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.
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.