Dilip Kumar: The Original ‘Thespian’

09 Jul,2021

Courtesy: SeniorsToday.in


By Shailesh Kapoor


Shailesh KapoorDilip Kumar, arguably Hindi cinema’s greatest actor of all time, passed away earlier this week. The legendary actor had been battling poor health for a while.


If you are born in the 1970s (or later), like me, it is unlikely that you would fully understand Dilip Kumar’s legacy. My first memories of him were from his films in the ’80s, like Kranti, Mashaal, Shakti, Vidhaata and Karma, when he was playing the ‘second generation’. The screen presence was towering, and I couldn’t take my eyes off and actor who had a style so distinctive yet alluring that you wanted to see him more and more. By the time I had watched Saudagar (1990), I was already an ardent admirer.


But it’s much later, in my late 20s, that I started watching Dilip Kumar’s films from the 1950s and the ’60s. Many of them are Black & White, and it took some time (and age) to get used to the idea of enjoying a film without colour. It was more like a ‘study’, because it is impossible to fathom how those films would have played out in the socio-political milieu of the times they came in. He is the original superstar, my dad would often tell me. I learnt the English language word ‘thespian’ because it was often used to describe Dilip Kumar.


Such is the aura around him that even our press has been well-behaved (relatively anyway) over the last three days. Back in 2012, I wrote in this column about how the tributes paid by our electronic media to cinema legends who passed away at that time have been disappointingly trite. That was a period in which we lost Shammi Kapoor, Dev Anand, Rajesh Khanna and Yash Chopra in quick succession. If the electronic media’s handling of Dilip Kumar’s demise is more dignified, it is because of the respect and love he enjoyed across sections of the society.


I was hoping someone would actually ‘celebrate’ his great work. When a legend passes away at the age of 98 after battling ill-health for years, grief almost seems like an inappropriate emotion. Dilip Kumar lived his life well, and acted for about 50 years. He has left an enduring legacy that all his fans will be proud of. Could a top news channel not have taken a project to do (at least) a one-hour show that explains the phenomenon called Dilip Kumar to the young audience (under-30) of today, who haven’t experienced it yet? There have been some very good articles online, but they don’t have the reach of mass television.


I’m sure many young people will discover the works of Dilip Kumar now, like I did many years ago. What they will make of his films more than 60-70 years after their release is difficult to say. Some may have seen Mughal-e-Azam anyway. I always recommend Naya Daur as that ‘bridge’ film. It seems young enough even today (though the colour version is not the one I’d recommend).


A legend has passed away, but his legacy will stay forever. Watching his work this weekend could be the best way to remember him.



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