Yusuf sahab (Dilip Kumar, no one calls him Dilip Kumar in Pakistan) se milna filmi tawareekh ke auraaq ko palatne ki maanind hai.” (Meeting Yusuf sahab is like flipping through the pages of film history), tellingly told me a Pakistani film-journalist friend of mine, Nisar Ahmad. So very true.
Having met Dilip Kumar a few times at Turf Club, Poona and interviewed him for Indian and Pakistani Urdu and Pashto dailies, I daresay, the man is an institution and a treasure-trove of cinematic as well as worldly wisdom. I first met him in 2002. I got an assignment from a Pashto daily in Peshawar to interview him. I told him in Pashto that I frequently visited Pakistan to teach Qura’an and Islamic Theology and that Persian was my mother tongue. Having heard my Pashto, he was surprised beyond words.
“Barkhurdar, iss daur-e-raftaar mein Pashto kaun bolta hai?” (Who speaks Pashto in this fast-paced age?). He admitted that his Pashto became rusty due to lack of practice, having lived most of his life in Bombay and India. He is a magnificent raconteur and his Urdu diction is just fabulous and flawless. Extremely knowledgeable and well-read, he’d quote his favourite Urdu poet Faiz Ahmad Faiz with the same ease and felicity as he would quote Pablo Neruda.
Never in the habit of blowing his own trumpet, Dilip sahab, didn't talk much about his own films. He humbly told me that he was destined to become an actor. That people called him a great actor or superstar was a bonus! He spoke at length on Satyajit Ray, Elia Kazan, Fellini and Francois Truffaut’s immortal cinematic masterpieces and even analysed Fellini’s most recondite film Eight and a half. He told me that he learnt Avadhi from Shakeel Badayuni to act in the blockbuster Ganga-Jamuna (1961) and learnt the rustic dancing steps from Chandrabali Pandey of Balia, Eastern UP. That he remembered the name of the man, who taught him rustic dance of Eastern UP, flummoxed me.
Dilip Kumar is gifted with a marvellous sense of music and plays piano like a pro. He played the piano for the song Aaj ki raat mere dil ki salami le le (Film: Ram aur Shyam, 1967). I didn’t know that Rafi’s immortal ghazal, Koi saaghar dil ko bahlata nahin... (Film: Dil Diya Dard Liya, 1966) was based on raag Kalavati and it was the only song composed by Naushad Ali that was based on this difficult raag. He expatiated upon the raag Kalavati!
By the way, Koi saaghar dil ko bahlata nahin... is Dilip Kumar’s favourite number. While telling me about his equation with Rafi, he told me that the legendary singer knew it very well, how he (Dilip Kumar) spoke and was alive to all his screen mannerisms. “Yahi vajah hai ke ve mere liye hi nahin balki sabke liye dil se gaa paaye (That’s the reason, not just for me, Rafi could sing so well for all),” he told me about the great singer with a profound sense of gratitude who sang innumerable immortal numbers for the thespian.
I met Dilip Kumar again after a few years when I gifted him the soil from his ancestral house at Qissa-Khwani in Peshawar, Pakistan. He was on cloud nine and cried. To meet the man is really an exhilarating, nay ennobling, experience because he talks little about himself and talks sense with his measured pauses. Isn’t it an extremely desirable trait that today's actors must learn from him? Long live, Yusuf sahab.
(Sumit Paul is an advanced research scholar of Semitic languages, cultures, religions and civilisations. He teaches linguistics, psycho-linguistics and philology at world’s premier varsities and contributes to world's leading publications and portals in various languages.)