Born in Peshawar on December 11, 1922 Mohammad Yousuf Khan marks his 90th birthday today. To millions of his fans around the world, he is known as Dilip Kumar— the Last Emperor of Indian cinema as his biographer Sanjit Narwekar had put it. To us, the Peshawarites— or Pishoris as we like to call ourselves— he remains one of the four prodigious sons we gifted to the Bombay film industry— Prithviraj Kapoor, Ranbirraj "Raj" Kapoor aka RK Saab and Zakariya Khan ‘Jayant’, being the other three.
While my own heart remains firmly in the RK camp, I must concede that just like many parents are torn in their love for their children, the Pishoris too were split into two camps between Dilip Kumar and RK Saab. Talking to the old-timers in the walled city of Peshawar, where both the greats were born, it seems like the schism had to with the art rather than religion or ethnic origins of these giants. Like the moviegoers all over India divided into two camps over the question that RK Saab’s biographer Bunny Reuben raised in his very first article as a film-journalist—Who is the better actor in Andaz: Dilip or Raj?— Pishoris too took sides after this 1948 Mehboob Khan film. Though it hurts my pride as an RK fan it does seem that Dilip Kumar became the darling of the plurality if not the majority of Peshawarites. His hairstyle, sartorial preferences and mannerisms influenced at least two generations of common men and his mention still brings out a sparkle in the eyes of the grandmothers who saw his movies in his— and their— prime.
Dilip Kumar’s house in Doma Gali Around here, he played with swords on the streets
(Photograph by Mohammad Sajjad)
I have met octogenarians in Peshawar who till this day believe that in the Andaz scene where the RK character Rajan whacks Dilip Kumar’s character (incidentally named Dilip), RK did actually hit Yousuf Khan with the tennis racket! There was no point arguing as they— the Dilipiay or Dilipists as one Pishori RK aficionado would call the Dilip Kumar fans— were convinced. And perhaps Dilip Kumar does not know but in Peshawar his screen name is pronounced ‘Daleep’ with a thick Hindko accent. In fact, the phonetic spelling has made it to the invitation sent out by the veteran writer Younas Qayasi on behalf of the Cultural Heritage Council of the Khyber-Pukhtunkhwa to celebrate ‘Daleep’ Kumar’s 90th birthday in Peshawar.
Dilip Kumar was born to Lala Ghulam Sarwar Khan and Ayesha Begum in the Peshawar’s Mohallah Khudadad. The house is a five-minute walk away from Prithviraj-ji’s house where RK Saab was born. It is said that this family of fruit merchants moved to Bombay seeking medical care under the surgeon Dr. V. L. Parmar for Dilip Kumar’s elder brother Ayub Khan injured in a horse riding accident. The family’s business and personal travails ultimately led Yousaf Khan to step in to help his father. One such travel took him to Nainital where the movies production house Bombay Talkies owner, Devika Rani, accompanied by the master director Amiya Chakraborty, ran into the handsome Yousaf and, as Sanjit Narwekar says, “instinctively” asked him to come see her in Bombay. Ultimately, prodded by his mentor Dr. Masani, who also was friends with Devika Rani, Yousuf Khan — unlike his brother Nasir Khan, he had no desire or ambition to become a film actor — went to see her. Narwekar chronicles that the meeting lasted a mere four questions:
“Have you acted in films?
Would you like to act in films?
Do you smoke?
Do you speak Urdu?
“Have you acted in films?
Would you like to act in films?
Do you smoke?
Do you speak Urdu?
Though ambivalent about the young man’s answers Devika Rani and her team screen-tested and then offered him a three-year contract at Rs.500 per month. Devika Rani considered Yousuf Khan too bland a name and commissioned the writer Pandit Narendra Sharma to rechristen him. Jehangir, Vasudev and Dilip Kumar, were the three choices placed before Devika Rani and Yousuf Khan. Yousuf Khan, prompted by Devika Rani, chose Dilip Kumar over his preferred Jehangir. Contrary to the assumption that the screen name was adopted to hide his Muslim origins, it was very much a business decision by Devika Rani who sought to replace the great Ashok Kumar, who too sought to leave Bombay Talkies. Four questions ultimately gave rise to a career spanning over five decades and 57 movies.
The range of characters performed by Dilip Kumar from being the benchmark deep-in-the-cups melancholic in Devdas to the ebullient Jai of Aan and from the revolutionary in Sagina Mahato or Nehruvian socialist in Leader to the underworld don in Vidhata, displayed a breadth mastered by few other actors. The on-screen chemistry with his leading ladies produced sophisticated sensuousness, the pinnacle of which was on display with Madhubala in the Mughal-e-Azam love scene acted out to the semi-classical Prem Jogan Ban ke by Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan. While Muhammad Rafi did most numbers as Dilip Kumar’s playback voice including the awesome madhbun mein radhika nache re for which Dilip Kumar learnt to play the sarod for a year, Talat Mahmud’s voice brought out the ultimate romantic in him as in Taranaor Sangdiland was his perfect match. Dilip Kumar even sang for himself in Musafir. Whether it was Mukesh’s four super-hit playbacks for him in Andaz or movies like Amar or Mughal-e-Azam in which he had no songs, Dilip Kumar conducted himself with a calibrated poise that is perhaps his artistic legacy. According to Lord Meghnad Desai, Dilip Kumar took the cinematographer/director Nitin Bose’s tip that “in a talkie, it is the silences that are the most dramatic”. No doubt then that unlike others, Dilip Kumar’s measured pauses and reticence is as much his signature as his crisp dialogue delivery.
