Dilip Kumar Acting School – Part 1
Today the incomparable Dilip Kumar (Born 11 Dec 1922) completes 92 years. At 22, he made his debut in ‘Jwar Bhata’ in 1944 and by the time he was 26, a whole generation had become mad about him.
Sometime in winter of 1977, I had a proper introduction to Dilip Kumar. A ramshackle theater in my hometown played reruns of old classics when it ran out of lurid horror trash. I never missed the black and white ones, loving it’s distinct feel, texture and romance. I was 10 when I saw ‘Mela which celebrated the paradoxical theme of inevitable death and the interminable thread of life through generations.
Through its lilting music, dramatic photography, beautiful dialogue and a nascently pure love story, the film seemed to suggest: “Life is short, love is long.” Shakeel’s lyrics, “Yeh Zindagi Ke Mele” lent a fitting mood to the film but what stood out was the actor who played Mohan.
The grace and refinement of the young man was entirely different; his facial anatomy, his expressions, his magical voice, his gestures, the puff of hair on his forehead, his whole being created a fresh image of the screen hero. The entire sequence of the death of Mohan’s father was enacted on his face. It was a face that could look innocent one moment, tough the next, submissive now, rebellious then.
For a quarter century since, he dominated the Indian film scene, his adoration unrivalled. To the connoisseurs, nothing was lost in the shifting sands of time; the enigma of the star and the mystique of his art, has not lost an iota of its communication force and emotional appeal as our present time passes into the dark unknown of the Future.
Dilip was five films old at the time of Mela. I was sure that this face must once have mirrored the hopes and aspirations of the post partition generation. Thus, out of Mela was born a youthful screen image passionately in love with Love, Life and Tragedy all of which Dilip Kumar, then 25, came to personify. A star was born, a legend began taking shape.
In analysing his career, one must begin with his limitations; his own and those inherent in his situation and setting, and the way he overcame them. His first limitation was being a Punjabi. The Punjabis are enterprising, dashing and rambunctious by nature. A land locked people their contact with outside world was mostly commercial. They invaded the Indian cultural scene in a void caused by the Partition of India and unlike, Maharashtrians or South Indians they did not have a classical base to fall back on.
Dilip Kumar joined by accident. On his own admission, he was a shy boy, good at active pursuits like football, a game combining individual effort with collective effort (the collaborative art of the film). But he was honest, dedicated and sensitive, and brought these qualities to bear upon his calling. Being a Pathan (which made him racially slightly different from a Punjabi), he was strong-willed and imbued with a sense at sacrifice.
His will power sustained him through challenges and his sense of sacrifice helped him develop a discriminate preference for the fundamental as against the expedient. Being a Muslim, he had a strength of conviction, a characteristic of orthodox Muslim middle class, which enabled him to overcome the lust for money and quick fame in the most mercurial phase of his career— 1944 to 1948 when intoxicated by success at an early age of 25 he could have been blown off his feet.
Post Mela, in quick succession came a number of romantic tragedies which were used by Dilip Kumar to harness his image as an embodiment of unrequited love – a yearning shared by every heart. Millions of hearts throbbed when Dilip suffered rejection, separation or betrayal in love and cried with him in the darkness of the movie theatre.
No actor had so suddenly and so intensely involved the audiences in his portrayals as Dilip did. While adoring millions copied him with unconcealed pride, Dilip Kumar went on making films, not as they came his way but as he wanted them. Film after film Dilip Kumar the actor, became a phenomenon, ever deeper and enigmatic. No one but he alone knew what he was doing, where he was going.
After making five films in 1948 and while riding the crest of popularity, he suddenly recoiled and began working in not more than 2-3 films at a time. Rejecting lucrative offers, he turned away a line of producers and then came out with all his prismatic brilliance in his chosen roles. He shunned publicity, lived in magnificent isolation, was rarely seen in public, guarding his private life, every bit of this adding to the mystery of the man. His two strapped chappals, his white shirt over white trousers, every bit of his outward self was an object of adulation.
