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'There might be many better actors than me'

By SUBHASH K JHA
July 07, 2021 10:31 IST
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'This body is mine. And bearing its burden has become quite a task,' Dilip Kumar once told Subhash K Jha.

Whenever I met India's greatest actor, I was struck by how magnetic he looked.

Yes, Dilip Kumar was every bit the matinee idol that no longer exists in our cinema.

He was erudite and mischievous.

He could give any Brando or de Niro a run for their money with his ageless performances.

In the last 10 years of his life, he couldn't recognise anyone, but let's not go there.

 

IMAGE: Waheeda Rehman and Dilip Kumar in Ram Aur Shyam.

The Thespian, who re-wrote every rule of acting in mainstream Hindi cinema, hardly looked his age.

I remember meeting him on his 80th birthday.

That trademark twinkle in those eloquent eyes always remained.

The face crinkled up into a five-year old's innocent smile and the words flowed in a constant stream-like rush of urgent expressions.

On the day of his 80th birthday, there was a constant rush of callers and visitors. Admirers and friends like Yash Chopra, Dharmendra and even the elusive Rekha whom Dilip Kumar and his wife Saira Banu hadn't met in three years, had dropped in to wish their favourite actor and his wife at their Pali Hill bungalow.

When you tell him he looks no more than 60, Dilip Kumar almost blushes and retorts, "Oh, the news that I'm 80 is just a rumour."

When you tell him you'd like to look like he does when you reach his age, he smiles, "This body is mine. And bearing its burden has become quite a task."

 

IMAGE: Dilipsaab with Saira Banu and Lata Mangeshkar. Photograph: Kind courtesy Dilip Kumar/Twitter

In spite of child-like chuckles and bubbling banter ("I shamelessly use Saira's mobile all the time and burn up precious airtime. I shouldn't be doing be doing that, you know?'), there was a sheen of sadness surrounding this ageless acting genius in his 80s.

Dilipsaab never considered himself the greatest actor.

He once told me, "There might be many better actors than me. I had no training and wouldn't have dared to venture into films were it not for my family's financial condition."

"The second World War was extremely hard on the horticulture business. My father would grow apricots, grapes, pomegranates, apples and peaches. He would get those fruits tinned. He would proudly show me the size of the fruits and say, 'This is what I want you to grow, Yusuf. Because you're my most intelligent son'."

"He wanted me to be educated so I could enhance the family business. A friend of my father -- Fateh Mohammahd Khan -- had been honoured (by the British king). My father wanted to show the Britishers that he could grow fruits as good as his friend."

"I was very business-minded. I loved the family business, but it was a very tough life. The entire process from plucking to dispatching was very cumbersome. Bahut mushqil tha. I had to get another job with a decent salary. That's where acting came in handy."

IMAGE: Dilip Kumar in Koshish.

Yusufsaab recalls how disappointed his father was when as a young man, he decided not to join the family business.

"He was very annoyed when I got into films but then, he heard other people whom he respected relishing the idea.

"Once Maulana (Abul Kalam) Azad heard my father commenting caustically on one of his sons drifting into films, and what to do? Maulanasaab intervened on my behalf and said there's no telling what the future holds for anyone. He told my father to be proud of his son's achievements and implored him to be patient with my aspirations."

The brilliant actor saw nothing but a bleak future staring into his face.

"Believe me, iss qadar jee bharaa hua hai ke hum poochte hain hum kahan ud ke jayen? It's heartening to think that even today, there are rational elements, especially among the younger generation whom one sees challenging the politicians of the country, asking them where they intend to take us."

IMAGE: Dilip Kumar in Devdas.

Yusufsaab was particularly worried about the future of the Indian Muslim.

"I too am a Muslim. I worship my Maker the same way as you do. I never think that my God is separate from yours. My Quran says there are many apostles like Muhammed and we shouldn't discriminate against them."

"I read the Bhagavat Gita and the Vedanta with as much reverence as the Quran. The messages in our holy book and yours are identical. Kyon khamakha donon mein discrimate karoon?"

He ruled out a political career for himself.

"Ek aadmi kuch bhi nahin kar sakta. He can perish in trying to make his voice heard. I no longer have that much energy. I used to make 10-12 rounds of Jogger's Park during my morning walks. But now I can no longer go beyond three rounds. I can see time ticking away."

Time did finally run out on Yusufsaab.

Farewell, Maestro.

You are the greatest actor ever.

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SUBHASH K JHA