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Dilip Kumar: Are You Really His Fan?



Dilip Kumar

You cannot be  a fan of Hindi cinema if you are not a fan of two of its supreme icons: Dilip Kumar and  Lata Mangeshkar.

Dilip Kumar and Lata Ji  define every important  moment  in the evolution  of Indian cinema.

We lost one  of  them  on July 7.  Do we even  realize the enormity  of  the loss? Calling him an  icon and institutionalizing him  doesn’t help.We do that to every artiste  who  dies. We  love to worship the dead. Dilip Kumar practised method acting long before it was invented . At a time when the louder you screamed the better actor you were  concerned(this tragically remains  true even today)  Dilip Saab mastered the skill of understatement.

To him, less was  most decidedly more. Not just more, but the most. When he  lip-synced songs on  the screen  in his two favourite voices of  Talat Mahmood  and Mohd Rafi(he favoured  the former above the  latter) he  wasn’t ‘caught’ singing. This is a mistake some of our finest actors make . They open their mouth so wide  while lip-syncing  they look like fish  out of water.

I once brought this  up with  Dilip Saab , and he laughed, “Arrey Bhaikaun asli  zindagi mein utna mooh  khoolkhol  ke gata hai. In real life you  scarcely see the mouth moving. You watch my  little sister Lata (Mangeshkar)  recording in the studio. Her lips hardly move.Nor does she contort her face  to induce emotions. In  real life  as in the movies my  endeavour is to act normal.”

We talk about artistes and actors being ahead  of their times. But do we really know what it means to be truly  ahead  of one’s times? Watch Dilip Saab in Bimal Roy’s  Devdas and the lesser-known Yehudi,  or watch him Mehboob Khan’s grossly underrated AmarNitin Bose’s Deedar(where he  playeda blind man  so effortlessly you  couldn’t tell he was  blind, and that’s how it is  in real life  where  the blind don’t stumble over furniture in  their own house), Ramesh Saigal’s Shikast  , the great Amiya Chakravarty’s Daag  , Zia Sarhadi unseen  gem Footpath , or S S Vasan’s  Insaniyat….these are all masterclasses  in acting…on  non-acting, or acting as  if  not acting.

It is  not a coincidence that  all the above  classic performances came in   the 1950s in the black-and-white era. This  was the decade where Dilip Kumar proved he was unlike  any other. An actor who  didn’t  act.A  singer who didn’t sing. A  lover who  didn’t have to  scream out his love.He  didn’t have to do anything. The  performances  in 1950 display a subtlety that is  hard to beat  to this day. I  don’t know any male  actor in India to match Dilip Saab’s silent  eloquence, except perhaps Fahadh Faasil.

By the  1960s Dilip Saab’s performances became more flamboyant, more  ….shall we say..accessible. The  subtleties were  opened up .Colour was  in.  Ganga Jumna, Ram aur Shyam  and Sungharsh were all about letting the fans  know he was the best.This flamboyant  trend  continued   in the 1970s in Gopi and Sagina.Talat Mahmood was  gone.Mahendra Kapoor was  in.

I don’t think  the Indian audience has even begun to appreciate  the  sheer  histrionic mastery  of that institution named Dilip Kumar. The 1950s  is filled with his  remarkably  rarefied  performances.The Thespian ‘s characters  in Mehboob Khan’s Andaz and  R C Talwar’s Sangdil whisper  the  mysteries and  whims  of life  in a language is  rare refined and  articulate  without ever  getting  aggressive or insistent.

At his  best  Dilip Kumar was   that actor  who  didn’t need to act. At his worst…he was  an  actor  letting you know he could act better than any actor  in  the world.


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