BY AVTAR MOTA
We are told that Thespis, the Greek poet (c. 534 BC) happened to be the first actor, who actually did acting on the stage when theatre entirely comprised chorus performances. He was the inventor of tragedy .In acting, beyond any shade of doubt, Thespis was the pioneer. And no one deserves the title thespian, the adjectival or noun form of Thespis, than Dilip Kumar.
Born in 1922 in Peshawar, Mohammad Yusuf Khan came to Bombay with his well-off fruit-trading family as a school-boy.Sometime in 1943, when Devika Rani of the Bombay Talkies saw Yusuf Khan , she offered him the job of an actor on a salary of ` 1,250 per month. Devika Rani’s Bombay Talkies was on the look-out for a new hero. Yusuf Khan thought the amount offered was for a year. He requested the friend, Dr Masani, who had taken him to Devika Rani, to find out whether he had heard it right. And a surprised Devika Rani told Dr. Masani that she had offered the amount as monthly remuneration because she had seen good acting potential in the new comer and did not want to lose him. That is how Yusuf Khan entered the film industry after leaving the canteen business that he was engaged in at Pune. Devika Rani was responsible in giving him a new identity by naming him ‘Dilip Kumar’.
Without any training in acting, he was thrust into the lead in Jwar Bhata (1944). From Jwar Bhata (1944) to Qila (1998) he acted in about 65 films. His magnum opus and home production, Ganga Jamuna broke all previous records at the box office. His two films Aag Ka Dariya and Kalinga (1996) are completed but remain unreleased. And he will always be remembered for his spectacular performances in films such as Andaz (1949), Arzoo (1950) Aan ( 1953 ), Devdas (1955), Naya Daur (1957), Mughal-e-Azam (1960) , Kohinoor ( 1960), Ganga Jamuna (1961), Leader ( 1964) , Dil Diya Dard Liya ( 1966) , Ram Aur Sham ( 1967 ) ,Sangarsh ( 1968 ), Gopi (1970) , Sagina (1974 ), Bairag(1976) , Shakti (1982 ) , Mashaal (1984 ) and Saudagar (1991 ). He revived the memory of his tragedian days to enact one of the most heartbreaking scenes in Mashaal when his wife, played by Waheeda Rehman, needs desperate medical attention and no one’s willing to give them a lift.
A perfectionist, he studied film-making in all its aspects, sought advice from his many directors mainly Nitin Bose and Bimal Roy.He also kept learning from Ashok Kumar, his senior at the studio. Ashok Kumar advised him to be himself in front of the camera, possibly the best career-shaping advice he received. He read literature including classic English and Urdu/ Hindi novels which reflected in his choice of roles. He read Prem Chand, Emily Bronte, Jane Austen,Bernard Shaw, Charles Dickens Anton Chekhov, Fyodor Dostoevsky and Shakespeare. He remained a lifelong lover of Ghalib. He watched the Hollywood stars such as Paul Muni, Spenser Tracy, Henry Fonda, James Stewart, among others. However, he put his own feelings and experiences while portraying the screen characters.
Dilip Kumar has always been a painstaking individual. As an actor, he was his own teacher with a single aim to create his space. He would sit for hours and delve into a character and draw up his emotions to live the character. He would repeat dialogues and synchronize the dialogue delivery with his body movements. He used his hands, facial expressions, head movements and every joint and muscle to deliver dialogues. A strange naturalism that he brought to the cinema, unknowingly freed it from the shackles of theatrics. He brought underplaying to the fore at a time when cinema was thriving on theatrics. He was the first actor to demystify the myth that actors on screen hardly carry any insight into human behavior.
About his naturalism, Dilip Kumar has said this :-
“My personality was not flamboyant or given to exhibitionism of any kind. For example, it’s not that I consciously developed a style of delivering dialogue in a soft voice. That’s the way I speak in real life too. My father never shouted or ranted even when he was upset. My mother was gentle and docile. Even at work, I befriended people who were simple and refined. Sashadhar Mukherji, Anil Biswas, Narendra Sharma, Amiya Chakravarthy, Gyan Mukherji and, of course, Ashok Bhaiyya ( actor Ashok Kumar ) were my friends at Bombay Talkies.”
WAS DILIP KUMAR A METHOD ACTOR?
