Dilip Kumar, the last of a triumvirate of actors who ruled Hindi cinema in the 1950s and 1960s, died Wednesday in Mumbai, India. He was 98 years old.
His death, in a hospital, was confirmed by family friend Faisal Farooqui, who released a brief statement on Mr Kumar’s death. official Twitter account.
In post-independence India, Mr. Kumar and two other stars set out to define the hero of the Hindi film. Raj Kapoor reflected the confusion of the newly created Indian: his signature role was that of the naive Chaplinesque negotiating a world that was losing its innocence. Dev Anand, known as Gregory Peck of India, embodied a Western recklessness that still persisted; he became an elegant idol in the morning.
Mr. Kumar, however, dived deep into his characters, breaking free from the semaphore style of silent cinema popularized by megastars like Sohrab Modi and Prithviraj Kapoor.
As one of the country’s early adopters of the method, he has often been compared to Marlon Brando, another early adopter of the technique, although Mr Kumar has claimed he used it first.
“I learned the importance of studying the script and the characters in depth and relying on my own observations and gut feelings about my own characters and others,” Mr. Kumar said in his autobiography, ” The Substance and the Shadow “(2014). “The truth is, I am an actor who has developed a method.”
His preparation for roles has become the stuff of legend. For his death scene in the 1961 megahit “Gunga Jumna”, he ran into the studio so he could get on set to the point of exhaustion.
For a sequence of songs in the 1960 film “Kohinoor” (“Mountain of Light”), he learned to play the sitar. For the emotional sequences of the 1982 film “Shakti” (“Power”) and the 1984 film “Mashaal” (“Torch”), he drew on memories of his brother’s death, recalling the pain that is written on his father’s face.
Mr. Kumar was born Yousuf Khan in Peshawar (then part of British India, now Pakistan) on December 11, 1922, the fourth of 12 children of Ayesha and Mohammad Sarwar Khan. His father, a fruit merchant, moved the family to Bombay, now known as Mumbai, and then to Deolali, in western India, where Dilip attended Barnes School before enrolling in Khalsa. Bombay College.
He wanted to play football or cricket professionally, but the economic situation of the family forced him to look for work elsewhere. For a while he was an assistant in a military canteen in Poona (now Pune).
A chance encounter with a former teacher changed her life. When he said he was looking for a job, the professor introduced him to pioneering Indian actress Devika Rani, who, along with Himanshu Rai, had established the Bombay Talkies studio. The idea was to find a job, any job, but Ms Rani asked him if he would consider becoming an actor.
Mr. Kumar, who had only seen one movie in his life – a war documentary – was baffled, but the money convinced him. Ms Rani said taking a Hindu pseudonym to hide her Muslim background would help her career. He became Dilip Kumar.
His first film, “Jwar Bhata” (“Ebb and Flow”), released in 1944, was a flop; Baburao Patel, the scathing critic of Film India, called him “anemic”. But three years later, his performance in “Jugnu” (“Firefly”), alongside Noor Jehan, received more favorable attention. By the time “Shaheed” (“Martyr”) came out in 1948, Mr. Patel was singing his praises: “Dilip Kumar steals the picture with its deeply felt and yet natural delineation of the lead role.”
Hits continued to flow, including “Nadiya Ke Paar” (“Across the River”), “Shabnam” (“Dewdrops”) and “Andaz” (“Style”) by Mehboob Khan, in which Mr. Kumar was featured. chosen with Mr. Kapoor. and actress Nargis. In 1954, Mr. Kumar won the all-new Filmfare Award for Best Actor for his performance as an alcoholic in the tragic love story “Daag” (“The Spot”). He won seven other Filmfare Best Actor statuettes in addition to a Lifetime Achievement Award. Guinness World Records honored him on his 97th birthday for his “incomparable contribution” to Indian cinema.
Many of his early films saw him chasing inaccessible women. The 1950 melodrama “Jogan” (“Nun”) ends with him weeping over his lover’s grave. That same year, he played a character similar to Heathcliff in “Arzoo” (“Desire”), one of the three variations of “Wuthering Heights” in which he starred.
He earned the nickname Tragedy King after appearing in a series of dramas that a psychiatrist said took their toll on his health. In the 1951 film “Deedar” (“Sight”), he plays a blind man whose sight is restored through surgery, but who is blind again when he realizes that he and the surgeon are in love with him. the same woman. (To prepare for the role, Mr. Kumar observed a blind beggar at Bombay Central Station.)
One of Mr. Kumar’s best-known tragedies is Bimal Roy’s “Devdas” (1955), about a man who becomes an alcoholic when his childhood sweetheart abandons him.
Mr. Kumar’s love life made headlines; he had relationships with actresses Kamini Kaushal, Madhubala (they starred in the 1960 blockbuster “Mughal-e-Azam”, about upset lovers, long after their break-up) and Saira Banu, whom he married in 1966 at the age of 44. and she was 22 years old. In the 1980s, while still married to Ms. Banu, Mr. Kumar secretly married socialite Asma Rehman. The news quickly broke and the marriage became a scandal, but Ms. Banu stayed with Mr. Kumar, who ended the second marriage.
He is survived by Mrs. Banu.
Professionally, Mr. Kumar’s record was impeccable, with films that not only were successful, but left a lasting impact. Films like “Naya Daur” (“New Era”) in 1957, “Yahudi” (“The Jews”) in 1958, “Madhumati” also in 1958, and “Ram Aur Shyam” (“Ram and Shyam”) in 1967 are still in memory.
Mr. Kumar found fewer roles in the 1970s, with younger, more nimble actors as heroes, and he took a break.
He returned in 1981 with a blockbuster, “Kranti” (“Revolution”), which reshaped his on-screen character into an older moral center. He has had similar roles in high-star mega-productions like “Vidhaata” (“The Creator”) in 1982, “Karma” in 1986, Saudagar (“The Merchant”) in 1991 and especially “Shakti”, in which he was chosen. for the first time against reigning Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan.
Mr. Kumar’s last film was “Qila” (“Fort”), released in 1998. At that time, one reviewer wrote in India Today, his style seemed “more than just outdated, it’s prehistoric”, adding: “Dilip Kumar’s feature film – dialogue delivery is not synchronized with time.
Mr. Kumar received the Padma Bhushan, one of India’s highest civilian honors, in 1991; the Dadasaheb Phalke, India’s highest honor for cinematic excellence, in 1994; and the Padma Vibhushan in 2015. From 2000 to 2006, he was a member of the Rajya Sabha, the upper house of Parliament.
But these Indian government honors consumed far less newsprint than the Pakistani government’s 1998 decision to bestow its highest civilian honor, Nishan-e-Imtiaz. Amid heightened religious tensions, Mr. Kumar has been branded anti-national by Hindu politicians who have asked him to return the prize to Pakistan. He does not have. He said in his autobiography that making it “could only have further soured relations and produced bad vibes between India and Pakistan”.
Those words proved Mr. Kumar to be a tactful off-screen diplomat.
On screen, his characters would engage in a more rebellious rhetoric. In the 1974 era drama “Sagina”, when called a traitor, his character replied, “If you have drunk your mother’s milk” – meaning, if you are man enough – “then come get me.”
Even in this larger-than-life setting, there was a hint of realism that defined it.
Moujib Mashal contributed reports.