952), the dramatic Devdas (1955), with the comical Azaad (1955), the historical romance Mughal-e-Azam (1960), and with the social Ganga Jamuna (1961). He pre-dominantly specialised in doing love stories or tragic roles and his extremely vulnerable, heart-wrenching persona of a sensitive lover, with a deep rich textured voice, became a style copied by many actors and made his fans fall in love with him, even today.

Though not a traditionally good looking hero, he was extremely charming and his eyes, according to me, had a sex appeal and a mischievous glint. His art of delivering dialogues set him apart. Kamini Kaushal was his first co-star, who fell for his charm, though she was a more successful actress than him, when they first co-starred and gave hits like ShaheedArzoo, in the late 1940s. Dilip Kumar had a crush on Kamini Kaushal before he had acted with her and their onscreen chemistry was an instant hit and made them come together as a couple in real life too.

In the 50s, he ruled the box office with Raj Kapoor and Dev Anand. Andaz, which starred both Dilip Kumar and Raj Kapoor became a huge hit.

He was born Muhammad Yusuf Khan in Qissa Khawani Bazaar, in Peshawar, Pakistan, in a Hindko speaking Awan family of five children. His father Ghulam Sarwar was a fruit merchant and owned large orchards in Peshawar and Devlali in Maharashtra near Mumbai. The family relocated to Mumbai, in the 1930s, and in the early 1940s, Yusuf Khan moved to Pune and started off with his canteen business and supplying dry fruits.

There he was spotted by a leading actress of those years Devika Rani, who was also the wife of the founder of Bombay Talkies, Himanshu Rai, and she helped his entry into the film industry. She also gave him the screen name of Dilip Kumar.

His first film, Jwar Bhata, was released in 1944, which went unnoticed and his next two films Pratima (1945), Naukadubi (1947) were box office flops. In 1947, he shot to prominence with the film Jugnu, which was his first major hit and followed it up with successful Shaheed(1948), thereby, becoming a star. His next release, Ghar Ki Izzat (1948) was box office flop. He fell in love with Kamini Kaushal and the on-screen chemistry paid was a hit with the audience. Kamini Kaushal-Dilip Kumar gave hits like Shaheed (1948), Nadiya Ke Paar (1948), Shabnam (1949), Arzoo (1950). Kamini Kaushal was a bigger star than Dilip Kumar even before they did their first film Shaheed (1948) as a pair since Kamini had four hits to her name already and Dilip had a crush on her ever since her first film Neecha Nagar became a hit in 1946. In 1949, he co-starred with the then actor-director Raj Kapoor, who had a flop in Aag as a director and had 11 flops as an actor before this film, in the romantic melodrama film Andaz, which went to become a huge success and made him a star. Throughout the 1950s, he was one of the biggest stars of Bollywood along with Raj Kapoor and Dev Anand. Dev Anand, who had three flops from 1946-47, became a star when Ziddi became a hit in 1948 and Raj Kapoor’s fortune as an actor when Andaz became a hit in 1949. Thus, among the trio, the first to become a star was Dilip Kumar and then Dev Anand, followed by Raj Kapoor.

Dilip became known for playing tragic love story roles in hit films such as Nadiya Ke Paar (1948), Mela (1948), Andaz (1949), Jogan (1950),Babul (1950), Arzoo (1950), Deedar (1951), Tarana (1951), Deedar (1951), Daag (1952) and Shikast (1953), which earned him the title of ‘Tragedy King’.

Some of his most famous films in tragic roles were box office flops like Amar (1954), Devdas (1955), Dil Diya Dard Liya (1966) and Aadmi(1968). However, Madhumati (1958) gave him Filmfare Award for Best Actor.

His affair with Kamini Kaushal ended in 1951 and the pair of Madhubala-Dilip Kumar had a hit in Tarana (1951) and two flops in Sangdil(1952), and Amar (1954), but the couple fell in love while working in Amar (1954). Madhubala’s beauty was endearing and could make any male co-star fall in love with her. Later, Madhubala and Dilip Kumar broke up in 1957, while working in Mughal-e-Azam.

From the late 1960s, roles dried up for Dilip Kumar as films starring Dev Anand, Rajendra Kumar, and Shammi Kapoor were more successful from 1961-1969 and also Dilip’s films from 1966 to 1976 were box office flops like Dil Diya Dard LiyaSunghursh, Aadmi, Dastaan, Gopi, Sagina, and Bairaag. After 1976, he left films for a five-year-break. 

Despite the film success he did not produce any film after this but gave away the script for its Tamil version Iru Dhruvam starring Sivaji Ganesan. Dilip had a narrow brush with international fame in 1962 when British director David Lean offered him the role of Sherif Ali in his 1962 film, Lawrence of Arabia.

He made a comeback in 1981 with the multi-starrer Kranti, which was the biggest hit of the year. He went on to play character roles as an elderly family patriarch or a police officer in films like Shakti (1982),  (1986), Vidhaata, Mazdoor, Mashaal, Duniya, Dharm Adhikari, Kanoon Apna Apna, Izzatdaar, Saudagar (1991), Qila. But his only films to be successful from 1981 at the box office were Kranti, Vidhaata, Karma, Dharm Adhikari, Kanoon Apna Apna, and Saudagar. In his last major successful film, Saudagar (1991), he appeared alongside another legendary actor after three decades, since they last appeared together in Paigham (1959). In 1992, he was awarded the Filmfare Lifetime Achievement Award.

Dilip Kumar married actress and ‘beauty queen’ Saira Banu, in 1966, when he was aged 44 and she was 22. At the time, columnists predicted doom for the high-profile couple, but the union has been one of the longest lasting marriages in Bollywood.

©Sameena Naqvi

Photos from the Internet

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Samina Naqvi, educator, teacher trainer and motivator, uses education as an instrument for change. She believes in adventure, romance and living life to the fullest. Watches and analyses films, understands people’s perception. Loves to travel, read, and meet people from different sociocultural backgrounds, integrating communities. She is free spirited and enjoys her freedom to live life on her terms. She also believes that the youth today needs to be guided to create a better tomorrow.