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••• The International Writers Magazine - 22 Years on-line - In Memory

Hindi Film Legend Dilip Kumar - 1922 - 2021
• Harsh Thakor
In the history of Hindi film industry no actor ever took intensity to such mythical proportions or regions as Dilip Kumar.

Dilip Kumar

On the morning of July 7th the legendary Dilip Kumar passed away, after a prolonged period of illness of prostate cancer. In full flow Dilip Kumar could create the impact of an inferno or Tsunami. His acting possessed that rare quality of a genius, literally sculpting a new dimension to acting. No superstar looked as natural as Dilip Kumar, as though he never went to any acting school. Dilip Kumar is arguably the strongest contender for the choice of the best or most consummate Hindi film actor ever. Every great Hindi film superstar modelled himself on Dilip Kumar.
It is Kumar who pioneered an era in Bollywood. At his funeral every major star stated that he influenced or shaped their careers as though they were all his pupils.
Dilip championed tragedy in the depth of an Ocean, like no Hindi film actor ever did. Enacting tragic characters he put the audience in a trance, as though they were witnessing the darkest of winter days. However Dilip also had great flair for enacting comedy roles, creating the liveliness of the breaking of spring .Rarely did any artist display as much poignancy on the screen or express so much with the literal quiver of his eyes. He simply possessed acting prowess of surreal regions, like a Rembrandt canvas.  

Dilip Kumar He could one day resemble the deadest of leaves or the gloomiest of winner days. On another day he could resemble the brightest summer day or a lotus blooming fully. Within a role itself he could resemble water in a pot at its' boiling point at one point and on the other freezing into ice. Dilip Kumar looked so engrossed when acting that it appeared as though he was manifestation of energy of the divine.

It could be contested that Dilip Kumar overdid tragedy in his day and lacked the liveliness of Dev Anand, the malleability of Raj Kapoor, the craft of Sanjeev Kumar or Naseeruddin Shah or the charisma of Amitabh Bacchan or Rajesh Khanna.Perhaps he expressed too much intensity and lacked detachment  in the Brechtian mould, when performing. He could not vary his expressions like the notes of a musical orchestra or introduce element of ease or detachment in the manner of  Sanjeev Kumar or Naseeruddin Shah.At times Dilip Kumar became over serious as though entrapped in a storm. He could not blend seriousness with humour like Raj Kapoor, or element of detachment with the finesse of Sanjeev Kumar. Arguably Sanjeev Kumar or Naseeruddin Shah got more into the skin of character or were craftier.

 Still one must remember that overall Dilip enacted a wider and more challenging set of roles. than anyone Possibly he did not vary his acting style as much as he could have. Still for pure art or in a total package, Dilip Kumar was at the very top of the pedestal. It must be mentioned that in some hits like 'Ganga Jumna; 'Footpath' and 'Naya Daur' he broke away from the sad or mellowed trend, proving his versatility.Kumar also championed comedy in ‘Ram aur Shyam’ and ‘Kohinoor.’ 
Comparisons may be unfair but even if more disciplined, charismatic or even intelligent, I would not rank Amitabh Bacchan as the equal of Dilip Kumar, as an actor or a human being. I am convinced that in his day Dilip Kumar overshadowed contemporaries, Raj Kapoor and Dev Anand. It is noteworthy that in his best films heroine Vyjayanthimala co-starred with Dilip Kumar and not Nargis. Nutan ,Waheeda Rehman or Madhubala.This speaks of her remarkable acting prowess.
In contrast to Raj Kapoor the best of his films were not anti-hero films, being close to projecting radical change in social order but of man seeking justice within the system. Even in anti-hero portrayals like ‘Naya Daur,’ ‘Ganga Jumna’ he offers criticism to the oppressor but still reconciles. In the latter the hero is even punished for his actions.Dilip Kumar mainly projected Nehruvian themes which challenged casteism, religious superstition and economic disparity but did not endorse violent revolution. Raj Kapoor to a considerably greater extent in ‘Awara’ and ‘Shri 420’, portrayed the rebel in society.Inspite of not being apolitical the films of Dilip Kumar did not project the evils of the feudal or capitalist system.

