Dilip Kumar’s Enduring Greatness and What He Means for Hindi Cinema
At a time when acting was very melodramatic, Dilip Kumar underestimated as opposed to other stars who overplayed. No wonder he has been called the “master of understatement”. Actor and dancer, Jaaved Jaaferi shares his memories of spending time with Kumar in the 1990s and what made the Devdas star a benchmark in Hindi cinema.
“They say you can be a ‘star’ or an ‘actor.’ One of the great things about Dilip Kumar is that he’s this rare legend who is both. To me he’s a trailblazer in regards acting style and also a beloved big star of his time who attracted critical and commercial attention in equal measure. When Dilip saab started his career in 1944 with Jwar Bhata, the acting form that the masses appreciated best was very theatrical and stylized. He broke the mold with a more naturalistic approach to acting. He just walked in and it was like a breath of fresh air. Obviously, I wasn’t even born when he gave some of his best early performances. But when I was a kid I remember watching Gopi, Dastaan, Bairaag and Sagina. These are his films from the 1970s. We saw a lot of them. on VHS at the time. Later came Kranti, Vidhaata, Shakti and Mashaal. Dilip Saab then had the self xantaine and there was still a lot of actor in him. Yash Chopra’s Mashaal (1984) had this famous scene in which he cries out for help, stopping every car that comes his way, while his wife (Waheeda Rehman) is dying. It’s an incredible cinematic moment that has become THE Dilip Kumar moment. If the actors want to parody Dilip saab, this scene is usually the first that comes to their aid!
Method in madness
“It wasn’t until I grew up and became an actor myself that I realized he was a man who was quite artisanal. Gunga Jumna (1961) is my favorite Dilip Kumar film. When I first saw him – as an adult and thank goodness for that – I was totally blown away by it. The film is about two brothers, one becomes dacoit and the other, a policeman. Dilip saab’s performance as Gunga is a milestone in Indian cinema. There are many emotional and tragic moments in the film which, in the interpretation of Dilip saab, reaches its powerful and explosive dimension. It’s the kind of performance that every actor lives for. I remember the bittersweet scenes of Dilip saab with Vyjayanthimala. Then there is the moving moment when he is stopped by his own brother. What I like most about this film is its realism and attention to detail. How the characters spoke Bhojpuri / Awadhi and also sang in the same language they spoke. Usually in a Hindi movie a character can speak Awadhi, but when he has to go into a song the language becomes Urdu or Hindustani. But Gunga Jumna stays true to his script. Of course, it’s amazing how Dilip saab played the character of Gunga in an authentic way, completely immersing himself in the rhythm of village life, motivations and body language of his character. People call him “method” actor. You have to watch Gunga Jumna to know how he could live his role and make it his own.
More than just a “king of tragedy”
“Dilip Kumar is often referred to as a“ king of tragedy. ”It is true that he earned this nickname after making many dramatic and serious films. One story goes that emotionally charged films like Jugnu, Deedar , Devdas and several others were wreaking havoc on his sanity and a psychiatrist advised him to switch to lighter roles. Jugnu was his first big hit. I think he was offered Pyaasa after Devdas and he got it. refused for the same reason. After Devdas (1955), he moved directly to Azaad (1955) where he was able to play various roles a little more easily, including that of a bearded man called Khan Sahib. comedy. In Kohinoor (1960) he created magic with this funny mirror scene. Amitabh Bachchan and Prem Chopra did a similar scene in Mard (1985). Obviously the original mirror scene was made by the Marx brothers. One of Dili’s most popular and beloved roles p saab is in Ram Aur Shyam (1967) which shows his incredible flair for comedy. Anyone who does comedy will tell you how hard it is to make people laugh. The drama is comparatively easier. But it only takes one wrong note or bad timing to ruin the comedy. Comedy is not everyone’s cup of tea. But by pulling off the fun stuff, Dilip Saab proved he has more to himself than just tragedy. And he had a very endearing way of doing comedy, which he did while maintaining his typical pose and grace. It’s a shame he didn’t have more opportunities in the comedic roles. Maybe the directors gave him more dramatic roles because they felt comedy wasn’t serious enough for an actor of his caliber. People think that the comedy genre lacks seriousness and is often seen as trivial. Either way, the fact that he doesn’t do more comedic roles is our loss. “
Master of euphemism
“Being a superstar in India is a very difficult task. We are a complex country. The kind of cultures, regions and languages that have made us the most diverse nation in the world. It encompasses not only India, but the whole world, in a way. So appeasing and pleasing a cross section of this incredibly diverse country for any actor is hard work. I always say it’s easy in Hollywood because there is one culture, one people. They have more or less similar educational and social systems. But Hindi cinema is a delicate animal. Actors like Dilip Kumar or Raj Kapoor embody the best of our film culture. They could become stars because they were above religious or political divisions. I remember Shah Rukh Khan telling me in 1995, on the sets of Oh Darling Yeh Hai India, “Yaar, Jaaved, ‘India mein star banne ke liye style chahiye”. Style is what makes people remember you. Look at Raj Kapoor, Dilip Kumar, Dev Anand or Rajesh Khanna. They all had their own unique style. People remember it even by their smallest gestures. If I raise my hands and dance, people will immediately say, “Rajesh Khanna. If I wear a scarf and nod, it’s Dev Anand. I did the impersonation of Dilip Kumar in my TV shows. If it’s easy for me. On the other hand, I can’t do Sanjeev Kumar very well. I can do 50 percent. I do not know why. If I get it, I nail it. I don’t sit down to do my homework. With Dilip saab, the main thing is to understand its poetic silence. See the way he pauses, his pronunciations, and his sayings. Golden silences are typical of him. He expresses himself in the most discreet way possible. Much of his playing is in his pauses and silences. This is his method. Because, I think, he points out certain things, which makes you want to pay attention to him. It’s like, “How do I get the audience’s attention? Let me do it this way.
Wise and learned
“I think every actor has to be an imitator in one way or another. He has to imitate life, he has to imitate real people, what he has seen, absorbed and observed. Where do the characters come from? They come from real life. The data you collect by watching and observing people is crucial to the study of any actor. This is how you get into a character. As the host of Is Duniya Ke Sitare, a TV show produced by Saira Banu, I had the chance to spend time with Dilip saab and understood how educated and wise he was about life. He could play all of these characters because he had lived a certain kind of life and had these experiences that you have to have to be able to play. You want to collect all of his pearls of wisdom when you are with him. With him it was never a frivolous chat although he had a great sense of humor. But usually when he is around you you are in awe of him.
Unfortunately, I was never able to work with him. Neither did my father, Jagdeep. But dad still talks about when he was a child artist in Foothpath in 1953. Dilip Kumar had given the blow of mahurat. Dad could cry without glycerin. He was only 13-14 years old when Footpath and Dilip saab was impressed with this young boy who could pull off this powerful scene. Dilip saab decided to drop my father off in Mahim where he used to stay at the time. On the way, they stopped at a gas pump. Naturally, a host of autograph hunters assaulted Dilip Kumar. He passed a fan’s autograph book to Jagdeep and said, “Yeh ladka kal ka Dilip Kumar hai.” For my father, it was the ultimate compliment. Dad doesn’t remember the exact amount, but Dilip Kumar later gave him a 10 rupee bill or something. It was a big deal for a boy that age.
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