I grew up during the Amitabh Bachchan era. He was the finest actor of all time, I had decided. I was not open to debate. Deewar, Zanjeer, Sholay, Trishul, Namak Haram, Mili, Don, Amar Akbar Anthony, Kaala Patthar, Kaalia had sealed his place in my mind. It was impossible for me to comprehend anyone who could better his performance.
Then came Ramesh Sippy’s Shakti in 1982 where he shared screen space with Dilip Kumar, who played his father and put duty above his son, which the latter could not forgive him for. Their relationship soured and the scenes that followed between the two, opened my mind to the impossible possibility of another actor matching up to my screen icon, if not better him. The seaside exchange of words between father and son in Shakti is firmly etched in my now diminishing memory, as among the finest scenes I have had the pleasure of viewing. I watched the film a few more times later. It allowed me to observe two of the greatest actors in one frame. Each time, I grew more and more convinced why Dilip Kumar is the original superstar.
I went on to watch some of the old Dilip Kumar movies. I learnt from him (and I am certain other actors in later generations did too) the craft of saying so much more without speaking a word. His silence spoke volumes. His pauses were legendary, which accentuated his performance. I fully understood the meaning of the Hindi word “theraav” after closely following Dilip Kumar’s performance over the years. The ability to be so emphatic while speaking so softly is an art which he crafted to perfection.
In 2008, I got a chance to watch the legend in flesh and blood. CNN-IBN (which is now CNN-News18) conferred the Lifetime Achievement Award to the maestro for enthralling millions of movie watchers over fifty years. He walked up on stage unescorted, at the age of 85 and captivated the audience with his oratory. His amazing ability to deliver lines still had a spellbinding effect on his audience, 10 years after his last film release. He broke into a few lines in Urdu and many in the audience, including this writer, fell in love with the language without even understanding it fully.
Sitting in the audience, Sharmila Tagore spoke like a fangirl when asked to speak a few words about Dilip Sa’ab. She fondly remembered the time when she would frequent the legend’s home as a friend of his sister and would be fascinated just to be in his company. Nothing seems to have changed in all the years that had passed. Sharmilaji, true to her name, could not help gushing as she held the microphone and richly complimented the superstar.
Her husband, the late Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi, sitting next to her, recounted the moment when Dilip Kumar came to play a match at the Cricket Club of India and hit the first ball for a six. Not many in the audience knew Dilip Saáb was a natural player, not just in films, but sports too.
The movie maestro’s wife, Saira Banu, remained seated in the audience when the legend walked up to receive his award. She was requested by the host to join her husband on stage. Sensing her hesitation, the late Sheila Dikshit, seated in the same row, held her hand and ushered her to the stage. Sairaji did not wish to intrude during such a momentous occasion for her husband. Once she got there, Dilip Sa’ab looked into her eyes and held her closely, turning emotional. You could see the love and respect both had for each other.
Dilip Kumar personified both poise and perfection, not just as an actor but a human. He remained chivalrous, grounded and humble till his last breath. An incredibly talented artist, he was always respectful to one and all. For millions of his fans, he is not dead. He has just checked into another stage to enthral and entertain the inhabitants of the other world.
Farewell Dilip Sa’ab. You will always remain the original superstar.