Dilip Kumar, Bollywood’s ‘tragedy king’, dies at 98

Dilip Kumar, Bollywood’s ‘tragedy king’, dies at 98

Veteran actor and yesteryear superstar Dilip Kumar breathed his last at a private hospital in Mumbai on Wednesday. He was 98.

Dilip Kumar had been suffering from age-related illness for quite some time. The 98-year-old screen icon was taken to the suburban Khar-based Hinduja Hospital, a non-COVID-19 facility last week, to “address medical issues” related to old age after he complained of “breathlessness”.

Known as the ‘tragedy king’ of Bollywood, Dilip Kumar’s cinematic journey of over six decades was almost in parallel with the history of Indian cinema. Though he acted in less than 60 films through his illustrious career, he enjoyed indisputable stardom with his versatility on screen and was often referred to as one of the greatest naturalistic actors.

Born in a conservative Pathan family in Peshawar as the fourth child of Mohammad Sarwar Khan, a fruit vendor, and Ayesha Bibi on December 11, 1922, Yousaf Khan aka Dilip Kumar was far from having a privileged childhood. His family later moved to Bombay as his father wanted to set up a fruit business in the city. In Bombay, he attended Anjuman-i-Islam school and the Wilson and Khalsa colleges. Though his family had a brief stay in Deolali near Pune, they moved back to Bombay. During partition, his family decided to remain in India.

It was his meeting with Devika Rani, the most celebrated actress of those days and owner of Bombay Talkies, that paved way for his entry into the world of cinema. Impressed by his charisma and impeccable Urdu diction, Rani predicted an illustrious career for him and gave him the screen name ‘DilipKumar’.

Kumar’s first film Jwar Bhata in 1944, despite offering some good acting scenes, was not a major hit. It was through his third film Milan, released in 1946, that he entered the category of fine actors. Jugnu (1948) was his first major hit. Following this, he essayed a slew of tragic roles in films like Nadya Ke PaarMela, AndazDaangAnokha PyaarShabnam and Devdas.

Dilip Kumar is known to have brought realism in film acting. The 1950s is considered to be his golden era, during which he brought out a number of hits that took him to ultimate stardom and made him the most sought after hero of Indian cinema. However, once he realised that continuous portrayal of tragic roles on screen was taking a toll on his mental health, Kumar gradually switched over to comedy and happy-ending flicks. Films like AanAzadNaya DaurKohinoor and Ram aur Rahim saw Dilip Kumar take on more humorous and romantic roles, but they failed to outsmart his tragic roles that were well established in the minds of the audience.

Dilip Kumar’s role as the lovelorn Prince Salim in the big budget film Mughal-e-Azam in 1960 was widely appreciated. Interestingly, it was the only film in which he played a Muslim character. If he tugged at heartstrings in this historical drama, Dilip Kumar as dacoit Gangaram in Ganga Jamuna and journalist Vijay Khanna in Leader electrified the audience with contemporary themes. His later films like Shakti and Mashaal offered unforgettable sequences that reverberated in public memory.

Dilip Kumar married actress Saira Banu, 22 years younger to him, in 1966. The couple shared screen space in three films, Sagina Mahato, a Bengali political flick being the most noted.

In 1976, the thespian took a break from films and returned to the big screen in 1981 with Kranti. He retired from the industry in 1998 after Qila in which he played dual roles.

Off-screen, Dilip Kumar was an activist, philanthropist and a true nationalist. Though he was not an active politician, he campaigned for V.K. Krishna Menon in north Bombay Lok Sabha seat as per the request of then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. The Nehru Centre at Worli, opened in 1972, to exhibit the progress of science and technology was a brainchild of Dilip Kumar. He vehemently argued for free speech and artistic freedom. He was also actively involved in fund collection drives and relief work for victims of natural calamities.

Dilip Kumar, who is also known as the first Khan of Bollywood, won the Filmfare Best Actor award eight times—an unbeaten record. In 1980, he was appointed the Sheriff of Bombay. In 1991, the government of India honoured him with Padma Bhushan. In 1995, he received the lifetime achievement Dada Saheb Phalke award. In 1997, he was awarded the Nishan-e-Imtiaz, the highest civilian honour by the Pakistan government. From 2000 to 2006 he was a Rajya Sabha member from Maharashtra.

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