Indian cinema legend Dilip Kumar dies at 98

Kumar, whose real name was Mohammad Yusuf Khan, died in the western city of Mumbai, his family said.

Dilip Kumar receiving the lifetime achievement award from India's former President Pratibha Patil, not in the picture, during the 54th national film awards ceremony in New Delhi [Gurinder Osan/AP Photo]

Dilip Kumar, one of Indian cinema’s most iconic actors, has died in the western city of Mumbai, his family said. He was 98 and ailing for some time.

“With a heavy heart and profound grief, I announce the passing away of our beloved Dilip Saab, few minutes ago,” Faisal Farooqui posted on Kumar’s official Twitter on Wednesday.

The veteran actor is survived by his 76-year-old wife Saira Banu, a former Bollywood actress.

Kumar starred in some of Indian cinema’s most successful films, including, Mughal-e-Azam, Devdas, Naya Daur (New Era), Ram Aur Shyam and Madhumati.

‘Tragedy King’

Nicknamed “The Tragedy King” with his brooding good looks, tousled hair and deep voice, he enjoyed a career spanning more than 50 years and nearly 60 films.

With Dev Anand and Raj Kapoor, Kumar was one of the three big names who dominated the golden age of Indian cinema from the 1940s to the 1960s.

The actor was born Mohammad Yusuf Khan on December 11, 1922, in Peshawar city, now in Pakistan. His father was a fruit merchant who took his family to India’s entertainment capital in the 1930s.

Kumar’s screen name was suggested by Devika Rani, who cast him in his first movie, Jwar Bhata (Sea Tide), in 1944.

Although Jwar Bhata flopped and leading film magazines criticised his performance, Kumar was undeterred and eventually broke through with the 1946 film Milan.

Among his most remembered roles was in the lavish historical romance, Mughal-e-Azam, based on the lives of Mughal emperors Akbar and his son Jahangir.

The movie, released in 1960, was eight years in the making and cost a whopping 15 million rupees, but soon became one of Bollywood’s biggest-grossing films of all time.

Dilip kumar, Bollywood actor
Dilip Kumar, right, hugs Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan in this May 22, 2004 photo [File: Ahmad Masood AM/Reuters]

Kumar’s first major box-office hits were Jugnu (Firefly) in 1947 in which he starred alongside Noor Jehan, and the 1948 film Shaheed (Martyr).

He played a variety of characters – a romantic hero in Andaz (Gesture) a swashbuckler in Aan (Pride), a dramatic drunkard in Devdas, a comic role in Azaad (Free), a Muslim prince in the historical epic Mughal-e-Azam, and a robber in the social movie Ganga Jamuna.

Mehboob Khan’s blockbuster Aan in 1952 was his first film in Technicolor and was among a string of light-hearted roles he took at the suggestion of his psychiatrist to shed his “Tragedy King” image.

He starred in many social drama films like Footpath, Naya Daur (New Era), Musafir (Traveller) and Paigham (Message) in the 1950s.

His top female co-stars included Madhubala, Nargis, Nimmi, Meena Kumari, Kamini Kaushal and Vyjanthimala.

In 1966, Dilip Kumar married Banu, who was 22 years younger than him, and the couple acted in Gopi, Sagina Mahato and Bairaag. They had no children.

In 1961, he produced and starred in Ganga Jamuna in which he and his brother Nasir Khan played the title roles. It was the only film he produced.

The 1970s saw fewer roles, as younger actors such as Amitabh Bachchan took centre stage.

He even took a five-year break after a string of flops, returning in 1981 with the hit, Kranti (Revolution), and a part alongside Bachchan in, Shakti (Strength), the following year, plus a string of character roles.

But he missed out on international fame after turning down the chance to play Sherif Ali in David Lean’s 1962 classic Lawrence of Arabia. The part went to an Egyptian actor Omar Sharif.

‘Unparalleled brilliance’

After a series of poorly received films, he took up a more active role in politics in 1998.

The same year, he received the highest civilian honour in Pakistan, angering Hindu nationalists. Two years later, he became a legislator for the opposition Congress party in the upper house of Indian parliament after being nominated for a six-year term.

In 1994, he was given the Dadasaheb Phalke award, the highest honour for contributions to Indian cinema.

In his condolence tweet, Prime Minister Narendra Modi called Kumar a “cinematic legend” who was “blessed with unparalleled brilliance”.

Modi said Kumar’s death was a “loss to our cultural world”.

Unlike many actors who appeared in hundreds of films, the versatile Kumar carefully selected those, by Indian standards, which only increased his stature in the fiercely competitive industry.

In 2006, he accepted a lifetime achievement award at India’s National Film Awards in recognition of his contribution to Indian cinema.

Yet he still admitted that he was baffled by his success.

“Honestly, I’ve still to figure out how an intensely shy young man called Yusuf Khan became the actor Dilip Kumar,” he told The Hindustan Times in an interview to mark his 85th birthday.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies