The passing away of Bollywood film legend Dilip Kumar aged 98 on Wednesday, has opened up an overwhelming floodgate of reminiscences — both cinematic memories and private recollections — by people cutting across social, economic, political and national barriers.
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However, few would know that it was in the main theatre of Pune’s Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) that Dilip Kumar finally watched one of his defining classics, K. Asif’s spellbinding Mughal-e-Azam (1960) for the first time in his life — a full 18 years after the film was released.
As the story goes, way back in the summer of 1978, the legendary actor wanted to see 15 classics during a sojourn in the city.
“It was the great P. K. Nair, the country’s pre-eminent archivist and scholar and the driving force behind the National Film Archive of India (NFAI), who had arranged the screening of the films at the FTII main theatre. All films were chosen by his wife, the actress Saira Bano,” says current FTII Director Bhupendra Kainthola.
Then, in a veritable cinema marathon, Dilip Kumar saw a film a day at the main theatre and even more fondly, Saira Bano was by his side when he finally saw his great performance in Mughal-e-Azam — which he had reportedly never seen since it took the country by storm in 1960.
The incident bears an astonishing similarity with the experience of another legendary actor of the Occident — Peter O’ Toole, who reportedly viewed his greatest cinematic role, that of T.E. Lawrence in David Lean’s immortal Lawrence of Arabia , almost two decades after that film’s initial release in 1962.
Coincidentally, Dilip sahab had reportedly turned down Mr. Lean for a key role in Lawrence — that of the Sherif Ali — which eventually went to Omar Sharif and made him known to international audiences.
Later, in another visit to the FTII, the actor was chief guest at the 1997 convocation of the FTII, which was held in December that year. Also present on the occasion were iconic theatre and film personality Dr. Mohan Agashe, then Director of the institute, and filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt, who was then FTII Chairman.
However, despite the occasion being somewhat marred by students who chose to air some of their complaints publicly, Dr. Agashe recalls how Dilip sahab ’s magnificent dignity humbled all those present.
“I had organised the convocation which was interrupted by students voicing their complaints… Mahesh Bhatt was very upset. But Dilip Kumar shone through it all with his tremendous and awesome dignity…he told the protesting students that the FTII was a temple and that they ought not to wash their dirty linen in public,” reminisced Dr. Agashe while speaking with The Hindu .
He fondly recalled how Dilip Kumar had loved watching him [Dr. Agashe] in Vijay Tendulkar’s classic play Ghashiram Kotwal .
“Yusuf bhai (Dilip Kumar was born Yusuf Khan) had no airs about him, unlike the stars of today…he came to watch the 100th performance of Ghashiram Kotwal at the Shanmukhananda Hall in 1975 and he loved every moment of it …we had wonderful conversations whenever he came to Pune,” said Dr. Agashe.
“Like every institution and podium he graced, the FTII was no exception and it has unforgettable memories of Dilip Kumar. When he spent a fortnight watching classics in the FTII’'s main theatre, I am sure that he must have added to the artistic vibrancy of the place, which has over six decades produced the ‘who’s who’ of Indian cinema and the entertainment industry,” said Mr. Kainthola, adding that the institute remained forever grateful to the late thespian for his kindness in presiding over the FTII’s 21st Convocation Ceremony in 1997.