“Mera dil bhi koi hindustaan nahin, jispe aap hukumat karein !!!”
By the time I grew up, Dilip Kumar had already been dabbling in the character roles. I remember the frenzy in the various media houses when ‘Qilla’ (1998) failed to create the buzz that it was supposed to. Its failure and his persistent ill-health put him into the life of seclusion. When ‘Saudagar’ (1991) was announced, multiple stories did round as he was often found to be in loggerheads with his co-actor Raaj Kumar, especially when it came to rehearsals. Yet, people remember this film for their epic camaraderie on screen. I often wondered, what this frail man, with acting that spoke of theatrical antics, must have offered in his hay days that people went on crazy about him!
To understand the enigma behind this man, I re-watched some of his old films. It took me a while to adjust to his style, his ways and mannerisms. Eventually, I saw it.
There was this unmatched flair, an exquisite regalia, that ‘Thehrav’ that actors so fondly recall about him. Behind the so-called theatrics, there was a method that was constantly in the works. In his own words from his autobiography, he crafted the method to identify himself with the character that he was playing. Be it running in the sets like a crazy man to the point of exhaustion to play a death scene or to reminisce about a loved one’s death to bring out pain in the character he was portraying, he created his technique to emote life into the roles. Yet, as humble as a great man could be, he once expressed his gratitude towards the adulation of the countless fans by mentioning that great actors like MG Ramachandran and Sivaji Ganeshan were much more versatile than he ever was! Such was his impact that he was the “Hero” for other actors who came after him.
In a career spanning five decades, he had performed in many roles which is an ode to his versatility. His portrayal of prince Salim in K Asif’s magnum opus ‘Mughal-e-Azam’ (1960) had girls all over the country, swaying over his looks. His portrayal of the jilted alcoholic in ‘Devdas’ (1955) had his authority stamped all over. His act was so intense that the broken-hearted lovers got themselves labelled as Devdas for eternities to come! Be it the crippled, insecure lover of ‘Aadmi’ (1968) or the fun-loving horse cart driver of ‘Naya Daur’ (1957), be it the bumbling and smart twins of ‘Ram Aur Shyam’ (1967) or the other man in ‘Andaz’ (1949), he left his indelible mark in every performance. Towards the end of his career, when he started doing the character roles, again he proved his mastery over the art. Be it the righteous police officer who lays his son’s life for his duty in ‘Shakti’ (1982) or the vengeful jailor, who reminds Dr Dang about the “goonj” of his thundering slap in ‘Karma’ (1986), Dilip Kumar brought out his very best, every time he was on screen.
Arguably the best actor of the last generation of the Nehruvian era, he was the shining star of the yesteryears. Hailed as the tragedy king for his dramatic performances, Dilip Kumar will always be regarded as the modern-day pioneer of method acting.
Rest in peace, O Emperor…
Poore Hindustaan ke dil pe aapne hukumat kiya… aur zamano karte rahenge!