Nainital, 1954. Escorted by two maternal aunts, me, four, was walking home, after watching Insaniyat, with Dilip Kumar, Dev Anand, and Hollywood’s Tarzan chimp, Zippy, who has eclipsed all human actors of the film, confusing on the click of the tongue of the two ladies. “Why does he always end up dying?” They lamented. A few years later, the youngest and most in love aunt was complaining about Kohinoor, a swashbuckling that I loved, and later she was still getting completely overwhelming when she saw Leader, a satirical attempt that did not not quite successful. “Why does he clown like that all the time?” Was the reproach now. Obviously, Dilip Kumar was better to die in the movies than to have fun there.
Now that the great man has actually “melted in the sun and mingled with the wind,” the aunts who, if they had not withered themselves, would have shed bitter tears. Just like me, but more to the thought of all that Dilip Kumar sahab could and should have accomplished during his lifetime. “Death is not as important as what you do with your life” is an aphorism that stuck with me for a long time. Thus, the reader will forgive me if, instead of deploring his disappearance, I dwell on his contribution during his lifetime.
The holy grail of an actor that he is in commercial Hindi cinema, his supposedly unsurpassable accomplishments, I hope now that all the tributes have been paid I won’t put my foot in my mouth if I speak no only of the indisputable grandeur of some of his performances but raises a question – perhaps provoking debate – whether his example as a star deserved to be emulated and whether he helped push the boundaries of progress or s ‘he facilitated the downward spiral of popular Hindi cinema into the total star-centricity in which it wallows today.
There is absolutely no doubt that, at least until Gunga Jamuna, the consummate characterizations, dignified demeanor, melodious diction, controlled yet seething emotionality of his performances were all unique. In the days of actors sawing through the air insistently as if they were conducting a tune made up of words, his haunting stillness and impeccable poise established a paradigm for good acting in Indian films, when false theatricality Arched voice intonations, tight jaw muscles, quivering lips, caterpillar eyebrows and, of course, constantly waving hands were the accepted modes of expression. His economy of movement and gesture seemed to be little understood by his peers and even those who followed him, although many superficially imitated his style.
Clearly not multitasking, its total output of maybe 50 films is, even by yesteryear standards, absurdly small. Some of these works will no doubt survive the test of time but, given the position he held, it is more than obvious that he did not do enough outside of acting and being involved. in social causes close to his heart. He produced only one film, did not direct any (officially at least), never passed on the benefit of his experience, did not bother to prepare anyone and, apart from his performances of before 1970, left no important lesson for the future. actors; even his autobiography is a cover of old interviews. It is disconcerting that a man so aware of his place in history would be reluctant to record his interaction with some of the great filmmakers of his time or to say anything truly informative about the nature of his work and his technique. . I wish he had at least been upfront at one point about the difficulties of retaining legions of dedicated fans.
What he was truly incomparable to was creating demand for himself, sometimes at the cost of the movie he was in – a legacy that weighs more heavily on the Hindi cinematic fraternity than his finely nuanced performances. While other stars of his day appeared in two or more films each year, a two-year project was Dilip Sahab’s average for twenty years. Each of these breathtakingly awaited appearances, meticulously crafted to create an aura of study and sensitivity around him, were masterpieces of strategy designed to place him above his peers, to keep him away. but not take it away from them. And his business – the poetic turns, the thoughtful pauses, the carefully cultivated image of refinement in his acting and his life – had not, like some of his contemporaries, been modeled on a simple actor but on Jawaharlal Nehru, Mister Sophistication himself. It is ironic, however, that Panditji, despite asking him to be the spokesperson for Hindu-Muslim unity, did not support him at perhaps the most difficult time of his life, so that he was facing the ridiculous charges of Pakistani espionage.
Whether his subsequent attempts at image makeovers were made to extend his reach or test his acting prowess or get far more done by an already adored audience that no one will ever know, he himself would have claimed that was for sure. advice from a psychoanalyst. It is, however, a moot point at what point in his career, and why, his commitment to meaningful cinema, which had resulted in such important work with Bimal Roy, Mehboob Khan, K Asif and BR Chopra, brought it to life. abandoned, as well as the ego. -the congratulations phase has taken over. I believe it was after Gunga Jamuna – a performance that he seems to have strived to surpass continuously and unsuccessfully. I could be wrong but three generations of Dilip Kumar fans each have their own theory, and it’s mine.
Considering the fleeting nature of fame in showbiz and especially in our little pond, it is incomprehensible why an actor of such an immaculate profession, whose very presence elevated any movie he was in, the one who only had to nod his head to set up any project he imagined in motion, one rightly hailed as the best in the country, financially secure for several generations, chose to play cautiously as he did. Anyone who doubts massive insecurity and insularity are the lot of stars of Dilip Sahab’s magnitude should read between the lines as they peruse the description of his chance encounter with JRD Tata on board a (presumably) Air India flight. . That JRD did not recognize it is not as revealing as the fact that the non-recognition was mutual. It is also not a mystery why, instead of using his influence to encourage filmmakers deviating from the norm, towards scripts that illustrate the truth of their time, and therefore films which may have altered his understanding of the contribution. of the actor, he instead opted for a series of indulgent and awkward embarrassments some of which ignited at the box office, but also made many ardent admirers, including myself, perceive him again.
If being a star does curious things to people, being a resident legend does even more curious things, I guess.
Nothing quite corresponds to the paradoxes of this acting profession. You must simultaneously be totally oblivious and fully aware of your audience. You have to pretend they’re not there, but they need to be taken care of. You have to believe that you are the character you play, but remember that you are not. And the strangest thing, the moment you become convinced that you are a great actor, you stop being.
Either way, I’m just one of the millions who will be eternally grateful to him for the magic.
“The flights of angels sing to you for your rest”, sir. May the earth be light on you.
This column first appeared in the print edition on July 10, 2021 under the title âRequiem for Dilip Kumar and a Little Complaintâ. Shah is an actor.