Dilip Kumar: Indian cinema’s tragic hero
Although I had met him in Mumbai at his home in Bandra suburb I jumped at the chance to see him in Jeddah during his visit here with his wife Saira Banu, a one-time beauty queen and heroine of several Hindi films. I went to see him taking with me our reporter Suresh Shah, now chief reporter of the Economic Times, a sister publication of the Times of India, the country's premier English-language daily newspaper.
Dilip Kumar and Saira Banu were sitting in the lobby of the Hyatt Regency — then located on Madinah Road — when I entered the hotel. He gladly agreed to be interviewed for this newspaper and to be photographed as well. Both story and photos were published in this newspaper, which caused a large number of fans to gather outside the hotel as usually happens everywhere in such cases.
In my student days and thereafter I followed Dilip's fortunes through some of his films and by reading the press which pays a great deal of attention to the movies and has some very good film critics who write frankly about the few excellent ones and lambaste the many poor ones. But the film industry is hamstrung by the so-called formula that is necessary for success, entertainment which I like specially songs and dances, fights for which experts are hired to guide the actors and shootouts where the hero is seldom hurt, let alone killed.
In his only film with Amitab, "Shakti", Dilip acted as Amitab’s police officer father who did not hesitate to shoot his erring son when the time came to stop him. Of course, Dilip was devastated after his son's collapse as shown in the film. He was always so absorbed in his roles that at one time he suffered from deep depression in real life and had to consult specialists who advised him to shun his serious roles at least for a while and accept lighter ones with some fun thrown in. In any case he was growing older and had to slow down except for occasional offers. His place has been taken by both Amitab and Shah Rukh Khan.
Dilip's two famous contemporaries Raj Kapoor and Dev Anand are dead. Raj died fairly early of severe heart trouble when he was only 63 and Dev died last year aged 89.
Dilip’s films spanned five decades in which he acted opposite such top-notch stars as Madhubala, Vijayantimala and Meena Kumari.
His seven films with the actor-dancer Vijayantimala led to rumors of romance between the two that are still alive in their biographies.
But I particularly liked his role as the heir of the Moghul king in the spectacular film Mughal-e-Azam facing Madhubala who was a courtesan in the palace. He could neither resist her love nor challenge his father. The father’s role was played by veteran Prithviraj Kapoor who was one of the pioneers of the cinema.
Madhubala’s song in the film in which she says “If you love someone, don't be afraid” is still 50 years later one of India's favorite songs being sung wherever there are Indians in the world.
His films Deedar, Devdas, Madhumati and Ram Aur Sham were generally popular, but some flopped like the last one Qila. It is said that he had been offered a role in Lawrence of Arabia but he declined it and the role went to Omar Sharif of Egypt who excelled in it and went on to become a Hollywood star in his own right.
Dilip also declined an important role with Raj Kapoor in Sangam in the 60s, one of the longest running films ever. Since Raj was the hero, Dilip did not want to play the number two in the same film with anybody. Sangam ran for many years in Egypt of all places and may still be running in some theaters in India and other countries.
Amitab himself is now advancing in age having celebrated his 70th birthday a few weeks ago and is hosting the televisions' most popular quiz contest at a hefty remuneration that at one time saved him from bankruptcy. He had lost some of his allure and a great deal of money in sponsoring his ill-fated Miss World contest which failed to attract enough attention and sponsors.
With film contracts becoming scarcer and debts mounting he accepted the offer of Sony TV to conduct the Indian version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire. It is called “Kaun Banega Crorepati.”