“Dil ne jise paaya thha, Aankhon ne gawaya hai (found by my heart, he is now lost to my eyes) sings Dilip Kumar’s character Anand in Madhumati (1958). Lyricist Shailendra’s words in this iconic Salil Chowdhury composition echo the feelings of millions of fans mourning the demise of the 98-year-old thespian Dilip Kumar at Mumbai’s Hinduja Hospital.
As soon as the news of the veteran actor’s demise was released, the who’s who from the film industry and politics called on the legend’s residence at Bandra’s Pali Hill to offer condolences to his actress-wife Saira Bano. Among those who visited included Shabana Azmi, Javed Akhtar, Subhash Ghai, Karan Johar, Madhur Bhandarkar, Shah Rukh Khan, Ranbir Kapoor and Vidya Balan. CM Uddhav Thackeray and his son Aaditya and senior Shiv Sena leader Sanjay Raut were also among those who visited the actor’s residence.
When the actor’s mortal remains were draped in the Tricolour and taken to the same Juhu Qabrastan, where late legend Mohammed Rafi has also been laid to rest, destiny came full circle. The Shiv Sena was in the forefront of ugly protests against the conferment of Nishan-e-Imtiyaz – Pakistan’s highest civilian honour on Dilip Kumar. Then PM Atal Behari Vajpayee had come out in support of the thespian, asking the Sena to back off. Now the Shiva Sena CM Uddhav Thackeray ordered a state funeral for the Dadasaheb Phalke and Padmavibhushan awardee.
Many attributed the low-key attendance at the funeral – which Saira Bano attended – to the current Covid-19 restrictions. While several from the film fraternity had paid their last respects at his residence earlier in the day, actor Amitabh Bachchan accompanied by son Abhishek attended the funeral.
A very moved Azmi said, “Unknown to him, I’ve been an Eklavya to Dilip saab. I learned and imbibed so much from him as did countless admirers. He was unique in every way as an actor and as a person. A true, socially committed renaissance man, such was his commanding persona; he’d gather hundreds around with one call.” She added that during the 1992-93 Mumbai riots, his house became a virtual rehab centre. She said he conducted it like a general. “There will be none other like him. I bow to Saira Bi for being such an incredible caregiver,” Azmi said.
Poet-lyricist Javed Akhtar said the one adjective he associates most with Dilip Saab is his “dignity”. “Besides being an excellent actor, he was an epitome of dignity, graciousness, and refinement. He was far ahead of his time. People credit Marlon Brando for method acting, but he joined films much after Dilip Saab who did not go to any training institute but became a training institution for generations of actors that came later,” said Akhtar, adding that he “provided wheels to the younger generation who might not even know who invented the vehicle on which they ride today”.
Dharmendra also took to twitter, and later told this writer, “I remember, I once saw a fancy pen on his table which I set my heart on. Given his warmth, I simply asked him for it. And you know what? He just gave it to me without a thought. He is an actor beyond compare, but he was far greater a human being.”
Comedian Johnny Lever, who attended the funeral, said the vacuum created by Dilip Kumar’s demise can never be filled. “He was always generous with his compliments and unfailingly warmly acknowledged even rank juniors whenever he met.”
PM Narendra Modi called on Saira Bano on phone to express his condolences and later tweeted: “Dilip Kumar Ji will be remembered as a cinematic legend. He was blessed with unparalleled brilliance, due to which audiences across generations were enthralled. His passing away is a loss to our cultural world. Condolences to his family, friends and innumerable admirers. RIP.”
The thespian’s rakhi sister and songstress Lata Mangeshkar expressed shock. “His passing is the end of an era. I’m at a loss and can’t think of what to say. He’s left us with so many memories,” she tweeted and added, “For the past few years he had been unwell, unable to recognise people around. I bow to Saira Bhabhi who cared for him day and night and pray for the peaceful passage of his soul.”
NCP supremo Sharad Pawar recalled how he was still a secondary school student when Dilip Kumar was shooting with Vyjayantimala at Jejuri in Pune district. “We had cycled all the way to watch the shooting and came away quite impressed on seeing Dilip Kumar.” He further added, “Much later when he worked with the legislative council, we developed a close rapport.”
One of the Hindi film industry’s troika, along with Raj Kapoor and Dev Anand, Dilip Kumar (filmmaking legend Satyajit Ray had called him “India’s ultimate method actor”) put an end to the theatrical style of loud acting more suited to the stage and brought a subtle style more suited to the camera into vogue.
Following his debut in Jwar Bhata (1944) and a meeting with actress Devika Rani and Ashok Kumar of the Bombay Talkies, which had produced the film, a name-change from Mohammed Yusuf Khan to Dilip Kumar was suggested. Following the success of Jugnu (1947), where he starred opposite Noor Jahan, he went on to star in the most iconic films like Naya Daur, Mughal-e-Azam, Devdas, Ram Aur Shyam, Andaz, Madhumati and Ganga Jamuna. He moved to character roles from the 1980s with Kranti, Shakti, Karma and Saudagar. Qila (1998) was his last film.
The golden memories he has left cine-goers will make them fondly recall him always with the other popular Madhumati ditty: Dil Tadap Tadap Ke Keh Raha Hai Aa Bhi Jaa.