He shunned advertisements and stage shows. There was only one place we could see him, know him, ‘feel’ him; the movie screen, where his very first appearance in a film would be greeted with thunderous applause by the audience.
But what was happening to Dilip himself was even more fascinating. While in the public mind the legend was growing into a human ideal, Dilip, the actor, was constantly reappraising and reshaping himself into a finely chiselled artiste, role after role. No one knew that beyond the studio walls he was busy studying Stanislavsky, classical and contemporary theatre philosophy and comparative religions and cultures.
While many of his colleagues were practicing the theory of making hay while the sun shines, Dilip was evolving a style, experimenting with it and was growing within. ‘Andaz’, ‘Jogan’, ‘Deedar’, and ‘Hulchul’ had become the new histrionic light houses for the fumbling, aspiring actors. The ‘nastik’ of ‘Jogan’, and blind singer of ‘Deedar’ and the hungry job seeking youth of ‘Hulchul’ made a whole generation crazy.
But he never looked back. He had no time for it. Came Daag’ and the alcoholic Shankar became a talked about character. With utter unconcern, Dilip turned up as Vijay of ‘Aan’, Mehboob‘s musical extravanganza. “A new Dilip,” cried a thrilled industry. Dilip continued to develop new moulds, patterns and techniques.
Each subsequent film added to the succession of studied performances with complex acting techniques. A line up of three exquisite films – ‘Amar’, ‘Foot Path’ and ‘Shikast’ came and proved, if proof was needed, that the highest paid actor, with a mass following second only to that of Jawaharlal Nehru, was also the greatest acting phenomenon of India. His fans were taken by complete surprise by Dilip when he appeared as a self tormenting ‘Devdas’ and the dare-devil ‘Azaad’.
Leaving the audiences spellbound, Dilip took a leap forward and came up with ‘Naya Daur’, ‘Madhumati’ and ‘Paigham. Then came ‘Gunga Jumna’ and all earlier identities and images were forgotten as though the vibrant, virile Gunga, brought about a new apogee in screen acting and an ideal of perfection and excellence.
The man who directed his own growth and engineered his own excellence and perfection could hardly rest and wait. Having developed the most complex acting techniques and mastered the art of the spectroscopy of emotions, Dilip Kumar abruptly broke himself away from the immaturity that surrounded him in the form of his roles and took up the challenge of portraying the duality of human mind, the black and the white within the same being. From ‘Dil Diya Dard Liya’ to ‘Daastan’, he created a series of vivid, cubistic portraits of human mind. From an emotional experience, his acting now became an intellectual exercise and an aesthetic delight.
Producers continued to offer him fancy prices, but he would not barter away his excellence. He was an actor ‘felt’ by his audiences. He gave torment a face, grief a voice and emotion a colour. He raised acting to the level of fine art. He became the ideal and the inspiration of every undergraduate in acting. Directors queued up to work with him.
The advertisement announcing the commencement of ‘Sunghursh’ read: H S Rawail fulfils the ambition of his lifetime by casting Dilip Kumar. R K Nayyar, protesting against Dilip’s refusal to work for him, cried to him: “Why do you stand between me and immortality?” By making one film with Dilip Kumar (Azaad), S. M. S. Naidu created history at the box office. One Dilip starrer (Ram aur Shyam) gave B. Nagi Reddy the biggest boost of his life. With one Dilip film (Naya Daur), B. R. Chopra captured new heights of success.
To work opposite Dillp Kumar remained the cherished dream of almost every Indian actress. It was Nargis who made seven films with Dilip, each one of them distinguished by their excellent performances. Although Raj – Nargis gained more popularity through off screen shenanigans, Nargis – Dilip is the finest star pair in the history of Indian cinema. While a talented, though typed artiste like Meena Kumari could never shine opposite Dilip Kumar, at least two others – Nimmi and Nalini Jaywant almost challenged Dilip Kumars supremacy in their co-starrers.
Note: Part 2 of this post shall follow shortly.