We missed out witnessing Dilip Kumar in portrayals of an opressed man striving against injustice like Raj Kapoor in 'Jagte Raho' or Balraj Sahni in 'Do Bigha Zamin.' or even as a spiritual crusader like Guru Dutt in 'Pyaasa’ Being such a star it became habitual to cast him in melodramatic films. I would have backed Dilip Kumar to act as well as any great actor in any truly progressive film, if not better. It could be stated that we saw more of Dilip Kumar as a star than as an actor. If his potential was completely untapped he may have overshadowed everyone as a pure actor.
I regret the film industry hardly did true justice to Dilip Kumar’s great histrionic abilities or reserves of talent after the age of 65 in the manner of Amitabh Bacchan in recent times. In old age I feel he was made to do very gratuitous roles. I recommend every fan to read Bacchan’s tribute to Dilip Kumar who virtually defined Bollywood history as one before Dilip  Kumar, and one after Dilip Kumar. Modern Stars Shahrukh, Salman and Aamir Khan rank him as the best actor of all time and so Prem Chopra and Dharmendra. Touching of star Dharmendra calling him his ‘brother.’
Perhaps read a biography of Dilip Kumar, narrating how he broke into acting, and the events that shaped his life. Being the son of fruit stall owner, one hardly forecasted he would emerge as an actor. It is also fascinating that he received psychiatric help to break away from a state of depression, having been virtually habituated in projecting a melancholy state. It is also significant how he lost faith in Indian democracy after the 1992 riots. He was totally appalled by the Mumbai riots of 1993 and earlier demolition of Babri Masjid. In fact by the late 1970’s he had become disillusioned with the Congress. It is praiseworthy that Dilip Kumar provided shelter for riot victims. I can never forget Dilip Kumar's adherence to social causes, often being the mascot of the Muslim minorities. Dilip Kumar played an important role as a mediator between India and Pakistan. No doubt to me he was flawed in backing Nehruvian Socialism instead of radical revolutionary Socialism. Neverthless he exhibited considerably more social dignity than modern superstars.   
Best acting of Dilip Kumar in films in my chosen order of merit. 
1. Devdas(1955) -  Classic acting exhibition enacting tragedy in romance. Reminiscent of a manifestation of a God of tragedy with his heart touching expressions in a melancholy state.Intensity of expression in simply surreal realms which I doubt any actor would surpass. In the final scene when he is drowning sorrow in love he reveals godliness of very rare penetration. The movie projects the social reality of Bengal.
 2. Ganga Jumna (1961) -A truly classical portrayal of a villager who turns into a dacoit symbolic of a crusader against injustice betrayed. One of the most natural displays of acting of a villager ever by an actor.  Dilip Kumar deploys the most subtle nuances. Rarely has an actor been more in the thick of the very skin of the character. In most intense scene conjures up vibration s of a Tsunami erupting.
In contrast to his general melancholy expression in many movies, he is far more lively and radiant here. Most artistically portrays the inner metamorphosis or spiritual change within a person due to circumstances that turns his entire life around. The variance of his expressions reminds one of an orchestra. Brilliant chemistry with Vyjayanthimala. His dialogue pleading for justice with the police inspector towards the end is one of the most touching ever in Hindi cinema.  Ironic that in the climax he is killed by his very own brother who is a police inspector. Here he glorified the anti-hero or crusader against injustice in depths he never did, or in regions rarely surpassed in Hindi films.
3. Daag(1952) - Mastery in tragedy .Very close to his performance in Devdas when drunk. So penetrative that looked like a person meditating. Simply poetic expressions. Classically portrays flux of frustration or despair for the major part of the movie with happiness and joy in the climax.
4. Naya Daur(1957) - Portrayed a villager waging a battle against the infiltration of sophisticated machinery in his village. He symbolised the aspirations of common farmer penetrating into the very skin of the character. His confrontation with Jeevan as Kundan on the issue of technology was truly classical and so was his leading a rally of farmers. It is remarkable how he portrays the crystallization of rebellious spirit. Similar acting to Ganga Jumna. It portrays theme of Nehruvian Socialism, like no other film of it’s era.
5. Madhumati (1958 )- His acting was responsible for giving the cutting edge in making this movie an epic. Rarely have I seen an actor in such a state of bewilderment or look so puzzled. Dilip Kumar looked like a person penetrating the deepest depth to solve a mystery in a love story with a theme of re-incarnation. In the climax when narrating the end of the story in a house cabin, his expressions remind one of man undeterred or unmoved, as though his quest for exploring a myth has not ended.

 © Harsh Thakor     August 1st 2021
thakor.harsh at

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