Remembering Dilip Kumar a Once in a Generation Actor

Saira Banu referred to him in an interview several years ago, stating: “I saw him for the first time at Mumbai’s Mehboob Studios. He was wearing a plain white shirt, white trousers and white chappals. And my God! He had such lovely free flowing hair. Just in sync with the song Uden Jab Jab Zulfen Teri from the film Naya Daur. I fell in love with him instantly. I was only 12 years old then.”

Film critic Roshmila Bhattacharya who has had more than three decades of experience and has written for leading publications such as the Times of India, Hindustan Times and the Indian Express, has brought some interesting facts about Dilip Kumar in her book titled Matinee Men.

The journalist interacted with the actor many times. On the latter’s 85th birthday, she asked Dilip Kumar which was the most important day of his life. To this query Dilip sahab related an interesting story. He told her that the day he was born was his most memorable day because a fire had broken out in the neighbourhood of Qissa Khwani Bazar in Peshawar where his home was located. Due to the commotion it took the midwife a lot of difficulty and delay to reach the house and help his mother Ayesha Begum with the delivery. According to Dilip Kumar, who heard about it from his elders, that day was the most dramatic day of his life.

In a long and interesting career in films, Dilip Kumar went through many ups and downs. His father Lala Ghulam Sarwar Khan was against the idea of his acting in films. The conservative Lala was a practical person who disliked the make-believe world of cinema. In fact he was also displeased that his good friend Lala Basheshwar Nath Kapoor had allowed his son Pritiviraj Kapoor to enter the film industry. The two families lived close to each other in Peshawar and were friends for many years. But little did Lala Ghulam Sarwar Khan know that the Kapoor family was destined to become one of the leading clans in Bollywood later.

It was the fear of provoking his father’s wrath that motivated Dilip Kumar (till then known by his real name of Mohammed Yusuf Khan) to change his screen name to Dilip Kumar hoping that his father may miss the fact that he had started an acting career. He was only 22 years old when his first film Jwar Bhata was released and he begged the producers to list his name as Dilip Kumar. He gave the producers two options – Dilip Kumar or Basudev. The producers felt that Dilip Kumar sounded more dashing and selected it. Eventually his chosen screen name became a household word.

Another interesting incident happened in 1948 when his hit film Shaheed was released. In the film Dilip Kumar plays the role of a freedom fighter named Ram who is finally hanged by the British rulers. An eleven-year-old schoolboy nicknamed Gullu who watched the film, came home in tears after seeing that scene. The real name of that little boy was Harikishan Goswami and he later became famous in Hindi films as Manoj Kumar. But why did he choose the name of Manoj Kumar?

“I watched Dilip sahab’s film Shabnam in a theatre in Delhi. In that movie the name of his character is Manoj. So when I grew up, I wanted to use that name as my screen name,” explained Manoj Kumar later.

It was Manoj Kumar who revived the dormant career of Dilip Kumar in the film Kranti released in 1981. The film gave the thespian a chance to stage a comeback and show his talent to the 1980s generation.

Even today the roles Dilip Kumar played in films such as Mughal-e-Azam, Devdas, Daag and Madhumati have not been forgotten. There was a depth to his character that was simply mesmerising. He may have had many faults but he was a warm hearted, honest and generous human. A man worthy of admiration.

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Source: S, written by: ASG