On December 11 India’s greatest living actor Dilip Kumar turns 94.
Though unwell the Thespian who re-wrote every rule of acting in mainstream Hindi cinema hardly looks his age. That trademark twinkle in eloquent eyes remains where it was. The face crinkles up into a 5-year old’s innocent smile and the words flow in a constant stream-like rush of urgent expressions.
I remember some years ago telling him on his birthday he looked no more than 60, Dilip Kumar almost blushed and retorted mischievously, “Oh, the news about my age 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.”
In spite of childlike 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, y’know”) there is a sheen of sadness surrounding this timeless acting genius.
Yusuf Saab recalls how disappointed his father was when young Yusuf decided not to join the family’s fruit-growing business. “He was very annoyed when I got into films. But then he heard other people whom he respected relishing the idea.
Once Maulana Azad whom everyone revered, heard my father commenting caustically on one of his sons drifting into films, and what to do? Maulana Saab intervened on my behalf and said there’s no telling what the future holds for anyone. He also told my father to be proud of his son’s achievements and implored him to be patient with my aspirations. I had no training in acting whatsoever and I wouldn’t have dared to venture into films were it not for my family’s financial conditions. The Second World War was extremely hard on the horticulture business and I had to supplement the family income.”
During one of our last conversations his heart was heavy about the state of the nation. “Believe me, iss qadar jee bharaa hua hai ke hum poochte hain hum kahan ud ke jayen? Where can I go to escape the barbarism of my own people It’s heartening to think that even today there are rational elements , specially among the younger generation whom one sees challenging the politicians of the country, asking them where they intend to take us.”
Yusuf Saab is particularly worried about the future of the Indian Muslim. “The Muslims will soon become a part of history. Every civilization is cyclic and must end. My personal view is, that the Indian Muslim population may eventually be annihilated. But it won’t end there. The process of destroying civilizations will continue. 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 Vedas with as much reverence as the Quran. The messages in our holy book and yours are identical. Kyon kha-ma-khamein donon mein discrimate karoon?”
He ruled out an active political career for himself. “It’s a venue for screaming and indiscipline. Ekaadmi kuch bhi nahin karsakta. He can perish in trying to make his voice heard. I’ve now crossed my 80th year. 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.”
Last I remember India’s most revered actor begins to walk around the lawn of his spacious bungalow, lost in deep thought.
Excerpts From One Of My Intervews With Dilip Saab
Dilip Kumar On Love Life & The Love Of Life
By Subhash K Jha
Do awards have any meaning for you any longer?
Oh yes, they do!. When you hold it in your hand or keep it next to you on the bed when you go to sleep, the trophy is a tangible reminder of yo
Cinema buffs think of you all the time. There’s no Indian cinema without Dilip Kumar.
That’s kind of you. My wife Saira keeps reminding me of all the people I’ve to thank for calling and congratulating me. She’s very very busy, you know.
She has to be, she has to look after the biggest and most famous baby in India.
Han, yeh aapbe bilkul sach kaha. I’m grateful to God for giving me such a girl as a friend and companion who has given everything to me. I’m indebted to her in every possible way. When anyone calls, when anything needs my attention, Saira makes a note. There’s no aspect of my life that she doesn’t touch with her generosity.
Would it be possible to be the person you are without her contribution?
No, not possible. Saira keeps me in touch with what’s going on around me. The children of yesterday have grown up. Some know how to conduct themselves well, others not so well. I’ve to deal with both kinds. Sairaji helps
She’s more like a mother to you than wife now.
Oh yes. She has a much higher designation than a wife in my life. Sometimes she gets angry with or without reason . Even now she’s monitorin
How do you react when Amitabh Bachchan says he regrets you not winning an award for Ganga Jumna?
I feel touched. At that time when we made Ganga Jumna I toiled very hard. But I didn’t know the film would reach so far . Even today people are singing those songs from the film.
Have you ever thought of writing an autobiography?
Yes, I have thought of this. And I’ve written it all down. Saira has all the papers. She’s collaborating with her journalist-friend Udaya Tara Nayar to put it together. I told Saira to get someone who assembles my life story with some concern rather than disinterest. I want it to come out sounding positive and saying good things in goods words about the people I’ve known.
Have you told the absolute truth about your life in the book?
Not everything. That isn’t possible. There’re so many and varied experiences. And I haven’t forgotten any of them. Mujhe sab baatein yaad rehti hai. I rember acting drunk in dirty clothes , staggering by a garbage can for Devdas.
Were you really drunk in Devdas?
No! That would make it impossible to work, bhai! As for my biography, even you won’t be able to tell the whole truth about your life. Why do you want me to tire myself talking about it? When the book is published I’ll certainly send you a copy.
Who’s the most unforgettable heroine you worked with besides Sairaji?
(ponders for minutes) I could name anyone. But that doesn’t seem right.
Would it be Madhubala, Meena Kumari, Nargis?….
(laughs) How easy it is for you to rattle off those names. It isn’t that easy for me.
They were all memorable in their own way, weren’t they?
Not all . Not at all. There were some who were uncaring and worthy …they were hard to work with. Even today I feel uncomfortable talking about them. Yes there were some co-stars in whom there was a lack of civility. Luckily I had reached a position where they couldn’t misbehave with me.
What advice for today’s film fraternity?
They need to invest their emotions wisely. Even I made many mistakes.
You haven’t been seen on screen for a long time?
I can’t see a subject of substance of which I’d like to be part of.
Any unfulfilled dreams?