Dilip Kumar: Bollywood star and 'tragedy king' dies aged 98 Wed, 07 Jul 2021 08:00:00 +0100-The veteran actor Dilip Kumar, who has died aged 98, was the pioneer of method acting in Bollywood. The early Indian film industry had drawn its acting …
The veteran actor Dilip Kumar, who has died aged 98, was the pioneer of method acting in Bollywood. The early Indian film industry had drawn its acting traditions from the stage, and the expressive gestures and movements inspired by drama and dance had been translated in the movie era into loud, theatrical performances.
Deliberately turning against this tide, the young Kumar studied the work of his idols Ingrid Bergman and James Stewart, developing a style of acting that was natural, meditative and minimalistic, and which suited the melancholy characters he played.
It was Kumar’s films of the 1950s that established him as the “tragedy king” in Bollywood, with unrequited love as a recurring theme. In Devdas (1955), his character’s childhood sweetheart marries someone else, and he turns to drink and eventually dies of tuberculosis on her doorstep. “Dilip Kumar made unrequited love and sacrifice fashionable for an entire generation,” the Bollywood screenwriter Kamlesh Pandey wrote. “Heartbroken, healthy young men prayed to get TB.”
In Madhumati (1958), his lover dies and returns as a ghost. And in the film he is best remembered for, Mughal-e-Azam (1960), he played Prince Salim, son of the Mughal emperor Akbar, whose love for a court dancing girl, Anarkali, leads to war between father and son. One of Bollywood’s highest-grossing movies, it was fully colourised and re-released in 2004.
Immersing himself in his characters, Kumar learned to play the sitar to do justice to a classical song in the film Kohinoor (1960), and stayed up all night when Devdas was being shot so that he would be ready to portray his exhausted, unshaven character the next day. For the filmmaker Satyajit Ray, Kumar was “the ultimate method actor”. Indeed, so rigorous was this immersive method that he fell into depression after portraying a series of tragic characters and was advised by a psychologist to take on fewer such roles. He did, however, appear in some light-hearted movies, such as Azaad (1955), which showcased his spontaneity and versatility.
By Bollywood standards, Kumar was not prolific, acting in only 60 or so films over the course of half a century. Yet he influenced successive generations of Bollywood actors. Both Amitabh Bachchan and Shah Rukh Khan, superstars of the decades that followed, acknowledged Kumar’s impact on them, with Khan acting in various remakes of Dilip Kumar hits, including Devdas.
Born in Peshawar (now in Pakistan), Muhammad Yusuf Khan, as Dilip was originally named, was one of 12 children of Lala Ghulam Sarwar, an orchard-owning fruit merchant, and his wife, Ayesha Begum. The family lived in the city’s Qissa Khwani bazaar (market of the storytellers) area, and as a boy Khan was among those who gathered to hear the local storyteller. Later in life he would say that it was there that he learned the art of the story.
The family moved to Bombay (now Mumbai) when Kumar’s father set up his fruit business in Crawford Market, then again to Nashik, north-east of the city. Khan attended the Barnes school, in Deolali, then started assisting his father in his business, while also running a British army club canteen in Pune.
A meeting with the actor Devika Rani changed his fortunes. Her husband, Himanshu Rai, was the founder of the Bombay Talkies studio, and offered Khan an acting job. Rani suggested that he pick a new name, and Bombay Talkies released his first film as Dilip Kumar, Jwar Bhata (1944).
It was not a success. The Film India critic Baburao Patel wrote that the new hero of Bombay Talkies was “an anaemic addition” who needed “lots of vitamins and a prolonged treatment of proteins before another picture can be risked with him … His acting effort in this picture amounts to nil.”
But it was this criticism that spurred Kumar into taking up the method acting that was to make his name. For the tragic-romantic lover he portrayed in Jugnu (1947) and the anti-British nationalist he played in Shaheed (1948), he studied the scripts and his own characters deeply enough to draw out richer, subtler portrayals. With Andaz (1949) that he came into his own, bringing complexity and sensitivity to a story about love and friendship.
Following his triumphs in the 50s, Kumar’s career fared less well in the following two decades. It is said that he declined the role of Sherif Ali in Lawrence of Arabia (1962), which went to Omar Sharif, but after a five-year break in the 70s he returned to the screen in Kranti (1981), a story of India’s 19th-century freedom struggle against the British. The following year he starred alongside Bachchan in a police movie, Shakti.
