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27 April 2011

The Greats: Dilip Kumar

If Meena Kumari had the distinction of being the tragedy queen, Dilip Kumar surely deserved the distinction of being the male equivalent. It is said that his serious roles took such toll on him that it began to affect him mentally. Born in Peshawar, Yusuf Khan ran away to Pune to escape a wigging from his father. From Pune, he made his way to Bombay, where Devika Rani of Bombay Talkies was looking for someone to replace Ashok Kumar. Impressed with the young man, she offered him the leading role in Jwar Bhata, in the process christening him Dilip Kumar.
And if it was difficult to sift through Meena Kumari's movies to choose just ten, then it surely would prove impossible in Dilip Kumar's case. The man's repertoire was so vast, his range so varied that it seems almost insurmountable a task. So I set down some mental parameters. I would not choose a movie that I had not seen, however good that was. I would stick to movies that had him as the leading man. That removed a large chunk of his later movies, though there were some fantastic performances there. (Mashaal and Shakti come to mind.)

And so, here, again in no particular order, are ten of my favourite Dilip Kumar movies.

 1. Madhumati (1958)
Based on a story by Ritwik Ghatak, directed by Bimal Roy, with music by the inimitable Salil Choudhary, Madhumati is a film that combines an eternal love story with the twin themes of reincarnation and retribution.

How can you have a ghost story without any rain? And so, the first scene pelts you with a storm, a recurring theme in the movie. It rains when Madhu escapes the evil Zamindar's clutches the first time, it is raining when she is decoyed into the haveli, it is raining when she falls to her death, and it is raining when the denouement plays out, and Madhumati and Anand meet in death. 

Dilip Kumar convincingly plays the befuddled protagonist Anand, as he struggles to come to terms not only with his Madhu's death, but also with her lookalike Madhavi, whom he inveigles into helping him bring Ugranarayan (oooh, a dashing, dapper Pran!) to justice. 

Salilda's enchanting score added to the film, pulling its narative along. Aaja re pardesi, or Bichchua? Suhana Safar? Or Dil tadap tadap? Zulmi sang aankh ladi or Ghadi ghadi mora dil dhadke? There is, of course, Johnny Walker making merry, too. 

2.Gunga Jamuna (1961)
How does an honest man turn into an outlaw? What happens when two brothers who love each other end up on opposite sides of the law?

Like the great Greek tragedies, one has the sense of foreboding as each event compounds the protagonist's fate, pushing him further and further down the slippery slope, until there is no hope of redemption. And the tragedy is intensified, because while it is his actions that brings the inevitable consequences in their train, his intentions were good. It is one of Dilip's finest performances. And one of Vyjayanthimala's too. She not only learnt Bhojpuri (Dilip Kumar is said to have helped tutor her), but she escaped into the skin of her character, Dhanno. Vyjayanthi also had some wonderful songs to dance to; but Dilip Kumar proved once again (after Naya Daur) just how graceful a dancer he could be. Naushad's music set the mood with 8 songs, of which Lata Mangeshkar had the lion's share including Do hanso ka joda and Dhoondo dhoondo re saajna, while Asha had to be content with singing one song for Helen


3. Mughal-e-Azam (1960)
As Dharmendra famously said इस में emotion है, drrrama है, tragedy hai (There is action, there is emotion and there is drama). And how! It was a spectacle never before attempted, one man's dream that took many, many years to be realised. A rebellious prince, a breathtakingly beautiful court dancer. And a heart-breaking love story playing out amidst the pageantry of the Mughal court, K Asif's epic tale also had powerful performances from its main characters, an outstanding music score by Naushad, and drama elevated to high art. 

Dilip Kumar smouldered as Prince Salim, the prince who would be king, but could never match up to his illustrious father (Prithviraj Kapoor was magnificent as Emperor Akbar); and who finds that Princes are only entitled to love; they cannot be allowed to marry where they will. But Salim has never heard the word 'No'. And neither love (Durga Khote as Jodha Bai) nor duty (Akbar's pleas to think of the kingdom) will move him from his stance. And so the pawns are in place as fate moves them toward their destiny. 

In keeping with his role, Dilip does not lip sync to a single song, even though music director Naushad gave a bouquet of tunes (Naushad once said that he had recorded nearly 20 songs for the movie) including Mohe panghat pe, Teri mehfil mein, Ae ishq yeh sab duniyawale, and Khuda nigehbaan. 

4. Naya Daur (1957)
BR Chopra's Naya Daur is not just a proletariat-wins-against-the-capitalist morality play, but it does question the collateral damage that 'progress' leaves in its wake. It is also the tale of a friendship gone sour, a triangular (and sometime quadrangular) love story where of course, the woman has no role to play - the two men (a very handsome Ajit without his trademark drawl) fighting over her, and depending on providence (in the shape of a flower offered in prayer) to help them choose who will 'get' her (has no one heard of, you know, asking the woman whom she loves?!), a wager that seems foolhardy on the face of it because how could a tonga race a bus and win?, and a one-for-all-and-all-for-one spirit that unites the villagers in a common cause. And regardless of the fact that you  *know* how it will all turn out, you are still rooting for the intrepid hero and his tonga.

