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Am I really 85, asks Dilip Kumar

Dilip Kumar celebrates his 85th birthday today. The legendary actor speaks with Roshmila Bhattacharya.

entertainment Updated: Dec 11, 2007 12:59 IST
Roshmila Bhattacharya

They don’t make them like him any more. You know that already. But you may not know that he loves his evening constitutional around Joggers’ Park, is absolutely fanatical about the right blend of tea with khaara biscuits and has an enviable collection of books and memorabilia at his Pali Hill bungalow. Without much more ado, then, here’s bringing in his birthday with heart and cheer. Dilip Kumar confabulates with Roshmila Bhattacharya.

Given the child still lurking in you, do you still look forward to birthday gifts? What do you expect on your 85th birthday?
My wife likes to surprise me with gifts. In fact, it's always Saira (Banu) who counts the days till my birthday every year. She makes the day special.. When Appaji (Saira's mother Naseem) was with us, she would invariably supervise a sumptuous feast for the guests.

The house would be dressed up with lovely flower arrangements. Now Saira has taken over with the management skills inherited from her mother. As for my 85th birthday, am I really 85?

Fact file

Yusuf Khan was born in 1922.

He was the fifth child of Mohammed Sarwar Khan and Ayesha Begum, in a family of 13 brothers and sisters

He ran an army canteen for British soldiers in Pune. To supplement the measly pay of Rs 36 a month, he sold fruit

He came to Bombay Talkies looking for a job as a writer. He was spotted by DevikaRani and landed the lead role in Jwar Bhata in 1944. He drew a salary of Rs 1000 a month with Rs 200 extra as 'war allowance'

He was advised to change his name. There was a choice of three Dilip Kumar, Jahangir and Vasudev. It was reportedly DevikaRani who finalised the name Dilip Kumar.

His first big hit was the NitinBose-directed Milan ('46)

He sang a song with LataMangeshkar in Musafir, LaaginahinchuuteRamachaahe

He learnt to play the sitar for Kohinoor

He was fascinated with Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights and played Heathcliff in three films - Mela , Arzoo and DilDiya DardLiya

For Mughal-e-Azam, he had a special wig made in London. He was initially reluctant to play Salim because he reasoned that he did not look like a prince

He was honoured with the title of PadmaBhushan in '91 and the DadasahebPhalke Award in '95

He married SairaBanu in '66 at the age of 44

He was offered Omar Sharif's role in Lawrence of Arabia but he refused. He also turned down Mehboob Khan's Mother India

Which birthday brings back the fondest memories?
The night I made my grand entry into this world, in Peshawar. I believe there was a fire on the street where we had our sprawling house. There was a lot of commotion, it took a while for the midwife to arrive and attend to my frail, delicate mother.

I would be told this story by my mother, grandmother, uncles and aunts every year on my birthday. Naturally I was led to imagine that I had the most eventful and unforgettable birth among my brothers and sisters.. since there were no dramatic stories about their arrival in this world.

Several books have been written on you but we've been waiting for an autobiography or authorised biography for years. When can we expect it?
The autobiography will be in your hands early next year, inshallah. It is my story told by me, so you can expect several facts which are not common knowledge.

In your time the reigning trio were Dilip Kumar, Raj Kapoor and Dev Anand. Today, it is the Khans - Aamir, Salman and Shah Rukh. Do you see any similarities in the trinity?
Every actor has his own skills. Excellent scripts and sensitive directors bring out the best in actors. Aamir, Salman and Shah Rukh have had deserving opportunities to prove their merit. In our times, we worked on a difficult terrain. The medium was evolving.

We were all part of the discoveries cinema was making as a means of mass communication. We didn't have great examples to follow. That was good in a way because each one of us could develop our own style.

This is the age of remakes. What did you think of the remake of Devdas?
I am not much in favour of remaking well-remembered films, the classics. Yes, colouring and technical upgrading of black-and white classics makes sense. I found both Mughal-e-Azam and Naya Daur more visually interesting in their coloured versions.

I don't think Ravi Chopra expected to gain monetarily from the re-release of Naya Daur in colour. It was his tribute to his father B R Chopra who consistently made films which were socially relevant. I think Ravi picked Naya Daur because of its relevance to the materialism we see around us today.

The colour version of Mughal-e-Azam was well-received but not the new Naya Daur. Has the trend of colourising and updating classics lost its novelty?
I certainly hope it hasn't. There are several scripts and stories which I wanted to film and also act in. Who knows, I may just wake up one fine morning and tell Saira, "Come, let's make a film together." There are so many exceptional and uncommon scripts that are pertinent to our lives today.

What is your take on the new star kids like Ranbir Kapoor?
I think Ranbir has immense potential. He has the best features of his father and of his mother. I also foresee an impressive career for Sonam Kapoor. She comes across as a spontaneous actress. I felt very happy seeing them in Saawariya because of the warm relationship I have with their parents and grandparents.

When you look back which moment and movie would you single out? Is there any film you regret refusing or never completing?
I have no special attachment to any film I worked in. I worked with equal zest and dedication in all my films. Honestly, I've still to figure out how an intensely shy young man called Yusuf Khan became the actor Dilip Kumar.

You have not been keeping well for a while now.. are you better now?
I am grateful to you and others for the concern and affection. I'm fine except for the occasional common cold and viral fever which are so much a part of life in Mumbai. A bit of vertigo compels me to stay indoors once in a while. Otherwise every new day has a new splendour, a new surprise in store for me.