His last major success came in Saudagar (1991), which had a Romeo and Juliet storyline. In his final film, Qila (1998), he played a double role as a murder victim and his avenging twin brother.
From 2000 until his retirement in 2006, Kumar sat in the Rajya Sabha, the upper house of the Indian parliament, as a Congress party member for Maharashtra. His autobiography, The Substance and the Shadow, was published in 2014, and he was given two national decorations, the Padma Bhushan (1991) and Padma Vibhushan (2015), as well as the Dadasaheb Phalke award (1994) for his contribution to Indian cinema. In 1998 he also received the Nishan-e-Imtiaz from Pakistan.
In 1966, Kumar married the actor Saira Banu. An additional marriage to Asma Rehman, also an actor, in 1980 did not last long, and he returned to Saira. She survives him.
Dilip Kumar obituary Wed, 07 Jul 2021 08:00:00 +0100-Kumar is said to have turned down the role of Sherif Ali in the classic Lawrence of Arabia, which was then played by Omar Sharif.
One of Hindi cinema's greatest actors, Dilip Kumar, has died at the age of 98.
The actor was in intensive care at the Hinduja Hospital in Mumbai for treatment of a long-term illness after spending the last few years dealing with a kidney problem and pneumonia.
On Monday, his wife Saira Banu said his health was improving and asked his fans to pray for his early discharge.
But on Wednesday morning, relative Faisal Farooqui posted on the actor's Twitter account: “With a heavy heart and profound grief, I announce the passing away of our beloved Dilip Saab, few minutes ago.”
The actor, whose career spanned more than five decades, was a national treasure in India.
Kumar is said to have turned down the role of Sherif Ali in David Lean's iconic film Lawrence Of Arabia, which was then played by Omar Sharif.
But he certainly kept busy. Known as the “tragedy king” and hailed as the first superstar of Bollywood, he has made over 65 films – some which are enduring classics.
The film Devdas, where he played the leading role of a doomed lover, catapulted him into super-stardom.
And Mughal-e-Azam – one of his best-known films – sealed his position as one of the greatest actors in Indian cinema.
Condolences and tributes for the legendary actor have poured in from across India and Pakistan – where Kumar was born.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted: “Dilip Kumar Ji will be remembered as a cinematic legend.
“He was blessed with unparalleled brilliance, due to which audiences across generations were enthralled. His passing away is a loss to our cultural world.”
The Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan described Kumar as the “greatest and most versatile actor” of his generation.
While, actor Amitabh Bachchan, who starred with Kumar in a number of films, tweeted: “An institution has gone… whenever history of Indian cinema will be written, it shall always be 'before Dilip Kumar, and after Dilip Kumar'.”
Born Mohammad Yusuf Khan in Peshawar, Pakistan, he debuted as Dilip Kumar in the film Jwar Bhata in 1944 in colonial India.
Though his first film went unnoticed, three years later his film Jugnu became a box office hit. After that there was no looking back.
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Some of his classics were: Andaz (1949), Aan (1952), Daag (1952), the dramatic Devdas in 1955, Azaad (1955), Mughal-e-Azam in 1960, Ganga Jamuna (1961), Ram aur Shyam (1967), Kranti (1981) Shakti (1982) and Saudagar (1991).
Qila in 1998 was the last film he did.
The 1970s weren't particularly good for Kumar as new actors had entered Bollywood.
He experimented with different roles but none of his films were successful and he took a hiatus from acting from 1976 to 1980.
The film Kranti, released in 1981, was a blockbuster and Kumar came roaring back into the public's adulation.
However, he never took up international projects, saying: “I didn't want to leave our cinema to venture abroad.”
He received the Padma Vibhushan, Padma Bhushan, Dada Phalke and Filmfare awards among others, and was conferred with Pakistan's highest civilian honour – the Nishan-e-Imtiaz – in 1998, the only Indian to do so.
Last year he lost two brothers to COVID-19, but he was not informed about their deaths as he has been too unwell.
He is survived by his wife Saira Banu – a well-known actress of the 1960s and 1970s.
His funeral will take place on Wednesday evening at Juhu Qabrastan, Mumbai.
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– July 7, 2021
Dilip Kumar obituary