Dilip Kumar was Shankar, the ebullient tonga driver whose heart is in the right place; his flirtations with Rajni (wonderfully enacted by Vyjayanthi, who used her expressive eyes to their fullest), his hurt when Kishen (Ajit, as handsome in a dhoti as he is suave and polished in suits) misunderstands him, his anger at Rajni when he realises that 'if it weren't for her' he would never have lost his friend - Dilip strikes just the right note each time. Add Johnny Walker playing the city slicker newspaper reporter who still gets to sing, stir in some rousing folk tunes by OP Nayyar, especially his trademark tonga song, one for Ajit, and one stage song, and top it all up with a director capable of using those songs in a way that the tempo does not slow down, and you have a winner. 

5. Devdas (1955)
The eternal lover on a trail of self-destruction. Two women who love him; neither fated to be his redemption. Sarat Chandra Chatterjee's timeless tale of melancholy lover has been translated to the big screen before and since, but never with the empathy that Bimal Roy brought to the flawed protagonist. This is the movie that consolidated Dilip Kumar's reputation as a tragic hero.

Dilip's Devdas is heartbreakingly human (unlike the later version which verged on the self-obsessed), a man who pays for the one moment where he could not gather his scattered wits enough to take a decision. His lover, Paro (Suchitra Sen), is strong and as egotistic as he is; rejected by him, she spurns his advances the next day. When he gets angry and asks her not to be so proud of her 'moon-like' face, she arrogantly retorts चाँद पर भी दाग है (the moon is besmirched), implying that she is flawless. In a flash, he hits her with the stick she is carrying, wounding her on her forehead, scarring her forever. Now, she is flawed too.

His hopeless love for Paro, his inability to stand up for that love, drives Devdas to drink and into the arms of Chandramukhi (a spunky performance by Vyjayanthimala); but class and social distinctions matter. He cannot offer her anything more, even though he depends on her for emotional support. His is an unlikeable character, as spineless as a jellyfish, but Dilip infuses him with pathos. His silences speak as much as his dialogues do.

It serves as testament to Bimal Roy's greatness as a director that a film soaked in tragedy is so muted in its treatment. SD Burman and Sahir Ludhianvi scored a memorable music track for the movie including two mujras by Lata Mangeshkar. 

6. Aan (1953)
A haughty princess. A handsome commoner. A scheming villain. So what happens when a typical rich girl-poor boy tale meets The Taming of the Shrew? Well, for one, one gets Aan. Great music, wonderful sword fights, a handsome villain (Premnath), all add up to a swashbuckling spectacle that drives home (beats you on the head, rather) the message that 'Love conquers all'. 

Dilip Kumar looked like he was having fun; Mehboob Khan spared no pennies while imitating the Hollywood movies of Errol Flynn, and newcomer Nadira made hay while the sun shone (Nargis was supposed to do the role of Princess Rajshree.).

Naushad provided the music, ably assisted by Ghulam Mohammed, giving us lovely songs as Gaao taraane man ke, Aaj mere man mein sakhi, Maan mera ehsaan. 

7. Andaz (1949)
What can one say about a movie that brings in the top three stars of the time? This was the only movie that Dilip Kumar acted in with Raj Kapoor, though the latter had intended to start Gharaonda with the same star cast.


Dilip played into the tragic hero stereotype here. Falling in love with the westernised Nargis, Dilip is devastated when he realises that Nargis is in love with, and engaged to be married to Raj Kapoor. She, in turn is horrified when she realises that her father was right all along - there can be no platonic relationship between a man and a woman. 

And Raj Kapoor, seeing his newly-wed wife who used to talk about Dilip all the time retreat from him gets suspicious. It is easier to sympathise with Dilip Kumar than with Raj Kapoor here because the script made Raj such an irritating character. And Dilip invests his rejected suitor with such earnestness and grace. And the movie's affirmation of West=bad, Indian=good is responsible for the regressive tripe that was inflicted on us (think of Purab and Paschim!) with the same stereotypical premise.  

Naushad and Majrooh Sultanpuri came up with such classics like Koyi mere dil mein, Tu kahe agar, Tod diya dil mera, Uthaye ja unke sitam. 

8. Tarana (1951)
Madhubala and Dilip Kumar. The movie is worth watching for their chemistry alone. Add song after melodious song by Anil Biswas and you will forgive the trite story line.


Young city doctor crashes in a remote village and is forced to stay there for a time. He falls in love with the beautiful daughter of his host and she reciprocates. Fate intervenes in the form of a jealous lover, the girl's reputation is gone, the lovers are separated. In the meanwhile, the hero's father and his fiance are searching for him. Believing his sweetheart dead, the hero resigns himself to a loveless marriage. While Madhubala, her father dead, comes to the city to search for her beloved. But of course, all is well that ends well, even if Dilip looks like he is dying here. 

Talat Mahmood had some haunting melodies to his credit in this movie with Lata Mangeshkar providing the female vocals. Dilip Kumar was at his dashing best, Madhubala looked ethereally beautiful. And I shut out inconvenient questions.

