A gentleman actor whose intensity shone on screen: Waheeda Rehman on Dilip Kumar
Dilip saab was suffering for a long time and we all knew that this day would come. But we also knew that when he leaves us, we would feel really upset. This is the strangeness of human reactions, you see.
My first film with Dilip saab was Dil Diya Dard Liya (1966), and while on the set with him, I realised that despite being such a big star and a great actor, he was extremely friendly. On the first day of our shoot, I was a bit nervous. As a new actor, when you work with someone so big and established, it’s natural to feel like that. But, he himself walked over to me and asked, ‘How are you feeling?’, and that put me at ease. He was that sort of a person.
I did three more films with him — Ram Aur Shyam (1967), Aadmi (1968), and Mashaal (1984) — and we both shared a good bond and were very comfortable with each other.
Dil Diya unfortunately, did not do well at the box office. So, when we started working on Aadmi, Dilip saab told me, “I promise you, abki baar achhi picture banaunga, aur yeh jaroor chalegi” [This time around, we’ll make a good film and it will do well.] I told him, “Dilip saab koshish toh sabhi karte hain, kabhie kabhie miss ho jata hai” [Everyone tries their best. It’s a miss, sometimes.] But he insisted and said, “No, no, no! It has to be a good movie!”
He was very, very intense. At that time, no one else depicted that degree of intensity on the screen. He was a combination of a great star and a great actor, which is so rare. At the same time, he was a gentleman: very polite, full of tameez.
Back then, there was barely any socialising outside of work. In fact, never. Actors used to work together on the set and then go back to their respective homes. I was friendly only with Sunil Dutt and Nargis. I last met Dilip saab some nine or 10 years ago. It was at the celebrations of his birthday at his home and it was a big bash, like a wedding. He had already started to lose his memory, so at first, he could not recognise me. He was sitting on the sofa and when I went to greet him and said aadaab, and he looked at me with a quizzicla expression. So, Saira, his wife, said, “Saab yeh Waheeda ji hain” [This is Waheedaji]. His brother, Ehsaan also reminded him.
I could see that he was struggling to place me, but he wasn’t able to. He got tears in his eyes and seeing him struggle, I also got teary-eyed. It wasn’t just me. Whoever came and shook hands with him, he struggled to recognise them. His expression seemed to say: ‘I know this person but what is their name?’ It felt terrible and made me very sad. I felt bad for him that the people he has worked with, laughed and made memories with, now he is struggling to recognise them. After that I never met him.
However, Sairaji used to call sometimes, but we seldom met. The film industry is such a place that the moment the film is over, you don’t meet your co-stars at all, unless and until, god forbid, someone falls is very sick, so you call up that person to check on them. It is a very strange industry. We work day and night, sometimes months together, shoot outdoors also, but once the project is over, we start working on new productions, new films, and with new people.
We will miss Dilip saab. Back in the day, whenever a newcomer came into the film industry, the only thing they would say is, “We want to become Dilip Kumar.” If someone said this before me, I would respond: ”It is not impossible to be like Dilip Kumar but you will have to work really hard, dedicate and devote your heart into what you do.” But then, we all know, there was only one Dilip Kumar. The name that he has left behind, no one can ever come close to that. And it would never get erased from the history of the Hindi film industry. May god bless his soul.
-- As told to Monika Rawal Kukreja