Dilip Kumar. Raj Kapoor. Dev Anand. Their names are inseparable in the pantheon of Indian stars. They are all timeless stars who have defied age and changing tastes. They were born within a year of each other (1923/24) and made their debuts within a couple of years of each other: Dilip Kumar in 1944 (with Jwar Bhata), Dev Anand in 1946 (with Hum Ek Hain) and Raj Kapoor in 1947 (with Neelkamal). They were destined to "rule" the Hindi film industry for the next quarter-of-a-century and in the process give a new definition to the concept of stardom in post-Independent India.
Two of them went on to form their own production companies Raj Kapoor launched R. K. Films in 1948 and Dev Anand launched Navketan in 1951 - and were thus in a position to shape their images and careers. Dilip Kumar, on the other hand, preferred to remain and actor first and last, thus compelled to shape his career and form his image through the "outside" films that he starred in.
This apparent disadvantage actually worked out to his advantage because, right through his career, he got work with the best of Indian filmmakers in the best of films. Shorn of the responsibility of running a production company and directing a film, he could concentrate on his performances and hone him talent to razor sharp perfection. His power of selection also stood him in good stead.
In film after film, with a few minor cosmetic alterations, he played the tragic brooding introvert who invariably loses his lady-love in the last reel. And, sometimes even his life! Dilip Kumar's tragic screen persona became a role model for other actors who were required to play similar roles and continues to be till this day. His constant foray into tragic roles and his assuming the mantle of the Tragedy King necessitated his taking psychiatric advice, which led to his taking up lighter roles, which he played with equally consummate artistry. Even his character roles created new highs: his was always the pivotal role.
When compared to his contemporaries his output has been meager. This was in keeping with his policy to ration himself and work only in the best projects - a policy which, in theory, was the correct one since he believed that an artiste must seek to consolidate his work as an actor rather than increase his output. In practice, it did not work out well since it did not get him the expected rewards. But the flops never upset his rhythm or his dedication to the Muse.
Though the output is small, there is no denying that the quality of each one of his performances is to be marveled at and repeatedly studied as the Actor's Bible. He may have played the same role again and again but he took care to see that the characters were well delineated, right down to the last nuance. It is no wonder therefore that many actors have chosen to model themselves on him and many of them have even made it in the tough world of films in their own right. He has never looked down on such actors nor ever derided them Instead he has looked upon them as equal partners in an endeavour to create a less artificial cinema.
He had made a foray into production and though the film was a great success the experience was so bitter that he did not find it worth repeating. He took up direction but the film was never completed to his satisfaction probably because the producer could not match is desire for creating true art on celluloid. Maybe he should have stuck to what he does best: Acting.
It's been more than a decade since Dilip Kumar has acted in a film. Maybe he will never act again for he is already in his eighties. But then stranger things have happened
This then is the story of a man who blazed a histrionic trail, which many actors dreamt of emulating but very few could even follow and none could really emulate.
Back of the Book
This is the story of a man with humble beginnings who reached out and came away with a fistful of magical stardust. From being dismissed for being a non-actor in his debut film Jwar bhata to creating a small oeuvre that is admired by critics and repeatedly studied by actors to this day. Dilip Kumar has become a legend in his own lifetime. His tumultuous early years saw him crave for love with a yearning bordering on passion but it was as if fate conspired to deny it to him, till the time he found it in Saira Banu, the woman he married. He translated his angst into screen melodrama with such success that it brought him innumerable fans and the sobriquet of 'Tragedy King'. Although accused of being repetitive in his roles, he ensured that each of the characters was well delineated right down to the last nuance.
Discover Dilip Kumar, a man who won as many hearts as the broke, whose charms and appeal are everlasting and who continues to be a source of inspiration for actors till today.
Sanjit Narwekar is a National award-winning writer and documentary filmmaker who has written and lectured on Indian cinema since 1970. He has served on several juries and selection committees and has been a member of the Film Advisory Board. He has also delivered talks. And hosted interviews and magazine programmes for
All India Radio and Doordarshan.
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