9. Insaniyat (1955)
Though the top three heroes of the day shared a wonderfully warm friendship, they didn't act much together. This is the only film where Dev Anand (a mustachioed Dev) shared screen space with Dilip Kumar. In a fast-paced adventure, Dev Anand was cast against type as a dacoit, and Dilip Kumar provided the third angle to the love triangle. Bina Rai was the love interest, and of course, Dilip had to sacrifice his love so that Dev could get the girl.

Again, not a great movie, but one worth watching just for kicks. As always, the songs (C Ramachandra) were worth listening to. And SS Vasan as director ensured that the choreography was spectacular. Watch the  training that looks like a dance or even this court dance. There was a grandeur about his settings that never failed to delight. In fact, this is one film you could watch JUST for the choreography. 

10. Jogan (1950)
Disclaimer: This is a melodrama. 

That said, it is also has the finest performances in leading roles. As an agnostic attracted to a wandering mendicant, Dilip infuses his Vijay with such sympathy that you begin to empathise with his obsessive behaviour that borders on the stalking. Has the man never heard 'No'?

He first hears her song, and is hooked. As the attraction grows, he pursues her with a singlemindedness, going so far as to swim across a raging river so he can meet her. Surabhi (Nargis in a very controlled performance) is torn. Her emotions are in conflict and finally, when Vijay asks her why she is spurning his advances, the movie moves into flashback. When he still does not relent, she sees no way but to turn back to the safety of the ashram; the sexual tension between the leads sizzles on screen. However, the ashram confines only protect her physically; her mental turmoil continues as thoughts of Vijay and what he is offering conflict with her way of life. 

She runs away from the village to her doom; he, wandering bereft, returns to the village in search of peace of mind. Years later, another wandering mendicant passes through the village, and gives Vijay Surabhi's diary, and he finally makes his peace. At her samadhi.

With ten songs credited to Geeta Roy, the musical score was by a relatively unknown Bulu C Irani.

It is not that Dilip did not have better performances than the ones in Aan and Insaniyat. Footpath comes to mind. And Shaheed, Babul, Aarzoo, Deedar, Amar and Aadmi (these two for the villainous overtones to his characters), even Ram aur Shyam for his dual role as twins. But I chose these for the different characterisations that made this great actor what he was. The word 'thespian' is overused these days, but I think that it fit Dilip Kumar to a T.

7 comments:

  1. "The word 'thespian' is overused these days, but I think that it fit Dilip Kumar to a T."

    Too true! A vast number of the people who are called 'thespians' these days couldn't hold a candle to Dilip Kumar. He was in a class apart.

    Great post, and though I've not seen Insaniyat, Jogan and Taraana, I do like all of the others - some more than some. (Oh, and Kohinoor. :-))

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  2. dustedoff, I *loved* him in Kohinoor. The only reason I did not add Kohinoor, Azad and Yahudi to this list was because I had just used them for Meena Kumari and I didn't want to duplicate them.

    Insaniyat is a so-so movie. Poor Dev is handicapped by playing a role so against type, though he did try hard. But oh, the dances! SS Vasan is known in the south for them - most of his Tamil and Telugu films had these beautifully choreographed (classical) dances with thousands of extras, spectacular sets, and wonderful music.

    And you *should* see Jogan. It really was a script ahead of its time in the sheer physical attraction that crackles between the two leads. I do not think even a contemporary film has gone that far in acknowledging it, and this in a film where the hero does not touch the heroine *once*!

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  3. Thanks Anuradha... enjoyed the songs. I would include Amar too in the post and what about deedar??? how can one forget his haunting meri kahani...... By the way, do you know where i could watch jogan movie? Dilipji - love you very much. you belong to my mothers generation - but you are very alive amongst us too....

    Ria

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  4. Ria, Thanks for dropping in :) And I am glad you enjoyed the songs.

    Deedar is not included simply because I didn't like the film. I found it the most depressing movie ever, and by the time Dilip Kumar blinded himself, I was ready to kill myself. :) Not to say that he didn't act well in those movies, but these are my favourites from amongst his repertoire. It is good to have different tastes, no? Makes life so much more vibrant.

    I bought Jogan on my trip to India this time; I put a search for the movie online and found a bunch of sites offering it for viewing. I am not too sure about their safety features, so I am not recommending any.

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  5. How did I miss this post until now? I fell in love with him while watching Madhumati, and have been on a quest to see *all* his films one after another. Thanks for the mini-reviews (who called them that?); it makes it easy for me to decide which one to see first.

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  6. No Doubt, Dilip Kumar Saab is the Last emperor in the all world,s Film Industries.... Almost every actor is following him but not saying that his father is Dilip Kumar.... He is from Peshawar, Pakistan... His old house is still in Peshawar, Mohallah Khuda-dad, Qissa Khuwani Bazzar, Peshawar.... Also Raj Kapoor Home too....Dilip Kumar is a person who took acting on its final destiny... Beyond the imaginations....Love you Sir, Hats Ov to U....

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  7. Nageen, I think both Amitabh and Shahrukh have been very vocal about their idol being Dilip Kumar. He *is* a fantastic actor!

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