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21 December 2017

The Many Moods of Dilip Kumar

Ten days ago, on December 11, Dilip Kumar, the last of the golden age triumvirate turned 95. I wanted to do a post on the occasion, but between travelling and a now-here-now-not internet connection, the date passed me by. I had initially meant to review one of his films, but haven’t had the time since I returned, to watch any. Therefore, I take recourse to songs.
Now, Dilip Kumar, exactly like Meena Kumari, is better known for his tragic roles. In fact, even more so than Meena Kumari, Dilip Kumar enacted so many pathos-laden, tragic characters that it affected him mentally, and he was forced to seek medical help. Yet, there was more to the man than his ‘tragic hero’ image. He was a fantastic actor, a man who was equally good at comedy and romance (if you don’t believe me, just watch Beimaan tore nainwa from Tarana) as he excelled at the intense, angst-ridden characters he so often played.

In making this list, therefore, I decided to follow the ‘Many moods’ theme that I’d initially used for Meena Kumari. The only rule I had was that the song had to be lip-synced by him on screen. Which effectively removed Beimaan tore nainwa for ‘romance’. (Most of Dilip Kumar's romantic songs were either duets, or female solos, in which he only reacted. Yet, the romance was effective for all that.) Despite dropping that, however, here are some of my favourite songs that reflect the many moods of Dilip Kumar.

Ye hawa ye raat ye chandni
Sangdil (1952) Singer: Talat Mahmood Music: Sajjad Hussain Lyrics: Rajinder Krishan
Based on Jane Eyre, Dilip Kumar played Shankar (Rochester) – cynical, brusque, wearily amused. In this, he is flirting with Mohini (Shammi) who, he knows, is more interested in his wealth than in him. There’s something calculating about his profession of love – though it is clear that ‘love’ is not an emotion he feels towards her. Even after he lists all her attributes – the limpidness of her gaze, the effect of her beauty – he still asks, 'Mujhe kyun na ho teri aarzoo'. There’s something about her that repels his deepest affection. Yet, he pulls her close and pushes her away in the same breath.

Aan (1952) Singer: Mohammed Rafi Music: Naushad Lyrics: Shakeel Badayuni
Talk about arrogant! Maan mera ehsaan arre nadaan ke maine tujhse kiya hai pyaar… he sings in this version of The Taming of the Shrew. Nadira (in her debut) plays Rajkumari Rajeshwari, while Dilip is the common man, Jai, who shows her the error of her ways. That the ‘showing’ is borderline physical and possibly sexual assault is one of the more problematic issues that this film has. (In equal opportunity offenses, of course, Rajeshwari gets to do pretty much the same thing to Jai – she has him whipped, thrown into dungeons, stabbed in the back, shot at, etc. So perhaps they are made for each other after all.) But Dilip, fresh from the angst-ridden roles he usually played, seems to have had a lot of fun doing the swashbuckling, romantic hero role that this film is a guilty pleasure, regressive as it is.

Andaz (1949) Singer: Mukesh Music: Naushad Lyrics: Majrooh Sultanpuri
Dilip meets Nina accidentally; her open friendliness causes him to fall in love with her, and he’s certain she reciprocates. Even if her best friend, Sheela (Cuckoo) not only cares for him but also realises he loves Nina, the latter is oblivious to the undercurrents. So, at her birthday, he sings – full of yearning for this beautiful young woman who’s stolen his heart – he is hers to command. If she wills it, he will sing to her thus for the rest of his life. Dilip is both young and earnest (and oh, so handsome), as well as tragic and frightening, and while his love is unrequited, there are a few moments where he blissfully believes that Nina loves him, and he yearns to be all that she will ever want. This is one of those moments. (You can't watch Dilip's expressions in this song, and not believe that he was head over heels in love with Nargis.)

Ganga Jumna (1961) Singer: Mohammed Rafi Music: Naushad Lyrics: Shakeel Badayuni
Unlike the previous songs, here, Ganga (Dilip Kumar) has just received confirmation that his feelings for Dhanno (Vyjayanthimala) are reciprocated. It’s a moment of sheer happiness, of celebrating the love they share, and as always, he envelops his whole community into sharing his happiness with him. So he explains to the villagers exactly what’s happened to him, and how he feels that morning. When a shy Dhanno comes out of her hut, she’s both embarrassed and happy at the acceptance their relationship receives from friends and family. If you want to see how graceful Dilip Kumar was, dancing, just watch him in this song.

Mela (1948) Singer: Mukesh Music: Naushad Lyrics: Shakeel Badayuni
The film was a contrived tragedy (as so many of Dilip Kumar’s films in those days), but it had some heavenly music and excellent acting from both Dilip Kumar and Nargis. Dilip plays Mohan, a young villager who’s in love with his childhood sweetheart, Manju (Nargis). On his way to the town to buy jewellery for their wedding, Mohan is robbed and left unconscious. His absence causes Manju’s stepmother and the villain (Jeevan) to marry Manju off to an elderly widower. Ironically, the day Manju’s baraat leaves the village is the day that Mohan, now completely recovered, is happily returning to his beloved. His tonga passes Manju’s baraat, and while Mohan is happily anticipating his meeting with Manju who he knows will be eagerly awaiting his arrival, Manju, in her doli, is heartbroken.

