Dilip Kumar Rejected Hollywood to Revolutionize Indian Cinema

Dilip Kumar and Saira Banu
Dilip Kumar and Saira Banu

The legend Dilip Kumar passed away in Mumbai on July 7, 2021, at the grand old age of 98. The news not only shocked fans across the country and abroad, but left its indelible mark on the countless people who have seen him as the epitome of romance and an innate character actor, from around the world.

Septuagenarian Smita, who lives with her family in New York, still cannot believe that the veritable legend, who acted in more than 65 films over nearly five decades, is no more. Fellow Indian from her neighborhood, Balvinder too was shocked by the news. For them, Dilip Kumar was a large part of their formative years. And now, he is long gone.

Dilip Kumar

Born in 1922 Peshawar (now in Pakistan) under the name Muhammad Yusuf Khan, Dilip Kumar made his acting debut in 1944 in the film Jwar Bhata. However, it was the 1949 hit Andaz that catapulted him to fame.

Superstar Amitabh Bachchan in his tribute wrote, “An institution has gone… Whenever the history of Indian Cinema will be written, it shall always be ‘before Dilip Kumar, and after Dilip Kumar’… My duas (prayers) for peace of his soul and the strength to the family to bear this loss. Deeply saddened.”

The First Khan of Bollywood, Dilip Kumar has been described as one of the most successful film stars in the industry and is credited with bringing a distinct form of method acting to the cinema.

Dilip Kumar was a find of Devika Rani, who rechristened a young Muhammad Yusuf Khan his new name, echoing the mood of contemporary times. She took him under her wings and the method actor, who entered the industry with no formal training, rose to the heights of glory in Indian cinema. In fact, in an interview in 1970, he said that he adopted this name out of fear of his father, who never approved of his acting career.

Dilip Kumar in Ganga Jumna.

Dilip Kumar’s method-acting is perhaps best exemplified in the film Gunga-Jumna. The 1961 Nitin Bose directorial is believed to have seen Dilip Kumar run all around the studio premise, to the point of collapsing, in order to get the right look and feel for his death scene in the film.

If method acting is what defines Dilip Kumar, the actor himself tried to elaborate upon it in his autobiography Dilip Kumar: The Substance And The Shadow, released in 2015, where he wrote, “I am an actor who evolved a method, which stood me in good stead.”

In films like Shakti, Dilip Kumar used silence and stillness in a manner where he brought alive to perfection the portrayal of a tortured father unable to express love for his son. Dilip Kumar, as an actor, would seldom raise his voice. He would speak up whenever a moment in the film needed it, invariably mellowing down his voice to ooze a gamut of expressions in cinema, leaving behind his indelible mark in Indian films.

Smita recalls an incident as a teenager when she went to see Mughal-e-Azam at the theatre, where his on-screen clash with another legendary actor Prithviraj Kapoor has created a timeless classic. The two titans on the screen, where Kapoor’s thunderous oration was perfectly foiled by Kumar’s pauses, silences, and nuanced brooding glances are something that Smita says still gives her goosebumps.

Perhaps the legend that Dilip Kumar was, best finds voice in a rare clip that became viral on social media. The recording starts with Dilip Kumar reciting a shayeri during an interview. In the recording, the legend can be heard saying, “Humare baad iss mehfil mein afsane bayaan honge, bahare humko dhoondengi, Na jaane hum kahaan honge…”

In fact, such was the influence of the veritable legend that in 1962, Dilip Kumar was given the chance to star in the British film Lawrence of Arabia, which would go on to win an Oscar. The film would have been his Hollywood debut, but Dilip Kumar declined it saying that he didn’t need to act in films abroad to prove his worth.

In Dilip Kumar, Indian cinema found an actor who not only simply enacted characters on screen, but lived them. For him, it was a state of being rather than just a part, to be enacted between the ‘action’ and ‘cut’ in cinema.


Umang Sharma is a media professional, avid reader, and film buff. His interests lie in making the world a better place through the power of the written word.


 

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