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Dilip Kumar 99*



There are boundaries for all performing human beings. There are levels of achievement that define even an artist’s limits. It often happens that we recognise these limits and place the artist in certain compartments. So we have, in the popular field of cinema, creative artistes whose work places them in specific categories. Take, for instance, actors. We have actors who excel in tragic roles, and we give them a pigeonhole in which other similar performers are also placed. We have comedians who make us laugh with their humour and funny antics. We have performers whose stand-out oeuvre is dancing. There are other areas of specialisations.
There are the rarest of rare actors who defy all classifications. They can perform all aspects of human emotions, and with such finesse that it becomes impossible to single out which aspect is the one that shines brightest in their corpus. I would unhesitatingly put Dilip Kumar in this haloed hall of fame. He is unmatched, be it as a tragic character, a happy-go-lucky prankster, a village simpleton, a polished and elegant educated elite, or one of those many other avatars.
I will talk of a few songs that he brought to life on screen.
‘Devdas’ was the film which brought for him the title of ‘Tragedy King’. So convincing he was in that role, that one film after another was being written to fit him into the character of a loser in all aspects of life. There is a song from this film ‘Mitwa, lagi re yeh kaisi anbujh aag’ sung by Talat Mehmood and composed by Sachin Dev Burman. In Bimal Roy’s black and white masterpiece from 1955, Kamal Bose’s camera is focussed on the emptiness in the thespian’s eyes. One sees in them unspeakable deprivations, those that inhabit the world of a forlorn lover. If one looks at the actor’s body language, each movement and posture brings out the pathos there is in the lyrics of the song. It takes a truly great actor to achieve that level of finesse.
If the ‘Devdas’ song stands out for Dilip Kumar’s exceptional portrayal of a complete loser in love, his most enjoyable dance to the number ‘Nain lad jahiye to manwama kasak huibe kari’ , in the film ‘Ganga Jumna’ (1961), depicts the palpable expression of a young man head over heels in love. There is an innocent expression on his face which is accompanied by a smile which speaks to the viewer. Perhaps no one did more justice to the silken voice of Mohammed Rafi on screen than Dilip Kumar in this song.
Yet another number that places Dilip Saab’s craft in a bracket untouched by others is from ‘Mughal-e-Azam’ (1960). The song ‘Shubh din aayo’, sung by Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan Sahab, is one in which Prince Salim, played by Dilip Kumar, has some romantic time to spend with his love Anarkali, played by the beauteous Madhubala. No words are exchanged, there are no ostensible movements, yet such intense romance is displayed in the eyes of the lovers that this scene is often quoted as one of the finest romantic sequences in the annals of cinema.
Departing completely from these three numbers is a song from the film ‘Sagina’ (1974). ‘Sala mein to sahab ban gaya’ is picturised on a simple labourer Sagina, who is elevated to the position of a union leader by scheming masters. In a celebration of his elevation to a position which the simpleton reckons places him above other labourers, Sagina sings this song. Primarily a comedy song, it also has the undercurrent of what lies underneath—deceit. The body language of Dilip Saab is a lesson in how to act out such scenes.
Many other songs come to mind: ‘Madhuban mein radhika nache re’ from Koh-i-noor, ‘Mere pairon mein ghunghru bandha de’ from Sangharsh, ‘Udein jab jab zulfen teri’ from Naya Daur, ‘Aaj ki raat mere dil ki salami lele’ from Ram aur Shyam, to illustrate the sweep of emotions that this Kohinoor of Indian cinema had the capability of displaying while lip-syncing songs.
Dilip Saab, who passed away in July this year, would have entered the 100th year of his illustrious life on 11 December. He lives amongst all of us, even today, as we remember all the unforgettable moments of pleasure his portrayals on the silver screen gave us. We laughed with him, we cried with him, we empathised with the characters he lived on the screen; he gave us enough for lifetimes.

(The writer is a former IPS officer and best-selling author)