Nationality: Indian. Born: Yusuf Khan, in Peshawar (now Pakistan), 1922. Family: Married the actress Saira Banu. Career: 1940—worked in a British army canteen, Bombay; 1944—film debut in Jwar Bhata; also producer until Ganga Jumna, 1961; appointed Sheriff of Bombay, 1980.
Films as Actor:
Jwar Bhata (Amiya Chakravarty) (as Jagdish)
Milan (Nauka Dubi) (Nitin Bose)
Jugnu; Neel Kamal (Kidar Nath Sharma)
Anokha Pyar; Ghar Ki Izzat (Daryani) (as Chanda); Mela; Nadiya Ke Paar; Shaheed
Andaz (A Matter of Style; Beau Monde) (Mehboob Khan) (as Dilip); Shabnam (B. Mitra) (as Manoj)
Arzoo; Babul (Sunny) (as Ashok); Jogan (Kidar Nath Sharma) (as Vijay)
Deedar (Vision) (Nitin Bose) (as Shamu); Hulchul; Tarana
Aan (Savage Princess; Pride) (Mehboob Khan) (as Jai Tilak); Daag (Amiya Chakravarty) (as Shankar); Sangdil
Footpath (Sarhadi) (as Noshu); Shikast
Amar (Eternal) (Mehboob Khan) (title role)
Azad (Free) (Naidu) (as Khan Saheb/title role); Devdas (Bimal Roy) (title role); Insaniyat (Humanity) (Vasan) (as Mangal); Udan Khatola (Sunny) (as Kashi)
Naya Daur (B. R. Chopra) (as Shankar); Musafir (Traveller) (Mukherjee)
Madhumati (Bimal Roy) (as Devendra); Yahudi (Bimal Roy) (as the Roman Prince Marcus)
Paigham (Vasan) (as Ratanal)
Kohinoor; Mughal-e-Azam (K. Asif) (as Prince Salim)
Ganga Jumna (Nitin Bose) (as Ganga)
Dil Diya Dard Liya (A. R. Kardar) (as Shankar); Pari
Ram Aur Shyam (Tapi Chanakya)
Admi; Sangharsh (H. S. Rawail); Sadhu Aur Shaitan
Sagina Mahato (Tapan Sinha—in Bengali); Gopi
Anokha Milan; Dastaan
Sagina; Phir Kabb Milogi
Chanayaka Chandragupta (B. R. Chopra) (as Chanayaka)
Shakti (Power) (Ramesh Sippy) (as Ashwini Kumar); Vidhata
Karma (Subhash Ghai) (as Rana Vishnu Pratap Singh); Dharam Adhikari
Kanoon Apna Apna
Saudagar (Subhash Ghai) (as Bir Singh "Biru")
By KUMAR: articles—
Interviews in Film World (India), no. 6, 1970, November 1972, November 1976, and January 1980.
Interview with K. Mohamed, in Cinema in India (Bombay), vol. 3, no. 1, 1992.
On KUMAR: books—
Barnouw, Erik, and S. Krishnaswamy, Indian Film, New York, 1965; rev. ed., 1980.
Willemen, Paul, and Behroze Ghandy, Indian Cinema, London, 1982.
Ramachandran, T. M., 70 Years of Indian Cinema (1913–1983), Bombay, 1985.
On KUMAR: articles—
Film World (India), January 1975, January 1979, and June 1980.
Thomas, R., "Indian Cinema: Pleasures and Popularity," in Screen (London), May/August 1985.
Khalid, "Golden Era Begins," in Cinema in India (Bombay), vol. 4, no. 6, 1990.
Khan, S., "Dilip Kumar," in Cinema in India (Bombay), vol. 3, no. 1, 1992.
Sathe, V. P., "The Three Aces," in Cinema in India (Bombay), vol. 4, no. 4, 1993.
Rajadhyaksha, Ashish, and Paul Willemen, in Encyclopaedia of Indian Cinema, New Dehli, 1994.
* * *
There is a persistent notion of a division in the Hindu tradition between the renouncer and the man of the world. Writers have noticed such features in modern Indian models of masculinity and heroism, in fields ranging from the world of cricket to that of commercial film narratives. Devdas, a character who is forbidden his beloved for social reasons, and drinks his life away, is one of the key renouncer figures in modern Indian literature and cinema. When a second film version was made in 1955, it was inevitable that, of the contemporary crop of film stars, it would be Dilip Kumar who played the lead role. The Devdas of 1955 is the Devdas for generations of Indian audiences. The tragic hero and the failed love became such staples of folklore that even today any variation on the said theme evokes a comparison with Dilip Kumar.
