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The tragedy king?s golden silences

These two new biographies of Dilip Kumar are, as is evident from their titles, quite obviously sympathetic to the actor.

art and culture Updated: Jan 08, 2004 19:41 IST

Dilip Kumar: The Definitive Biography
Bunny Reuben
HarperCollins Rs 500

Dilip Kumar: The Last Emperor
Sanjit Narwekar

Rupa Price Not Given

The great thing about a good biography is that it helps to bring down people from a pedestal to levels they can be understood better. Two biographies of Dilip Kumar, Bunny Reuben’s Dilip Kumar Star Legend of Indian Cinema, the Definitive Biography and Sanjit Narwekar’s Dilip Kumar, The Last Emperor are, as is evident from their titles, obviously sympathetic to the actor. Reuben, for instance, calls him ‘The love legend’ throughout the book, in fact using it as the other name for the actor.

Yet, in telling his remarkable story — how a fruit seller’s son from Peshawar who once successfully ran a canteen in Pune rose to become one of the greatest stars of Indian cinema — they bring him a little closer to his fans. Reuben uses his close relationship with Yusuf Khan to write a voluminous books packed with details, from the time he changed his name to Dilip Kumar. That had been done as much to get a screen name as to keep from telling his father that he was working in films.

Much of his success at the time, and later, came from the essential Dilip Kumar style of dialogue delivery and his unique characterisations, the stylised pauses. The actor says about Nitin Bose, who used him in Milan and had a hand in his rise as an actor: “One thing I learned from Nitin Bose at Bombay Talkies was the value of silence — that silence is really golden at certain moments.”

His career had anything but a fairytale beginning. His first film, Jwar Bhata, was ripped apart. Critics wondered why his producers had banked on an actor who could only pull them down. There wasn’t a good word for him. He had a hollow chest, looked anaemic, couldn’t act. If he twitched his fingers in emotional scenes, critics said it was as if he was constantly in epileptic convulsions.

But as legends go, his directors gambled with him even as audiences began to accept him. Dilip Kumar himself worked hard, watched foreign films and learned the art better. Marlon Brando was one actor who ‘influenced’ him. He was even offered but did not play the role that Omar Sharif finally did in Lawrence of Arabia. He later said that he could not have acted the role better than Sharif. About acting in foreign films he said they were only a novelty and Indian cinema alone could offer him a permanent career.

Another film that came to him but he refused was Pyaasa, Guru Dutt’s film that went on to become a hit. There were apparently differences over money though it was also true that Dilip Kumar was trying to break away from the tragic mould of most of his roles. Like Dutt, Dilip Kumar had as many illustrious detractors (Dr Rahi Masoom Reza was also one of them) as friends.

Some of the spiciest chapters pertain to his romantic relations, beginning with Kamini Kaushal, his first love. It was a case of unrequited love and when Kamini finally left him, he was heartbroken and spent the day at a friend’s place, crying. That affair never showed him in poor light, though. What did was the affair with Asma, the woman he married in 1980. It showed him as weak and devious. He divorced Asma three years later but Saira Banu, in the interim was much wiser. Marriage to Indian’s screen’s Tragedy King was no longer about a dream. They were now merely a well-adjusted couple, she realised.

Both books carry a large number of photographs. The advantage with Reuben’s book is the large number of interviews with people associated with ‘The love legend’.

First Published: Jan 08, 2004 17:01 IST