Dilip Kumar’s director of Qila recalls how the actor refused to share his favorite fruit: “A childish quality about him”
Umesh Mehra, the director of Dilip Kumar’s latest feature film, Qila, shared his experience working with the legendary actor in an interview with indianexpress.com. The film was released in 1998.
Remembering Dilip Kumar, Umesh Mehra said: “There are no words to describe the legend, he was an amazing person. He shared a good rapport with everyone, his memory was also amazing, you could discuss any topic under the sun with him, he was extremely well read and always knowledgeable and articulate.
Dilip Kumar had done Qila in 1998, seven years after doing Saudagar from Subhash Ghai. It was a time when people expected Saudagar to be his last film and that he had retired from acting. So how did Qila come to be? Mehra says: “For that, I thank the writer of the film Humayun Mirza. He had been friends with Dilip Sahab for many years, so he introduced him to the concept and he liked it. Humayun and I have been friends for a long time too. As soon as Dilip Kumar agreed to make the film, Humayum came to me to ask me to direct it. It was a great movie, and I had to do it.
Thirty years before signing Qila, Dilip Kumar was to shoot a film with Umesh’s father, FC Mehra. But that project was canceled, and Qila was an extension, a goodwill gesture from Dilip Kumar.
“One of the reasons Dilip Sahab chose this film was that in the late 1970s my father signed Dilip Kumar for a film, and also donated a nominal amount. It was supposed to be a huge project that never saw the light of day. He had to have a big cast including Dilip Sahab, Amitabh Bachchan, Dharmendra and Yash Chopra to lead him, but that never happened. So, I knew I wanted to work with Dilip Sahab, and since he had committed to my father’s film, he was ready to fulfill that commitment too, ”he said.
Dilip Kumar was born as Mohammed Yusuf Khan in Peshawar, then part of the North West Frontier Province of British India. When Kumar made Qila, he was 76 years old. Mehra said, “He was wonderful, my parents were also from Peshawar, so he fell in love with me right away, I think, right away. We had many sessions together, we had even gone to find locations in New Mumbai. He would just get in the car with me, and we would do different sessions for the film together, that way we developed a rapport.
“When he agreed to make the movie he told me he had a few conditions, he said he would arrive on set at 11 in the morning and finish as he got tired. He was 76 at the time and he had not worked for so many years I agreed with his conditions, but I made a condition that he must give me at least one injection before lunch. He would do it diligently and leave at 5 pm We also worked around him, while he came to prepare, I was shooting sequences with other actors, and for his scenes too, I was shooting other actors. without him, then once he was on set, we would shoot him.
Once Dilip Kumar got acquainted with the new ways of working, he became even more passionate about acting. “Everything was very new to him, and he was delighted that things were going so fast now. After seeing the preview for the second time, he said two words, “German precision”. Since that day, he has never questioned me. He was a nice actor to work with, he was even a legend back then, but he was always grounded and down to earth. He would share stories and anecdotes from his career with the other actors, and everyone would sit and listen to him. There were so many new people making their debut with Qila, they all literally sat at his feet when he spoke, it wasn’t out of fear or anything, but it was love and love. pure devotion to the oldest man on the shelf.
“For Qila, he did a three-day debut shoot. And being old school, he wanted to see how things were going, so he asked for a preview, and we did that at Dutt Sahab’s (Sunil Dutt) Janta preview theater. It was an eight minute preview, and he watched it twice. He started to enjoy this new filming process and started filming until 10 p.m., no questions asked. I wouldn’t say pack up, every time he wanted to retire we did. He would say, “ae kaka, ab main thakk gayaa”, and we are packing up, ”Mehra added.
Dilip Kumar finished filming Qila in less than six months, his fastest ever.
Mehra also spoke about how Dilip Kumar was the greatest actor through many generations, but he had a childish quality to him. He shares: “I traveled a lot at that time, I frequented Uzbekistan for films like Ali Baba Chalees Chor, etc. And I brought him his favorite fruit from there. He was such a great man, and he still had a childish innocence towards him. There is a particular fruit called sarda, a kind of melon that weighs around 4-5 kg, it is widely available in these northern areas, and it was his favorite fruit, he just loved it. And I got one for him every time I came back to Mumbai. As I entered, he was taking it from my hands and not sharing it with anyone. He said: ‘kisiko nahi millega’.
He further shares: “Interacting with him has been an enriching experience for me, there has been so much learning. Whenever you spoke to him, or when he was facing the camera, just working with him and understanding how he nuances things, it was like a masterclass.
As a farewell note Umesh bids farewell to his best actor, in his grateful farewell he says: “It is a great privilege to have been touched by people like him.”
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