Footpath (1953) Singer: Talat Mahmood Music: Khayyam Lyrics: Majrooh Sultanpuri, Ali Sardar Jaffrey
In a relatively dark film, there were precious few light moments, and this song sequence is one of them. Plaintive though it is, it encapsulates the yearning of a young man who’s impatiently waiting for his beloved. As Noshu (Dilip Kumar) waits for Mala (Meena Kumari), he begins to feel that the moonlight is cruel to the waiting lover, and this forced separation, torture. This was music director Khayyam’s ‘debut’ as Khayyam, and one of Talat Mahmood’s best songs.  

Yahudi (1958) Singer: Mukesh Music: Shankar-Jaikishan Lyrics: Shailendra
This is the most unlike-Bimal Roy Bimal Roy film ever. Based on a story by Agha Hashar Kashmiri on the persecution of Jews in the Roman Empire, Dilip Kumar plays Marcus, the crown prince of Rome, who meets with an accident and is cared for by Hannah (Meena Kumari). Falling in love with her, he introduces himself to her father (who hates the Romans) as Monshija, a Jew from Alexandria. Hannah falls in love with him, but when she realises he’s not a Jew after all, banishes him from her sight. Marcus apologises for deceiving her, vows that his love is true and is adamant that he will wait for her until she relents and comes to him.

Tarana (1951) Singer: Talat Mahmood Music: Anil Biswas Lyrics: Kaifi Azmi
For sheer helplessness, one cannot beat the lyrics of Ek main hoon ek meri beqasi ki shaam hai… Assuming that his beloved, Tarana (Madhubala), is dead, burnt alive by her father, Moti (Dilip Kumar) has nothing to live for. Yet, he continues to live as one dead, throwing himself into his work, lost in memories of the beautiful young girl whose only fault was that she’d loved him. Dilip is tender, loving, teasing, romantic, affectionate, passionate… and in this song, heartbroken.

Madhumati (1958) Singer: Mohammed Rafi Music: Salil Choudhury Lyrics: Shailendra
Anand (Dilip Kumar) had fallen in love with Madhumati (Vyjayanthimala) and life was full of happiness for the young couple. Until Thakur Ugranarain (Pran) lays his lusty eyes on the young village girl. Now, just when Anand has returned from a fruitless trip, Madhu has gone missing. All Anand and her father have found are remnants of the young woman’s dupatta. ‘She’s fallen prey to the wild animals’ says her father (Jayant), fatalistically. And Anand, not knowing what’s happened to his Madhu, falls into a morass of grief and desperation. Mohammed Rafi brings that pathos to life.

Kohinoor (1960) Singer: Mohammed Rafi Music: Naushad Lyrics: Shakeel Badayuni
This is not so much a ‘mood’ as a context – danseuse Rajalakshmi is so confident of her dancing skills that she challenges her audience to sing a song to which she cannot dance. The challenge is met by Prince Devendra (Dilip Kumar), travelling incognito (with his pet mongoose) as he often does. And so begins a jugalbandi of a beautiful song and dance – this is one of Dilip Kumar’s best songs, and one for which he picked up the rudimentary skills of playing a sitar to lend reality to the picturisation. Kohinoor was one of the films which Dilip Kumar signed to undo the damage done to his psyche by the deeply-tragic roles he had hitherto been famous for, and he seemed to have enjoyed this outing thoroughly. 

Ae mere dil kahin aur chal
Daag (1952) Singer: Talat Mahmood Music: Shankar-Jaikishan Lyrics: Shailendra
Driven to desperation by his mounting debts, Shankar seeks solace in alcoholism. Drinking his sorrows away, he seeks happiness in oblivion. While drunk, he waxes philosophical, pleading with his heart to take him far away from his present circumstances, to a world that has no sorrow, no false hopes, to a land where blossoms don’t die before they can bloom. He yearns for a land where people will not turn away from their compatriot’s sorrow. Daag was one of the few films of the time that escaped being a contrived tragedy (despite the presence of Dilip Kumar and Nimmi)

Udan Khatola (1955) Singer: Mohammed Rafi Music: Naushad Lyrics: Shakeel Badayuni
Loosely based on an obscure Hollywood film called Bird of Paradise, Udan Khatola, produced by Naushad himself, was sufficiently Indianised. The story and the film itself may not have been anything new (it followed the same trope as Tarana – that of a young man who lands in a remote village/kingdom as the result of a plane crash, and falls in love with a beauteous maiden), but Naushad worked hard on the music. O door ke musafir has long been one of my favourite songs. As Soni (Nimmi) is led away to be the human sacrifice that the priests say the ocean demands, she begs Kashi (Dilip Kumar) to sing – his voice is the last thing she wants to hear as she goes to her death. Shaken, Kashi pleads for her to take him along. For his life – without her – is worse than death. 

A belated Happy Birthday to Dilip Kumar. He's an institution in himself, and will forever be mentioned as one of the stalwarts of the golden era of Hindi cinema.

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