With his fourth biography to be published soon, actor Dilip Kumar looks back at his seven decades in Bollywood.
Uttam Kumar was watching a trial show of “Sagina Mahato” in 16mm print at NT1 Studio, Kolkata in July, 1972. Later he told director Tapan Sinha, “Tapan da, thank God you did not cast me as Sagina. It would have been a blunder as I could not have matched Yusufda who has brought Sagina alive on screen.”
This is one of the stories in thespian Dilip Kumar's fourth biography, written by his wife Saira Banu. This comprehensive biography of one of India's greatest actors has initiated a lot of curiosity since it was announced five years ago.
Films like “Andaz”, “Jogan”, “Daag”, “Foot Path”, “Devdas” and “Ganga Jumna” stand testimony to his versatility. Even today viewers remember his ro Nina ro in “Andaz”, as he shows Nargis the photo of her late father and helps her get over the shock of his death.
Dilip Kumar is in a relaxed and happy mood, a summer evening at his legendary Pali Hill residence.
He sips a cup of black tea and gears up for an interview about his biography and glorious career spanning around seven decades in films.
Tell us more about your biography.
It will not be repetitive. I do not believe in or allow repetitions. My earlier biographies were by Vinita Lamba, Sanjit Nawrekar and Lord Meghnad Desai.
Saira Banu who knows me the best has written exhaustively about my childhood at Peshawar, education, family fruit business, the pains of Partition and my career at length with special mention about my Bengali films, Pari and Sagina Mahato.
It also does not hide my famous romances (laughs). I am confident it will be of interest for readers and my admirers for whom the book is really meant.
Satyajit Ray described you as the ultimate method actor...
Did he? I consider it a great compliment from India's most acclaimed director. We shared a warm rapport and I feel bad I could not work under his direction. Had I, perhaps my greatest performance would have been extracted by him.
My tragic performances required method acting as there was a matter of meter and chord for each shade in my performance. But when I shifted to light-hearted, comic characters in “Aan”, “Azad”, “Kohinoor”, “Leader” and “Ram Aur Shyam” I tried my best to transcend method as it has its limits.
I learnt to play the sitar for one and a half years before the Madhuban mein Radhika nache re sequence in “Kohinoor”. It had to be spontaneous yet real. Similarly, when Salil Chowdhury requested me to lower my voice by three notes to sing Lagi nahin chute Ram in “Musafir”, I did not opt for any method.
How did you succeed in Bengali films?
I wanted to learn Bengali and deliver my dialogues with conviction after being influenced by talented directors like Amiya Chakrabarty, Nitin Bose, Bimal Ray and Hrishikesh Mukherjee. Script writer Nabendu da, who penned “Devdas” and “Yahudi”, was also instrumental in my learning Bengali. In my first Bengali film, Pari, which also starred Dharmendra, I (as the jailer in a prison in Andamans) spoke the dialect of a UP born person based in West Bengal.
The other director from Bengal with whom I felt satisfied as an actor was Tapan Sinha. For the sequence in “Sagina Mahato” where I plead innocence in the people's court, I dubbed 19 times. I was so inspired by the scene and felt I was not able to modulate my voice properly. Tapan finally said, “Yusuf, enough” and used my 18th take during the dubbing.
Tell us about your relationship with Raj Kapoor and Dev Anand?
If I am a legend, so are they. We shared a mutual set of unspoken ethics, had a deep silent regard for each other's works and never believed in cut-throat competition.
Whatever we achieved was due to merit and not publicity gimmicks. Raj with his plastic face was unforgettable in “Gopinath”, “Jaagte Raho” and “Teesri Kasam”. Dev, the most handsome actor I have seen on the Indian screen, was peerless in “Kala Pani” and “Guide”.
Your memories of Suchitra Sen and other co-stars?
My memories of working with Suchitra Sen in “Devdas” are as fresh as ever. Her beautiful eyes responded like live electric wires in certain shots and only Devika Rani earlier had that kind of dignity.
My other co-stars were also highly gifted: Meena Kumari was seeped with emotion, Nargis was truly versatile, Nimmi still unmatched in intensity, and Vyjayantimala and Waheeda Rehman were highly talented performers as well as dancers.
Your favourite actors and directors?
From Hollywood, with deep respect, I would like to mention Sir Charles Laughton, Paul Muni, Marlon Brando and Richard Burton. Greta Garbo, Ingrid Bergman and Katherine Hepburn are my all-time favourites.
From India, I consider Ashok Kumar, Motilal, Balraj Sahni, Chabi Biswas and Pahari Sanyal as icons of natural performances. Uttam Kumar and Shivaji Ganesan were very powerful actors and I must mention the polished performances of Sabitri Chatterjee and Arundhati Sinha. From the past four decades, Amitabh Bachhan, Aamir Khan and Tabu are gifted performers. Among the directors, Amiya Chakrabarty, Nitin Bose, Bimal Ray, Zia Sarhadi and K. Asif and Mehboob Khan were unforgettable.
Your hand gestures along with dialogues ushered in a revolution...
I used my hands only to justify certain dialogues, which had intensity and meaning. It was spontaneous, not a conscious effort. If I used my arm with every dialogue, it would have seemed phoney and contrived. In films like “Jogan”, “Babul”, “Footpath” and “Devdas”, I avoided unnecessary use of my hands.
Lastly, did you ever feel nervous while performing romantic scenes?
(Smiles) Yes, I did. In the initial years, I felt awkward especially when I found the scenes were peculiar and meaningless. A romantic scene without reality does not impress me.
To perform my romantic scenes I relied on my eyes and then my dialogue delivery. Depth and reality came into romantic scenes from the 1950s onwards.