Who would have thought that when Devika Rani one day saw Yusuf Khan at the nearby fruit market adjacent to the Bombay Talkies office and gave him an offer to start acting with a new name – Dilip Kumar in JWAR BHATA. To ward off the competition happening at Bombay Talkies and to create a new generation of stars would rule like a colossus on the world of Hindi cinema for more than five decades.
He was the last of the triumvirate – other two being Dev Anand and Raj Kumar – of the Indian cinematic history who called adieu to his physical self, but the legacy he has left behind is in itself a source of almanac and ready reckoner for anybody who desires to choose acting as a career.
What endeared him to masses in the black & white era was the pause that he brought to his acting and in enactment of a role, a pause which was in stark contrast to the rapid fire performance of Dev Anand and a Raj Kumar. Maybe, it was this stylisation which became his leitmotif and helped him carve out a unique image of his own.
He represented the growing India through his characters post Independence, be it in NAYA DAUR where the dilemma between development and livelihood was the theme and he enacted the character of a horse-cart-driver ready to give a fight to bus operator and took it to a new dimension through MAJDOOR as a mill worker. His characters represented the working class who were trying to fight for a foothold in the changing society, a society which was bent upon pushing the marginalized to the periphery and Dilip Kumar enacting different characters of such kind gave those belonging to this class a sense of hope amid the evolving gloom.
It was through GANGA JUMNA that he echoed the struggle between the landless labourers and the rich landlords and gave a sense of perspective to the issue of emergence of dacoity in the badlands of Hindi belt. Though Raj Kapoor had also touched upon this aspect in JIS DESH MEIN GANGA BEHTI HAI, Dilip Kumar by enacting the role of the dacoit could bring out the crux of the matter with a panache on the silver screen. Subsequently more such films were made but they could not capture the nuance so beautifully, but for a DACAIT perhaps made by Rahul Rawail.
He really came into his being when he started doing character roles with the generation of actors from 70s of the likes of Rishi Kapoor, Amitabh Bachchan, Anil Kapoor and Sanjay Durtt. Even in the roles that he enacted as a character actor, his characters were predominantly those which belong to the lower middle class or the middle middle class. So in MASHAAL,he was a newspaper publisher, a police officer in SHAKTI, an engine driver in VIDHATA. During these times he dabbled in grey in character portrayals and still carried the element of negativity of characterisation with conviction.
Dilip Kumar had three mega clashes in his acting career with the stars of those times, starting with MUGHAL-E-AZAM where his pause was a perfect poise against rapid fire dialogues of Prithviraj Kapoor, in SHAKTI opposite Amitabh Bachchan – which was portrayed as a war of the titans by the media during the times when it was being made and in SAUDAGAR where he was pitted against another mega star RAJKUMAR. There would hardly be an authentic cinema fan who would not love to watch these three movies whenever they are on air.
A tribute to Dilip Kumar would be incomplete if one does not talk about his sense of comedy timing which he displayed with panache in AZAD, GOPI, etc. He was one of the legends who aged gracefully and brought that grace through his performances on screen.
He had the ability to slip into the skin of the character and this perhaps was the reason that he acted only in 64 films in his acting career. He ruled in the heart of his fans and would continue to rule even after his mortal remains would assimilate in dust. Physically he might have paused his presence, but his oeuvre of work that he has left behind would continue to endure his legacy silently and methodically.