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Few actors in Bollywood have had as many clones as Dilip Kumar. The assertion would seem like the greatest note of flattery in a film industry that survives and thrives on being ‘inspired’, more than superlatives such as star, superstar, megastar, thespian — even legend, for the word is often loosely used in Bollywood.
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Dilip Kumar, who passed away on Wednesday in Mumbai at the age of 98, was always the benchmark. He had a direct impact on many actors who worked in his time, from the 40s to the 90s. He continues to indirectly impact actors post 90s too, for those who fashioned their acting after him continue to influence many rank newcomers of today. We look back on the actor and some of the lesser known stories about his career in the spotlight.
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A change of name: Yusuf Khan was given the moniker of Dilip Kumar by scriptwriter Bhagwati Charan Varma. There are several theories on what prompted a name change. While some stories claim that when Dilip Kumar finally made up his mind to join Bombay Talkies as an actor, he asked Devika Rani that he would work under a stage name to keep it from his family, especially his father. He was given three choices: Jahangir, Vasudev and Dilip Kumar. Anything but Yusuf Khan, he said. Other stories claim the renaming was not to conceal his Muslim identity as many believed but rather, it was in deference to the Hollywood tradition in those days of having screen names — much like Norma Jean became Marilyn Monroe.
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Method acting: Filmmaker Nitin Bose directed Dilip Kumar in the profound love tragedy ‘Deedar’ (1951), which won him the sobriquet Tragedy King. It was also the first major attempt, and an extremely successful one, at method acting by the thespian. He spent a lot of time with a blind fakir on the roads of Mumbai (then Bombay) to immerse himself in the character.
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Taking charge: There are other tales about Dilip Kumar’s method acting as well. The most widely known pertains to the self-produced ‘Ganga Jamuna’ (pictured) the Nitin Bose directorial of 1961 that, many whisper, was ghost-directed by the actor himself. Coming immediately after his 1961 superhit ‘Mughal-e-Azam’, Dilip Kumar is said to have run all around the studio premise, to the point of collapsing, in order to get the right look and feel for his death scene in the film. The performance is counted among one of the finest by any male actor in mainstream Bollywood, and plot of the film would find resonance in many subsequent Hindi hits, notably ‘Deewar’.
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One of Bollywood’s Triumvirate: By 1948, only four years into the industry, Dilip Kumar had as many as five releases that year — ‘Ghar Ki Izzat’, ‘Shaheed’, ‘Mela’, ‘Anokha Pyar’ and ‘Nadiya Ke Paar’. By the time the last film of the year released and went on to become the biggest hit of 1948, Dilip Kumar was one of Bollywood’s exciting new sensations along with two others — Raj Kapoor and Dev Anand. The trio would go on to define Hindi cinema in the next decade, and be called Bollywood’s Triumvirate. Together, they continue to shine the brightest at the mention of the Golden Fifties of Hindi cinema.
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Childhood friends: According to Bollywood lore, Dilip Kumar and Raj Kapoor were said to be his childhood friend from Peshawar, Pakistan. They would collaborate on screen in Mehboob Khan’s 1949 love triangle ‘Andaz’ that co-starred the inimitable Nargis. The film was a superhit upon release.
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Hollywood break: According to stories from the history books on Bollywood, legendary Hollywood filmmaker David Lean had offered Dilip Kimar the role of Sherif Ali in ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ but the actor declined, giving Egyptian Omar Sharif the break of his life culminating in an Oscar nomination for the 1962 blockbuster.
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Bout with depression: The moniker of Tragedy King was not an easy one for Dilip Kumar to handle. So deep under the skin of his tragic characters — especially ‘Devdas’ — did Kumar go that he had to consult a psychologist in London who advised him to take a break from such intense roles and choose some light, leisurely ones. And that’s how ‘Kohinoor’ and ‘Leader’ happened. Again, Kumar enthralled the cinegoers with his comic timing and showed that he was at equal ease with comedy as well.
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No time for direction: Despite five decades of acting Dilip Kumar never released a film as director. That said, there are tales of him being involved with direction twice. He is said to have directed the 1966 drama ‘Dil Diya Dard Liya’, along with the officially-mentioned helmer, Abdul Rashid Kardar, though he isn’t credited as a director for the project. Decades later, he would launch the self-starring ‘Kalinga’, with Jackie Shroff, Meenakshi Sheshadri and Amitoj Mann. Some say the film was shot, though it never saw light of day.
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Close bonds: Actor Riteish Deshmukh paid a special tribute to the veteran star with a series of images showcasing their special bond through the years. “Every actor that faces the camera today will thank Dilip Sahab for the being their teacher. Truly an institution. Am completely heartbroken today, will miss his pat on my back, his smile with a twinkle in the eye and fond kisses on my forehead. Dilip Sahab you will always be the king amongst kings. Greatest of all times. You were a hero to every generation. Rest in glory Sir. My deepest condolences to Saira ji, the entire family, loved ones and millions of fans across the globe.”
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Working with Amitabh Bachchan: It was a historical moment for cinema when Ramesh Sippy brought together Dilip Kumar and Amitabh Bachchan for ‘Shakti’. Few know that Raj Babbar was originally considered for the role that was later immortalised by Bachchan. Sippy said that it was Bachchan himself who approached the filmmaker wanting to be considered for the role of the son to Dilip Kumar. “He had become such a big star by then. One felt it wouldn’t be fair to him and to his fans. But the temptation of bringing these two actors (Dilip Kumar and Amitabh Bachchan) together was overpowering. We were eternally grateful to Mr Bachchan, the superstar by then, for offering his services. If he hadn’t come forward to do the role we’d have never gone to him for a son’s role in a Dilip Kumar film. I owe what Shakti became as much to Mr Bachchan as Salim-Javed,” Sippy told Bollywood Hungama.
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Bond with Madhuri Dixit Nene: Few know that Dilip Kumar actually shared a strong bond with the veteran actress. “Every now & then some individuals come along who single-handedly alter the present & write history... One such legend was Dilip saab for the world of cinema,” tweeted the actress following the news of his death. “I was fortunate to have spent some time with him both on & off screen and I’ll cherish those memories forever. Praying for the peace of his departed soul & my heartfelt condolence to the family.”
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