Star of the week: Dilip Kumar
History is being recreated this week. And I hope Indian cinema's thespian will be there to witness it. Forty-four years ago, Dilip Kumar couldn't attend the premiere of K. Asif's "Mughal-e-Azam". This is his opportunity to make up for it.
By Subhash K. Jha, IANS
This Friday, when the film opens all over the country, everyone hopes to see the mighty Dilip Kumar at the premiere.
At 81, Dilip Kumar remains an institution beyond all institutions. If you've had the privilege of interacting with him, you'd be mesmerised by his gentle but persuasive eloquence.
Yusuf Saab (as he's called by his close friends and just 'Saab' by his lovely wife Saira Banu) never received any formal education. Yet his regal bearing, his soft-spoken sophisticated personality and his ability to hold an audience spellbound with his magical web of words remains unique.
Like all movie buffs, there were two personalities I thought I'd never meet. Lata Mangeshkar and Dilip Kumar are to Indian cinema what Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein have been to science.
Eliminate them, and you're looking at a yawning gap in the history of our cinema. To my undying joy, I know both these institutions personally.
I remember how my voice trembled when I first spoke to him over the phone. It was the holy period of Ramadan. I first spoke to Saira Banu. Saab was fasting. Tough at his age, one guesses.
I was conveying my regards when she asked, "Would you like to say hello to him?"
My first impulse was to excuse myself. One doesn't say hello to a super-institution! But before I could stammer my excuse, she called him over.
I gushed and gushed for a good three-four minutes. But he heard me out patiently. This was a man who was used to being bombarded with encomiums. He knew how to deal with gush.
At the end of my torrent of compliments he quietly said, "No, there might be many better actors than me. I'll tell you, I had no training and I wouldn't have dared to venture into films had it not been for my family's financial condition. God bless you. Please come and see me when you are in Mumbai."
That's exactly what I did. Coincidentally, it was the month of Ramadan again. Saab was offering his prayers when I arrived at their neatly kept bungalow in Pali Hill. I had to wait. But I didn't mind. Good things always come to the patient.
Yusuf Saab did finally walk in. I think my jaw fell to the ground, coming back in place only to savour the goodies that Sairaji had laid out on the table.
The aura that Yusuf Saab radiates is beyond anything I can describe. It's that healthy glow of a man who has kept alive the child within. Lataji has the same radiance in her personality. And anyone who comes in touch with either is blessed.
That October evening I sat with this legend beyond legends. As he narrated anecdote after anecdote, I realised that a prerequisite of superstardom is the gift of effortless communication. Amitabh Bachchan, Shabana Azmi, Shah Rukh Khan - all of them have it.
The only formidable star who is painfully shy is Sridevi. Yusuf Saab has worked with her in a kitschy film called "Dharam Adhikari" - at a time when he was losing his grip over his career.
But that evening we didn't talk about Sridevi. We talked about his other heroines - Meena Kumari, Nargis and of course Madhubala, his Anarkali in "Mughal-e-Azam".
The two were supposed to be passionately in love. In fact, every leading lady who mattered at that time wanted to marry Dilip Kumar. But he chose the beauteous Saira Banu with whom he worked in a string of films like "Gopi", "Sagina" and "Bairaag".
After marriage, Yusuf Saab moved into Sairaji's bungalow where he was pampered silly by her grandmom, mom and of course Sairaji herself.
Watching him, I couldn't help wonder about the ways of destiny. Here was this pathan from a migrant family of fruit sellers with no experience in acting. How did he become the most powerful actor of India?
He himself doesn't mind talking about it.
"I was always business-minded and loved the family business," he said in his robust voice. "My father grew apricots, grapes, pomegranates, apples and peaches and sold them tinned.
"He would proudly show me the size of his fruits and say, 'This is what I want you to grow Yusuf. Because you're my most intelligent son.' He wanted me to be educated so I could expand the family business."
But Yusuf Saab found the life tough.
"The entire process - from plucking of fruits to their dispatch - was quite cumbersome. The Second World War was also extremely hard on the horticulture business. So I had to get another job with a decent salary. That's where acting came in handy."
At first Yusuf Saab's father was against his becoming an actor.
"He was 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 my moving into films.
"Maulana Saab intervened on my behalf and said there's no telling what the future held for anyone. He also told my father to be proud of my achievements and implored him to be patient with my aspirations."
Yusuf Saab is also very sensitive. Since the communal violence in Gujarat three years ago, he has been pained by the divisive politics of the nation.
"We had great leaders. Pandit Nehru, Mahatma Gandhi, Maulana Azad and Ghaffar Khan Saab helped us form what we call the India ethos. Then we had their phoney followers who wore their clothes but spoke the language of hatred.
"Even I understand Hindu ethos rather well. I've read Hindu scriptures. Nowhere do they preach the language of hostility and dissension."
But Dilip Saab is ever hopeful. "We must thank the electronic media for exposing the shallowness of our national leaders," he said.
"During the fight for independence we thought of our politicians as the architects of our future. Now when they stand naked before us, we know that they indulge only in lip service (to people's concerns).
"The leaders who actually mean to do good are hidden from our view. Time, or the public, will pull them out of the shadows. I'm convinced that there are more good than bad people waiting to lead the nation."