Interview | Dilip Kumar: I don’t believe in stardom

On the occasion of his 90th birthday, the original superstar of Hindi cinema discusses what stardom means to him, his favourite films, and journey with wife Saira Banu

Updated - November 27, 2021 04:08 pm IST

Published - July 07, 2021 03:30 pm IST

Dilip Kumar with wife Saira Banu

Dilip Kumar with wife Saira Banu

This interview from The Hindu archives was originally printed on the occasion of Dilip Kumar’s 90th birthday on December 11, 2012 . It has been republished now in lieu on the actor’s demise.

Dilip Kumar (1922 - 2021): The end of an era

As Dilip Kumar turns 90 today, the original superstar of Hindi cinema answered some questions through email on stardom, his most challenging role, and years with wife Saira Banu.


Rajesh Khanna has been hailed as the superstar, but weren’t you the original superstar?

I have not believed in stardom, much less the super-stardom you are talking about. Someone told me that outside my house gates, fans were first seen gathering in large numbers to get a glimpse of me. Yes, following the success of my films, the number of curious men and women, boys and girls outside my bungalow increased. Is that an indication that you are a star? Even at this age when Saira and I take a walk at the Joggers, when the park is about to close its gates, there are curious people who stop us in our path and make fond enquiries and talk to us about our work, the films they liked, how beautiful Saira looked in the saris and dresses her mother Naseemji designed. Is that stardom?

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I understood very early on in my career that the attention and eagerness to see you in flesh and blood are the result of the response you evoked through your work. Initially, it scared me, but it did not take long for me to realise that they are reacting to the man who is there on the screen. If I allowed myself to be carried away, I would acquire a false personality and that personality could be pompous and obnoxious with false, inflated thoughts about success. So I learnt to digest it and preoccupy myself with my work more than with the results of my work. I have consistently maintained that there should be no term for an actor. No such label as “a star” because that is a label coined by the marketing man, the media and the public relations man.

You are known as a “gentleman actor”. Do you think it was easier to be “civilised” in earlier days, because there was not too much of the media? Or is it an earlier generation thing?

It is not as if there was no gossip media in our times. It was for us, as individuals, to ensure that we did not do anything silly or unbecoming. It also had a lot to do with one’s upbringing and the values inculcated from childhood. The credit for my being a gentleman should go to my father, a thorough gentleman, and my mother, who was a simple, God-fearing woman who treated all human beings with respect and compassion.

image/svg+xmlwould acquire a false person-ality and that personalitycould be pompous and ob-noxious with false, inflatedthoughts about success. So Ilearnt to digest it and preoc-cupy myself with my workmore than with the results ofmy work. I have consistentlymaintained that there shouldbe no term for an actor. Nosuch label as a star becausethat is a label coined by themarketing man, the mediaand the public relations man.You are known as a"gentleman actor". Doyou think it was easier tobe "civilised" in earlierdays, because there wasnot too much of themedia? Or is it an earliergeneration thing?It is not as if there was nogossip media in our times. Itwas for us, as individuals, toensure that we did not doanything silly or unbecom-ing. It also had a lot to dowith one's upbringing andthe values inculcated fromchildhood. The credit for mybeing a gentleman should goto my father, a thorough gen-tleman, and my mother, whowas a simple, God-fearingwoman who treated all hu-man beings with respect andcompassion.Your most favouritefilms?It is difficult to name myfavourite films. The peoplewho moulded me were Devi-ka Rani, Nitin Bose, SashadarMukherji, Bimal Roy, S S Va-san, Mehboob Khan.What was your mostchallenging role?Iwas challenged by theprospect of playing PrinceSalim inMughal e Azam.There were no references togo by and no material tostudy as far as the characterwas concerned. There wasenough and more textual ma-terial on the period and theevents that were going to bedepicted but the questionson my mind were about theconduct, bearing and charac-teristics of Salim that wouldhelp me achieve a palpablelikeness to the character.Bal Thackeray made ahuge fuss about your'Nishan-e-Imtiaz' awardfrom Pakistan. Prior tothat you were greatfriends; you did tweetwhen he passed away.Yes, there was a disagree-ment between us about myacceptance of the 'Nishan EImtiaz' but subsequently weput all our differences asideand resumed our friendship,coming to terms with thetruth that he was a politicianand I an artiste. It was neverdifficult for him to under-stand what I was communi-cating to him because he wasan artist at heart. And it wasnever difficult for me to un-derstand what his compul-sions were as a politicianwith a huge following. Ourfriendship began before hebecame the Tiger. We re-spected each other's work.As I said in my tweet andblog, I saw the sensitive sideof the man when Sunil Duttand I met him for a solutionto the dreadful situation San-jay was in. In the last coupleof years we talked to eachother often as two caringfriends.How has the journeyRasheeda BhagatAs Dilip Kumar turns 90 to-day, the original superstar ofHindi cinema answeredsome questions through e-mail on stardom, his mostchallenging role, and yearswith wife Saira Banu.Excerpts:Rajesh Khanna hasbeen hailed as the super-star, but weren't you theoriginal superstar?Ihave not believed in star-dom, much less the super-stardom you are talkingabout. Someone told me thatoutside my house gates fanswere first seen gathering inlarge numbers to get aglimpse of me. Yes, followingthe success of my films thenumber of curious men andwomen, boys and girls out-side my bungalow increased.Is that an indication that youare a star? Even at this agewhen Saira and I take a walkat the Joggers when the parkis about to close its gates,there are curious people whostop us in our path and makefond enquiries and talk to usabout our work, the filmsthey liked, how beautiful Sai-ra looked in the saris anddresses her mother Naseemjidesigned. Is that stardom?Iunderstood very early onin my career that the atten-tion and eagerness to see youin flesh and blood are the re-sult of the response youevoked through your work.Initially, it scared me but itdid not take long for me torealise that they are reactingto the man who is there onthe screen and if I allowedmyself to be carried away Ibeen with Sairaji?I don't have words some-times to thank the Almightyfor bringing me and Saira to-gether in marriage. She wasyoung when I married herand many of my close friendswondered how we wouldequate with each other giventhe age difference and thesupposed uneven maturitylevels. The secret is that shehas just refused to let me agephysically, with her constantcare and attention. Unobtru-sively, she caught up with myage in order to be my bestfriend, intellectual compan-ion and often my motherwho, she knows, I loved verymuch. After our marriage shetook serious lessons in Urdulanguage and literature. Iimagined it was an exercise toperfect her diction; it wasn't!She knew about my fondnessfor the language and litera-ture. Saira is a product ofWestern education, havinghad her schooling in England.But her mother and grand-mother saw to it that she re-spected Indian values andgrew up to acquire a broadmind and vision.Mohammed Rafi'svoice suited you the best;any favourite songs?He was my voice in all mymemorable films, and as dearto me as Naushad Sahab.With Rafibhai it was a mysti-cal bonding as if he was a partof me when he sang for me,knowing, without being told,how I would perform thesong during the filming of't believe in stardom: Dilip