When I came to the industry, there were three major stars — Raj Kapoor, Dev Anand and Dilip Kumar. While both Raj Kapoor and Dev Anand also directed and produced films, Yusuf sahab did neither. He was a very committed actor. Everyone in the industry spoke about how seriously he took his work – from the script to the delineation of his character. According to Satyajit Ray, Dilip Kumar was the ultimate method actor. His performances are still very relevant. They haven’t aged at all with time.
Yusuf sahab had a splendid grasp over the Urdu language. His dialogue delivery was so unique. Nobody has been able to quite master the same technique. He could hypnotise anyone with that voice. Gulzar sahab used to say it was a pleasure to talk to him in Punjabi. He made the language sound so poetic and charming.
He brought so many nuances in his performances. He had a very successful and secure career for over 50 years. His dedication to his work was phenomenal.
As a person, Yusuf sahab was very dignified and gracious. I remember once he was invited as a chief guest at a Suigetsu event. He gave such a wonderful speech. Full of knowledge and humour. The audience couldn’t get enough of him. He didn’t speak about himself, but he had made an effort to know all about the Japanese art of flower arrangement.
His eldest sister was the head of the family. And Yusuf sahab lived with his sisters and brothers. It was a very warm and welcoming house.
Yusuf sahab didn’t prioritize commerce over art. He always made one film at a time. He was very well loved not only in India but also in the subcontinent.
I was very happy to have worked with him in Dastaan. He was a very generous actor and never made me feel inadequate. I had always wanted to work with him, and Thank God, I got the opportunity.
When my husband passed away, he wrote me a beautiful handwritten letter. I will always cherish it. Yusuf sahab was a legend, an institution in himself. We had so much to learn from him.
The film industry was quite united at that time. We would all get together on issues that affected cine workers or actors or the film industry as a whole. Automatically, we would choose Yusuf sahab or Raj Kapoor to lead us. Often our meetings would take place at Yusuf sahab’s house, and he was a genial host. He and Raj Kapoor were not just legendary actors but they also cared about the film industry as a whole.
I remember how we used to get together for fundraising events and cricket matches for the Chief Ministers and the Prime Minister’s relief fund. There is a lovely picture of Tiger as an umpire with young Rishi Kapoor from one such event. There was great solidarity amongst the film community, much to the credit of Yusuf sahab and Raj Kapoor, and I look back at those days with much fondness.
Yusuf sahab was a little reclusive. I didn’t see him at parties, but I remember going to his house and what a lovely house it was. It had a beautiful veranda where we all would sit. He was always kind to me as he knew I was Saeeda and Ehsan’s friend. I was in touch with Saira (Dilip Kumar’s wife Saira Banu) when he was in and out of the hospital recently. Saira has been so devoted to Yusuf Sahab and they shared a long and wonderful partnership. Yusuf Sahab was really the “Kohinoor”. He was not only the “Titan” of the Indian film industry but also a good human being. His magnetic legacy will live on forever.
(As told to Priyanka Sharma)