Director Martin Scorsese once famously said of Marlon Brando, “He is the marker. There’s ‘before Brando’ and ‘after Brando’.” Brando, one of the first actors to bring focus to the idea of ‘Method Acting’, was a huge follower of Stanislavski System, and changed the rules of acting in Hollywood. American actor and director, Lee Strasberg popularised elements of Stanislavski’s system at the Group Theatre in New York from 1931 to 1935. His approach came to be known as ‘The Method’. Stella Adler, a fellow actor at the Group Theatre, created an approach to Method Acting that was said to be more in tune with that of Stanislavski. And Marlon Brando remained the only Method Actor in Hollywood. While the Hollywood continues to hail the Godfather (1972) actor as one of the ‘greatest ever’, there was another man known as Dilip Kumar , a star in India, who had independently found and mastered the technique.
The term ‘Method Acting’ includes a number of different acting techniques, most of which involve actors drawing on their own emotions and experiences. A method actor has his own individual style essentially based on his personality. That is how he comes up as a natural actor. A Method Actor makes good use of his body language and his voice tone is always natural unless he has to convey some strong emotion to make requisite variations.If Brando gave a reference point to actors like Robert De Niro and Al Pacino to start with, Dilip Kumar influenced countless actors in Indian cinema. From Amitabh Bachchan to Naseeruddin Shah, Shah Rukh Khan to Nawazuddin Siddiqui, every actor of Hindi cinema carries some line or some page from the colossal book that Dilip Kumar wrote with his acting. His magnum opus ,’ Ganga Jamuna’ was refashioned as Deewaar,Naya Daur as Lagaan, Madhumati as Om Shanti Om as a reference was already created by Dilip Kumar. Javed Akhtar admitted that while scripting Deewaar (1975), he and Salim had Ganga Jamuna in their mind.. The positioning of the brothers on either side of the law as done in Ganga Jamuna , was repeated in many films. Even Amitabh repeated the dialogue ‘ Munna Hatt’ in his super hit film “Do Anjaane “.About Shah Rukh and Amitabh being influenced by his style , Dilip Kumar has said this :-
“ I believe Amitabh is an accomplished and complete actor. Shah Rukh is extremely popular I understand. I’m not aware whether they have copied me. Generally speaking, it becomes easy for a serious actor to take a reference from a work he has liked and build on it. It should not be termed as copying or imitating.”
A Method Actor is a challenge for the directors and writers. The script and the director has to meet his expectations. Generally seen, the Method actors are selective in their choice of scripts and directors.
SHIFT FROM TRAGEDY
Renowned tragedians like Sir John Gielgud and Sir Laurence Olivier played tragic roles during their middle age while Dilip Kumar started it at a very young age. He was in his ’20s. It had a significant impact on his personality. The gloomy outlook had entered and overtaken his personal life. He consulted doctors in the UK where he was advised to try comedy, which would give him relief and also bring the much needed variety in his acting. He refused Guru Dutt’s Pyasa as he was already doing Devdas and both the lead characters had similarity . When he became well known actor after Jugnu (1947), producers bee lined to him with all sorts of scripts that he declined . That is the reason why Dilip Kumar has refused many films in his career . When David Lean offered him a role in Lawrence of Arabia , Dilip Kumar felt that the role had negative shades. He straightway declined the offer and it was finally given to Omar Sharif .
Dilip Kumar was offered Zanjeer, a 1973 crime drama blockbuster. However, he declined the film and it went to Amitabh Bachchan. He also declined Baiju Bawra and Do Badan.
By 1969, Dilip Kumar had transformed himself from being the king of tragedy from films like Devdas (1955), Deedar (1951) and Jogan (1950) to the versatile hero of Naya Daur (1957), Kohinoor (1960) and Ram Aur Shyam (1967).
As a sensitive individual , Dilip Kumar had his fingers on the pulse of the society especially rural . Novels of Munshi Prem Chand that he read had also made many issues clear to him. While scripting Ganga Jamuna , the reasons for the negative shades in the character of Ganga ( who is a victim of the trap set by the Zamindaar ) were well explained to arouse public sympathy. The film reflected the tyranny of the Zamindars in independent India and the intrinsic honesty of the farmers despite the poverty and oppression. In Ganga Jamuna, the hero was on the wrong side of the law but he carried enormous audience sympathy. And none could portray Ganga better than the great thespian.
Known for his meticulous homework, for Kohinoor, Dilip Kumar actually took lessons in sitar for almost a year. The end result is the song ‘Madhuban mein Radhika nache re’ which shows him playing the sitar, akin to Naushad’s composition.
NITIN BOSE ( 1897 -1986 ) INFLUENCE .
