By Meher Bhatia
While the public admires Dilip Kumar for the legend he is, few know the person behind his superstardom and mass popularity. In In the Shadow of a Legend: Dilip Kumar (Om Books International), Faisal Farooqui, a Mumbai-based entrepreneur and close family friend of Dilip Kumar, writes about the humble and sensitive Muhammad Yusuf Khan, widely known by his screen name Dilip Kumar.
Farooqui was privy to the actor’s struggle with sharing his private persona with the world. “Sahab (Dilip Kumar was referred to as ‘Sahab’ by those close to him) would often tell me about his fear of Dilip Kumar. The world wanted to meet the legend, and Yusuf, a young, shy man was scared of the persona he played in front of the world,” writes Farooqui in the book.
From his first successful movie Jugnu (1947) to his last appearance in Qila (1998), Dilip Kumar was, and remains a pivotal figure in Indian cinema, influencing actors across generations. His role in introducing the idea of understated acting and creating a genuineness in the characters he embodied inspired many. During the initial years, his on-screen performances mostly consisted of mannered stylistic appearances with hyperbolic emotions. He rendered some of his highly acclaimed performances in Devdas (1952), Mughal-E-Azam (1960), Ganga Jamuna (1961) and Ram Aur Shyam (1967).
Farooqui’s book does not solely follow Dilip Kumar’s career. It also delves into his personal interests as well as his political and social activities. In his book, Farooqui enumerates Kumar’s humanity, from his vulnerabilities to his relationships with friends and family. The book positions itself in ever shifting dynamics of Kumar and Farooqui’s relationship; that of between a superstar and a fan; and an ageing man who was dependent on his young friend. Farooqui was the bridge between Dilip Kumar and the changing ways of the world. Farooqui helped the legend to operate an iPhone to set up the latter’s Twitter handle.
Although Farooqui had known Dilip Kumar since the former was a child, he says their relationship flourished once he returned to Mumbai in 2000 after completing his higher education abroad. Farooqui’s account of their relationship that followed, reveals a lesser-known side of Dilip Kumar — deeply emotional about his family, a big foodie. The book also talks about how the actor was thankful to Ashok Kumar for “motivating” him during the initial years of his career, considered Pran to be a flawless actor and was fond of Sunil Dutt. The legendary actor liked to watch new releases but was critical of movies with weak scripts.
In a heart-warming account, Farooqui narrates how the legend was moved by Amitabh Bachchan’s lengthy and effusive blog on Dilip Kumar’s 89th birthday, on December 10, 2011. Bachchan wrote: “The history of Indian Cinema shall in my reckoning be ‘before Dilip sahab’ and ‘after Dilip sahab’, because of his impeccable presence.” Dilip Kumar was thrilled by it. To share his response, Farooqui created a blog and soon after that Dilip Kumar posted a warm reply.
Even though he had spent his prime years in the spotlight, Dilip Kumar always undermined his achievements. Not many know that Dilip Kumar was involved with the creation and maintenance of Joggers Park; located at the end of Bandra’s Carter Road. His fundraising and advocacy contributed to the opening of this special spot, which previously used to be a garbage dump, on May 27, 1990. In his later years, the actor often went for an afternoon stroll in the park. He also played a crucial role in the formation of the National Association for the Blind as he campaigned for it and raised money.
Dilip Kumar’s identity was largely influenced by the Partition. Born in Peshawar, he moved to Bombay in the late 1930s. By the late 40s, he was hailed as a major star. “I sometimes think it’s so strange that I, of all people, became an actor. Can you imagine a fruit merchant’s son, a Pathan’s son becoming an actor?,” the icon often wondered, recounts Farooqui.