Updated: July 8, 2021 7:55:55 am
There are shooting stars that come and go, some blaze brightly and then fade away. Some shine on. Dilip Kumar, who died on Wednesday, was one whose light never dimmed. Actor, star, thespian, legend — it is easy to run out of adjectives for Dilip Sa’ab, who leaves behind a rich legacy of memorable films and roles, in a magnificent career graph that spanned five decades. When he began, India was still under colonial rule (his first film Jwar Bhata was released in 1944). When post-Independence India, savouring its first taste of freedom, looked around for entertainment, Dilip Kumar was there, waiting. To be embraced, and, in turn, to embrace.
Dilip Kumar formed a famous troika with his illustrious contemporaries, Raj Kapoor and Dev Anand. Each of these stars had his own strengths: Raj Kapoor channelled his inner Chaplin to create a distinctive image with a quirky neck duck and flash of blue eyes; Dev Anand played urban crooks and upright lawyers with that quiff falling over his forehead like a comma. Dilip Kumar ranged across genres and characters with nary a mannerism in sight. He was natural before being natural was a thing. Just by his presence, his way of speaking conversationally and not throwing his voice theatrically, he commanded instant and total attention. He gave the feeling of not so much entering a scene as chancing upon it. He did not throw his hands about. He made stillness a virtue. More than anything else, he felt real and relatable. Being labelled “Tragedy King” did him a great disservice. He was as adept at making his audience laugh as getting them to shed a tear. In Bimal Roy’s Devdas (1955), he spends much of his time in his cups, morosely stoking memories of lost love. Equally unforgettable is his double-role turn in Ram Aur Shyam (1967), in which he plays two brothers separated-at-birth, a trope cemented firmly thereon, with great light-hearted gusto. Nitin Bose’s 1961 Ganga Jamuna is also a tale of two brothers caught on different sides of the divide, one a criminal, the other a lawmaker, themes that Bollywood has loved referencing since. Remember Salim-Javed’s Deewar?
He was the hapless Salim to the doomed, beauteous Anarkali (Madhubala) in K Asif’s Mughal-e-Azam. In BR Chopra’s Naya Daur (1957), he speaks for man versus machine, striking a blow for Nehruvian idealism and socialism in an India where optimism was alive, and its villages were still the site of hope. The film was very much of its time; its hero turned out to be one for the ages. One of his last successful films, Ramesh Sippy’s Shakti (1982), paired him with Amitabh Bachchan, the star who conquered Hindi cinema in the ’70s and ’80s. Shah Rukh Khan, who took over the reins of Bollywood in the ’90s, was as influenced by Dilip Sa’ab. Even today, when you think of effortless perfection in Hindi cinema, you think of Dilip Kumar. His legacy will live on.
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