Yusuf Khan is dead, long live Dilip Kumar

July 07, 2021
FIle photo shows the legendary actor Dilip Kumar on his way to perform Umrah in 2013.
FIle photo shows the legendary actor Dilip Kumar on his way to perform Umrah in 2013.

By Shams Ahsan

The contours of his face changed. With the eyebrows curled into wrinkles, he looked at me with squinted eyes. "Please don't repeat in front of anyone else what you just told me." This was the reaction of one of my colleagues to my admission that I had not watched "Gunja Jumna" and "Devdas", two of Dilip Kumar's classics.

After this admission, he would come to my room every day and ask whether I had the time to watch the two movies. I finally did.

Such is the fan-following of Dilip Kumar, whose list of admirers included former Pakistan President Gen. Zia-ul-Haq and India's first Prime Minister Pundit Nehru.

Fans adore the stars they idolize. However, Dilip Kumar's fans did not only admire him but venerated him. This was a kind of respect earned by someone placed on a high pedestal by either his nobility or his scholastic ability. The reason for this reverence was the fact that the nom de guerre — Dilip Kumar — was only a shadow of the substance, Yusuf Khan.

Yusuf Khan was a voracious reader, a scholar of repute, and an orator of unmatched skills.

He recounts in his autobiography an incident when he was to deliver a speech as the Sheriff of Bombay to an international gathering of cardiologists. He not only mesmerized the audience with his oratory but also left them surprised with his up-to-date knowledge about the advances in the field of cardiology.

The fait accompli of a shooting star is obtrusive darkness after a sudden burst of light.

The same holds good of cine stars. They hog the limelight; have a horde of fans during their prime time. As they grow old the limelight shifts to a new kid on the block. Many of them die an ignominious death.

Then some stars do not lose their radiance even when the limelight shifts. They shine in the memory of their fans. One such star was Dilip Kumar. He was born to illuminate the lives of thousands of people, because — as he wrote in his autobiography — the night he was born, there was a big fire in Kissa Khawani Bazaar in Peshawar, his birthplace.

Dilip Kumar was destined to be different. His father wanted him to be a bureaucrat; he wanted to become a football player. Nobody — not even Dilip Kumar himself — had imagined that he would become a matinee idol given the fact that he came from a conservative Muslim family.

His journey from Peshawar to Pune is now a part of folklore — so to say.

Although Dilip Kumar belonged to the generation of my grandfather and father, I had a wish to meet him in person. As a journalist, I have interviewed celebrities from various fields, but when the opportunity came to meet Dilip Kumar a few years ago, my excitement surpassed even the nervousness of my first reporting assignment.

On Jan. 11, 2013, when I entered the suit of a starred hotel in Makkah, I saw Dilip Kumar sitting on the dining table along with his wife Saira Banu and other close family members enjoying breakfast prepared not by the hotel chef but by his cook.

When I stretched my hand for a handshake, he held it tight for many seconds, looking straight into my eyes. He did not say a word, just kept smiling. I congratulated him for performing Umrah.

Sitting in his hotel suite in his trademark high-neck, long-sleeve shirt, and trousers, he was the epitome of grace and poise, which were the hallmarks of his acting.

July 07, 2021
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