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Saturday, July 31, 2021

When ‘Tragedy King’ Dilip Kumar left us chortling in Ram Aur Shyam

Even in his comedy dramas, amid mistaken identities, romantic interludes and colourful songs, Dilip Kumar eschewed theatricality

Written by Shubhra Gupta
Updated: July 11, 2021 7:06:57 am
Mirror Image: Dilip Kumar plays a double role in Ram Aur Shyam.

Over the years, there have been many Dilip Kumar films that I’ve enjoyed, as you must have, too. I’ve been watching some of my favourites as a tribute to the great thespian who passed away this week.

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Dilip sa’ab’s filmography was slender but impressive. He made only 65 films in his 50 years in Hindi cinema not just because he was extremely choosy, but because he liked to immerse himself in his characters fully: famously, for a sequence in Kohinoor (1960), in which he had to play the sitar, he practised on the instrument for six months. If that wasn’t method acting, I don’t know what is. But unlike so many other “method actors”, he did not let the effort show. It was au naturel, done with the utmost life-like ease.

Everything he did, especially his outings in the ’50s and ’60s, had a lasting impact on the industry. In the abiding themes (sacrificial lovers, lost-and-found siblings, twins separated at birth, blood brothers divided by duty, drunken oblivion as the antidote to self-pitying heartbreak) some of his most popular movies — Andaz (1949), Devdas (1955), Gunga Jumna (1961), Ram Aur Shyam (1967) — threw up; in his distinctive underplaying, eschewing all vestiges of theatricality, using stillness and quietness as a magnet; in the way he impacted generations of stars who came after him, from Amitabh Bachchan to Shah Rukh Khan.

Almost everyone names K Asif’s lavish saga of star-crossed lovers Mughal-e-Azam (1960) as their top Dilip Kumar film. It was certainly the most extravagant. Starring Dilip sa’ab as the handsome prince Salim smitten by the heart-stoppingly beautiful kaneez Anarkali (Madhubala), it is perhaps the only Hindi film which managed to look as good in colour as it did in the original black-and-white.

Naya Daur (1957), which was also colourised a few years ago and re-released in theatres, didn’t look as appealing in colour. But this BR Chopra directorial remains special, because in it Dilip sa’ab plays a gaonwala (villager), who fights for the rights of those who work with their hands on their land. It is the classic battle between man versus machine, industrialised growth versus agrarian innocence, and it was just right for the time it came out.

Here was a star who stood for idealism, socialism, secularism and liberalism, the ideals Nehru was trying to inculcate in a young independent nation created after a most painful Partition. Who better than the Muslim Mohammad Yousuf Khan who adopted the Hindu name (Dilip Kumar), and whose religion didn’t matter to those who adopted and embraced him as their beloved star.

But hand on heart, if you ask me for the one Dilip Kumar film I invariably find myself reaching out for, it is Ram Aur Shyam (available on YouTube, Eros Now, JioCinema). Ram is a timid, cowering fellow, skulking from the wrath of his vicious uncle (Pran). Shyam is slap-happy-exuberant. Mistaken identities, romantic interludes and colourful songs pop up. Non-stop fun is to be had as good triumphs over evil. And we are left chortling.




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