A rare peek into the life of the legendary actor Dilip Kumar.

There are actors and then there is Dilip Kumar. Like Mount Everest, he is beyond comparison. His one-film-at-a-time rule means his body of work is meagre. But is it astounding! As the creator of film acting grammar, Dilip Kumar has not only endeared himself to masses across all continents but also set benchmarks that have become difficult to surpass.

While Dilip Kumar’s public persona, extraordinary performances and achievements are part of folk lore, his personal domain remains largely untouched since he is fiercely protective of his privacy. However, by a wonderful quirk of fate, I recently chanced upon several fascinating facts about his personal life which revealed that he is a devoted home bird. The peep into this thespian’s life, courtesy his gracious and charming wife Saira Banu, only reconfirmed that ‘Sahab’, as Saira fondly addresses her hubby, “isn’t just a synonym for excellence but also a man of incredible traits”.

Inspecting the vast memorabilia of Saira Banu’s personal collection of photographs and videos, I discovered that the actor, who gave face to many Mohammed Rafi melodies on screen, is a fine singer himself. He may have enacted the bhajan “Sukh Ke Sab Saathi” in “Gopi” to perfection but he also sings the same with great relish at home. Sharing a video where Dilip Kumar sings in harmony with Kalyanji-Anandji’s harmonium, Saira confides, “Crooning Rafi Sahab’s love songs as well as recitation of Urdu couplets are Sahab’s way of teasing and romancing.” An old photograph makes her declare that Rafi magic rules their household and that she is one-up on her husband since she has sung a duet with Rafi Sahab in “Aman”! But she is convinced that none can beat her hubby at ‘Antakshri’ “since he remembers many old film songs… he knows an apt couplet for every occasion”!

Urdu and Persian poems acquire a spiritual eloquence on Dilip Kumar’s lips. Each word and inflection is adorned with such perfect caress and delicate throw that the simplest of couplets adorn a heavenly charm. Videos of his overseas tours show how he mesmerises audiences with his profound and extempore oration in English and Hindi and like his dialogue delivery; his repartee is equally stunning and enjoyable. “Contrary to his image of a serious man”, Saira discloses, “Sahab is a fun loving person who can keep you in splits for hours”. Videos of family functions show him regaling friends and relatives with witty anecdotes and his emotive eyes come into full play even in ordinary conversations.”

She reveals, “Sahab is like a child at heart who loves to live every moment”, even as we witness scenes from Kashmir where he playfully targets his wife with a barrage of snow balls! The beauty queen remembers “shooting outdoors with him was a lovely affair” as Sahab would “always take extra care of not just my comfort but the needs of an entire film unit”.

Saira says, “Sahab always had a penchant for cricket” but how good a cricketer he was is revealed on tape by none other than the sterling Indian cricket captain of yesteryears, Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi. Recalling the era when film stars and cricketers frequently collaborated for charitable causes, Pataudi elaborates, “Dilip Sahab was a difficult batsman to dislodge and once even hit the first ball of an established first class bowler for a six at Brabourne Stadium!” This vehement desire to excel made Dilip Kumar learn sitaar for “Madhuban Mein Raadhika Naache Re” song sequence of “Kohinoor”. While that effort is well recorded in media, not too many are aware that he is an equally proficient exponent of the trumpet. Not only does he play the difficult instrument in complete tandem with the local brass bands whenever the mood takes him he is also a robust dancer at family celebrations; some of his moves could surely make Shammi Kapoor or Helen envious!

As Saira shares pictures and stories of Dilip Kumar’s long and dedicated work for the National Association for the Blind (NAB), an old family aide tells me how the thespian never missed the annual event of the NAB train run for fund raising. Sipping tea and glancing at a TV advertisement, Saira informs “Sahab refused to model for many an august brand, despite lucrative offers over the years” since he deemed it “a demeaning way of money making”.

Going over the treasure chest of Saira’s sacred memories, I was surprised one day to find Dilip Sahab walk into the penthouse lounge. The affection with which Saira and he greeted each other showed how their celestial bond has grown stronger and fonder over the years. Even though I was meeting the legendary actor after several years, I felt time had not been able to dim his cherubic smile and spirit despite his poor health. Time stood still for me as he held my hand and patted my back; and though the silences were longer, his measured sentences were still worth their weight in gold. Like the whole nation, I wish and pray that this coming birthday (December 11) is one of many more to come in Dilip Kumar’s memorable journey.