Originally from Peshawar (now in Pakistan), Kumar chose to stay in India during the partition. His father was a fruit merchant who moved to Bombay with his family. Kumar studied at Khalsa College in Bombay. In the city of dreams, Kumar met established actress Devika Rani who had set up the Bombay Talkies studio. Kumar was struggling to make ends meet when the actress asked him whether he wanted to become an actor. Kumar said yes and the rest is history.
After initial struggles, he started to find his feet in a different Indian cinema from the modern Bollywood. Actors like Prithviraj Kapoor and Sohrab Modi had made the semaphoric silent movie style of acting popular. As his career started blossoming, he formed a famous triumvirate of actors who dominated the movies in the 1950s and 1960s. They were India's sweethearts. All three of them had different styles of acting and were able to create their own audience.
Kumar was often called the 'Tragedy King'. The way he portrayed tragedy was unparalleled. Throughout his career, he pulled off tragic roles with panache. His films 'Devdas', 'Ganga Jamuna', and 'Mughal-E-Azam' were blockbusters and left an impression on his viewers. Ace filmmaker Satyajit Ray had once said that he was a method actor. This kind of acting was not so popular in India at that point of time. He was also compared to Hollywood legend Marlon Brando.
Dilip Kumar was way ahead of his time. Today we hear actors preparing religiously for a role. Kumar had done it way too early. His dedication to art can be gauged from the fact that he ran outside the set in real life to look exhausted in his reel life, in the 1961 movie 'Ganga Jamuna'. In another movie, he learned to play Sitar for a sequence in the 1960 film 'Kohinoor'. He recalled his tragic moments from real life to prepare for many tragedy scripts. Kumar was known to pull off those kinds of roles with natural ease.
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The 'Tragedy King' continued to enchant the viewers with impeccable performances throughout his life. In the later part of his career, he did films like 'Shakti', 'Kranti', 'Karma', 'Kanoon Apna Apna', 'Mashaal' and 'Saudagar'. The film industry was blessed to have an actor of his calibre in the movies. In his movies, he portrayed all roles with brilliance. In 'Mashaal', his “ae bhai koi hai,” performance was heart-wrenching. Only an actor of his stature could essay that scene. Kumar's performances were not just brilliant, they had the ability to move thousands to tears.
His talent of being able to play intense roles with ease pushed him into depression. As his professional life soared, his personal life took a toll. While seeking therapy, Kumar was suggested to try the comedy genre. Kumar then went to act in several comedy movies towards the end of his career.
Dilip Kumar changed the Indian cinema in ways many can not even attempt today. He received India's highest civilian honour, the Padma Bhushan, in 1991. The actor was also awarded the Dadasaheb Phalke Award which is the country's highest award for cinematic excellence, in 1994. He was honoured with the Padma Vibhushan in 2015.
Kumar may have passed on, but he will always be alive through his work, his characters and his films.
This article is a replug on the birth anniversary of legendary thespian Dilip Kumar.