It is not for me, who only saw Dilip Kumar closely on his first visit to Peshawar and on a screen 32 times smaller than his original work, to comment on this ‘colossus of the Indian cinema’. But I would be remiss not to reiterate the great Amitabh Bachchan’s words that “whenever the history of the Indian cinema is written there will always have a ‘before Dilip Kumar and after Dilip Kumar’ almost like a yardstick”. He has been called a thespian, the Tragedy King, and of course a humanist par excellence. But as Lord Meghnad Desai notes in matchless work Nehru’s Hero: Dilip Kumar in the Life of India, Dilip Kumar reflected the best of his country at the best of its times … he is a legend by any definition.
All I have to say to Dilip Kumar who till this day speaks chaste Pishori Hindko is: Lalay, salgirah mubarakh howay nain … many happy returns of the day.
Dr Mohammad Taqi is a regular columnist for the Daily Times, Pakistan where this article also appears. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and tweets @mazdaki
Of the three greats, including Raj Kapoor and Dev Anand, Dilip Kumar has aged the most gracefully, still a remarkably handsome young man.
Unquestionably, Dilip ji is a Legend By Any Definition. Indeed he is the last emperor of Indian cinema. No one is / would be, there in the bollywood to Rule - the field of Acting as he did, leaving indelible imprints of his magical acting performances in the hearts of lacs and lacs of cine lovers. What AB has said is absolutely right - whenever there is history of Indian Cinema is / will be written,certainly there will be a sort of yardstick shall be needed saying history - pre-Dilip Kumar era and history post Dilip Kumar era.
Undoubtly a great actor, a good gentleman . Wishing him Many Many Happy Returns Of The Day .
Yousuf Saab is The Actor. He is the one whose mannerisms were imitated by Amitji as well as SRK (the pomerian)..Nobody would like to imitate the joker Raj and Nobody can carry Dev Saab's mannerisms..
Yousuf saab remains Bombay's biggest actor followed very, very closely by Amitji.
May Yousuf saab complete the Century
We at Outlookindia.com welcome feedback and your comments, including scathing criticism
1. Scathing, passionate, even angry critiques are welcome, but please do not indulge in abuse and invective. Our Primary concern is to keep the debate civil. We urge our users to try and express their disagreements without being disagreeable. Personal attacks are not welcome. No ad hominem please.
2. Please do not post the same message again and again in the same or different threads
3. Please keep your responses confined to the subject matter of the article you are responding to. Please note that our comments section is not a general free-for-all but for feedback to articles/blogs posted on the site
4. Our endeavour is to keep these forums unmoderated and unexpurgated. But if any of the above three conditions are violated, we reserve the right to delete any comment that we deem objectionable and also to withdraw posting privileges from the abuser. Please also note that hate-speech is punishable by law and in extreme circumstances, we may be forced to take legal action by tracing the IP addresses of the poster.
5. If someone is being abusive or personal, or generally being a troll or a flame-baiter, please do not descend to their level. The best response to such posters is to ignore them and send us a message at Mail AT outlookindia DOT com with the subject header COMPLAINT
6. Please do not copy and paste copyrighted material. If you do think that an article elsewhere has relevance to the point you wish to make, please only quote what is considered fair-use and provide a link to the article under question.
7. There is no particular outlookindia.com line on any subject. The views expressed in our opinion section are those of the author concerned and not that of all of outlookindia.com or all its authors.
8. Please also note that you are solely responsible for the comments posted by you on the site. The comments could be deleted or edited entirely at our discretion if we find them objectionable. However, the mere fact of their existence on our site does not mean that we necessarily approve of their contents. In short, the onus of responsibility for the comments remains solely with the authors thereof. Outlookindia.com or any of its group publications, may, however, retains the right to publish any of these comments, with or without editing, in any medium whatsoever. It is therefore in your own interest to be careful before posting.
9.Outlookindia.com is not responsible in any manner whatsoever for how any search engine -- such as Google, Bing etc -- caches or displays these comments. Please note that you are solely responsible for posting these comments and it is a privilege being granted to our registered users which can be withdrawn in case of abuse. To reiterate:
a. Comments once posted can only be deleted at the discretion of outlookindia.com
b. The comments reflect the views of the authors and not of outlookindia.com
c. outlookindia.com is not responsible in any manner whatsoever for the way search engines cache or display these comments
d. Please therefore take due caution before you post any comments as your words could potentially be used against you
10. We have an online thread for our comments policy:
You are welcome to post your suggestions here or in case you have a specific issue, to directly email us at Mail AT outlookindia DOT com with the subject header COMPLAINT