Dilip Kumar



Bollywood legendary actor widely known by his screen name of Dilip Kumar.

Dilip Kumar whose real name was Yusuf Khan was the last of a triumvirate of actors who ruled India’s cinema in the 1950s and 1960s. His overriding figure for over five decades in an industry where actors spring up like mushrooms and are wiped out of public memory like footprints in the sand, his standing as the unquestioned icon of Bollywood is a tribute both to his star appeal among successive generations of film audiences and his acting talent.

In the golden age of Bollywood, from the late 1940s to the early 1960s, socially-conscious filmmakers explored the growing tensions in post-independence India seeking to modernise a poor agrarian society and build a new secular political culture. “Dilip Kumar stood for the kind of liberal and syncretic values that the founding fathers were trying to create”.

Dilip Kumar’s legendary career started by pure chance when he was barely twenty-two and with no interest in films to speak of. He achieved his undisputed status as India’s outstanding film actor through sheer hard work and amazing dedication. Dilip Kumar was known as the “Tragedy King”, for most of his role ending in death scenes, helped create landmark films from 1940s to the 1990s, including Shaheed, Jogan, Devdas, Naya Daur, Mughal-e-Azam, Ganga Jumna, Sagina Mahato and Shakti, to name a few – Jwar Bhata (1944) being the first. Intensely involved in all aspects of the films he worked in, he also helped direct several of them. He remained a measuring rod by which Indian actors continue to be judged. He was also described as “the ultimate method actor”, who built upon his own gut observations.

He made more than sixty films, all of them in Bollywood, and might have been better known to an international audience had he accepted David Lean’s invitation to play Sherif Ali in Lawrence of Arabia (1962). Dilip Kumar declined the offer and the role went to Omar Sharif.

Yusuf was a very private man in a very public industry. Thus, so much has been written about him there remained an aura of mystery about him. His cultured dignity and grace had given him credibility that transcended the silver screen, making him a public figure who, was both widely admired and respected.

Numerous awards were given to Yusuf for his dizzy heights of success from early 1950s to late 1990s including India’s Padma Bhushan (1991), Dada Sahib Phalke Award (1994) and the Padma Vibhushan (2015).

Pakistan conferred the highest award Nishan-e-Imtiyaz in 1998. Amid heightened religious tensions in India, Hindu politicians, who asked him to return the award to Pakistan, branded Dilip Kumar an anti-national. He did not. He wrote in his 2014 autobiography The Substances and the Shadow that returning it “could have only soured relations further and produced bad vibes between India and Pakistan.” Dilip Kumar was a tactful diplomat off screen.

Off-screen, Dilip Kumar devoted time to socio-political causes of the new nation including promoting Hindu-Muslim unity. He served as a member of the Rajya Sabha, the upper house of Parliament from 2000 to 2006.

Across the border, Dilip Kumar helped Imran Khan, then still a cricket star, to raise funds for a cancer hospital. When Mumbai was rocked by Hindu-Muslim riots in 1993, his house became a command centre for relief work.

Dilip Kumar was sometimes targeted for his Muslim identity. In the early 1960s his Mumbai home was raided by Kolkata police on the suspicious – unfounded – that he was a Pakistani spy.

Born Muhammad Yusuf Khan in Peshawar, now in Pakistan – was a man of gentle nature and who loved and recited Urdu poetry. Despite his break in his academic studies, he remained an avid reader and became a self-educated intellectual.

compiled by M. Nauman Khan

Compiled by:M. Nauman Khan

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