Nitin Bose was a doyen of Bangali and Hindi cinema and a close relative of Satyajit Ray. He was a cinematographer , writer, director and a photographer. Nitin Bose introduced playback singing in Hindi cinema with Bhagyachakra that he directed in 1935. He was a perfectionist to the core. From New theatres Kolkata , he moved to Bombay Talkies. During the making of Milan ( 1946 ) , Nitin came close to Dilip Kumar. With Nitin Bose ,he also acted in Naukadoobi (1947 ) and Deedar (1951) .
At Nitin Bose’s insistence,Deedar’ was made a multi-starrer film. It proved a trendsetter. Many multi-starrer films were made subsequently like B, R. Chopra’s Waqt , Yash Chopra’s ‘Kabhi Kabhi’
In his range, depth and professional integrity, Dilip Kumar matched all the three greats of world cinema ; Hollywood’s Marlon Brando , Japanese star Toshiro Mifune and Italian legend Marcello Mastroianni. He watched the latest Hollywood stars such as Paul Muni, Spenser Tracy, Henry Fonda, James Stewart, among others. However , he put his own feelings and experiences while portraying the screen characters together with what he learnt from Nitin Bose, his early mentor.
Dilip Kumar was always impressed by Nitin’s cinematic techniques and conceptual clarity. He maintained close friendship with this maestro who later won Dadasaheb Phalke Award. When Dilip Kumar started his home production Ganga Jamuna , he brought Nitin Bose as director and the great creative minds did something that remains unsurpassed to this day.
About Nitin Bose , Dilip Kumar says this :-
“ Nitin Bose (director) became a friend after Milan (1946) and he changed the way I interpreted and studied my scripts and roles. He was a master of his profession. A thorough gentleman and honest to core. He was a wonderful human being and with a fantastic creative mind. Real-life influences also impacted my acting style to a great extent in the early stages. Because that’s where I found my inspiration, especially since I had to be my own instructor.”
Apart from Nitin Bose, Bimal Roy also had some influence upon Dilip Kumar. He worked with Bimal Roy in Devdas,Yahudi and Madhumati.
In this write up , I am only focusing on the thespian’s art and not his family or his romantic relations with his heroines such as Kamini Kaushal , Madhubala , Vijayanthimala or his second marriage with Asma that brought a short period of unpleasantness in his married life . I don’t feel like going into the details of his assets or property disputes especially one relating to his Pali Hill bungalow believed to be worth 350 Crores .
He married Saira Babu in 1966. His real-life heroine Saira went on to do films like “Gopi” (1970), “Sagina” (1974) and “Bairaag” (1976) after their marriage.Saira remained totally devoted in her care and concern for the thespian till his last day.
AWARDS AND HONOURS
For his contribution to films, the Government of India awarded him with the Padma Bhushan in 1991 and the Padma Vibhushan in 2015, the country’s third and second-highest civilian awards respectively. He was also awarded India’s highest accolade in the field of cinema, the Dadasaheb Phalke Award in 1994. In 1998, the Government of Pakistan conferred Kumar with Nishan-e-Imtiaz, the highest civilian decoration. Dilip Kumar is listed in the Guinness World Records for winning the maximum number of awards by an Indian actor.
Upon his death, he was given a state funeral. His body was covered by the Indian flag. He was buried in a Muslim cemetery at Juhu , Santa Cruz in Mumbai. Dilip Kumar’s wife , Saira Banu thanked the authorities for according Dilip Kumar a state funeral. She shared this message via Dilip Kumar’s Twitter account.
“Thank you @PMOIndia and @CMOMaharashtra for according Dilip Sahib burial with state funeral protocols. – Saira Banu Khan.”
This is what Shri Ram Nath Kovind , President of India tweeted :-
‘Dilip Kumar summarised in himself a history of emerging India. The thespian’s charm transcended all boundaries, and he was loved across the subcontinent. With his demise, an era ends. Dilip Saab will live forever in the heart of India. Condolences to family and countless fans.”
Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi tweeted:-
“Dilip Kumar will be remembered as a cinematic legend.” His death is “a loss to our cultural world.”
Amitabh Bachchan tweeted:-
“Whenever the history of Indian Cinema will be written, it shall always be ‘before Dilip Kumar, and after Dilip Kumar.’
I conclude this tribute with a couplet of Allama Iqbal……
“Ataa aissa bayaan mujh Ko huwa rangeen bayaanon mein
Ke baam-e-arsh Ke taaer hain meray hum zubaanon mein”
(I am bestowed with such speech among the elegant speakers
That the birds of the ‘sky ’s roof are concordant with me…)
Autar Mota is a noted writer and columnist