The renouncer failed in romance and withdrew from social life not because he was inadequate, but because of social prejudice. He could also simply be ill-fated. Kumar played a number of roles that essentially came from this character-type, though there were often quite complicated variations. He did of course play more positive hero, such as in the swashbuckling stunt films Aan (Pride) and Azad (Free), perhaps in a conscious move to diversify his screen presence. Even in such generic shifts, the legacy of his conventional "loser" image is discernible; in the costume action film Insaniyat (Humanity) his beloved marries another, and Kumar dies saving her child; and his outlaw peasant hero in Ganga Jumna first loses his wife and is then killed by his policeman brother for taking the law into his own hands.
There was evidently something glamorous in the renouncer hero's obsession with an impossible romance. But the highlighting of social prejudice as a factor in the narrative of romantic failure could make the conception quite powerful, exposing the injustice of the social order, and the inhuman ways in which intimate marital and familial ties were cynically arranged for material gain. Examples of this are Kumar's Deedar (Vision), and Pyaasa (The Thirsty One) for which it is said Guru Dutt initially wanted Kumar before casting himself in the lead role.
There are other, darker variations of the renouncer narrative. In the fascinatingly contrived Andaz (A Matter of Style) Dilip (Kumar) falls in love with Nina (Nargis) who, unknown to him, is already betrothed to Rajen (Raj Kapoor), absent while their friendship is developing. Nina is unaware that her friendly behavior has been misinterpreted by Kumar, and is shocked to hear his confession of love the day after she has married Rajen. Later, after a violent encounter with Rajen, Kumar becomes deranged and tries to force himself on Nina, who is compelled to kill him. The bulk of the story is seen from Nina's viewpoint, and there are definite indications that her feelings towards Kumar are ambiguous; given this, and the imperative that the popular film reassert a traditional morality, the glamorous romantic failure cannot remain glamorous; he has to become repulsive so that Nina can destroy him and so quell any residual ambiguity regarding her feelings.
Perhaps most intriguing is Amar (Eternal). Kumar is a debonair lawyer, practicing in the countryside, is engaged to the sophisticated Madhubala, daughter of a local estate owner. His urbane poise is undone when he meets a lively young peasant woman, played by Nimmi. He displays vicious, uncontrollable feelings towards her which culminate in his shocking rape of the girl. He finally renounces his betrothal to Madhubala, and marries Nimmi. This renunciation destabilizes genres and star discourses. The story of urban sophistication and comedy is deconstructed by combining it with the tale of rural simplicity and innocence: the hero of the first genre becomes the villain of the second. Further, Kumar is paired with Nimmi, a secondary female star who, in earlier work, was always shown to desire the hero without his reciprocating her love (Deedar, Aan)
These kinds of sophisticated variations on Kumar's star personality and his relationship to the renouncer archetype tended to give way before the altogether different type of genre that emerged in Hindi movies in the 1960s. Leader, for example, is a fascinatingly vulgar exercise in performance; its narrative, about the way Gandhian political values are threatened by corruption and violence, is merely a topical excuse to string together a series of boisterous romantic and comic routines. The aging Kumar was engaged in holding onto a youthful image by presenting himself as irresponsible and carefree and as leader of a group of teenage boys. Throughout his career and growth, Kumar is noted for his consummate skill in taking any role and bringing it to life, becoming an icon figure in the process. Contrived or otherwise, Kumar had an opportunity that many of the image-bound stars of Bombay never had. He always insisted and got a wide variety of roles, diverse plot structures, and complex climaxes that gave vent to his acting talents.
In the 1970s Kumar's appeal waned, but he has recently reemerged in a series of powerfully recessive performances. As an older character in Shakti (Power), for instance, he displays a relentless authoritarian face quite remote from the images of romantic loss and longing that defined his early career. In Saudagar, he takes on the legendary hero Raj Kumar, as they both get embroiled in the fights of two legendary friends who become archenemies. From the Bombay Talkies' Jwar Bhata in 1944, Kumar has traversed many ups and downs to reach Izzatdar in 1990, an aging actor with a younger heartthrob Govinda starring in the lead role. Now Kumar holds his position as the veteran of Bollywood. All the young actors may not aspire to achieve his success but certainly do wish to acquire at least a portion of the thespian's legendary talent.
In the 1990s, the 72-year-old actor has other interests that take up most of his time. Kumar has said, "as an actor who can get people to respect me, I must do more than act. I must take actions." With that as his guiding line, he has been taking active part in mitigating social distresses. He threw open the gates of his huge house, which he had used to seclude himself from society, to house the riot victims of the Bombay religious strife in 1993. He traveled all over the United States to raise money for the Bosnian Muslims. The thespian now has the role of his lifetime, and like all the other complex characterizations he took on, he is doing full justice to this one too.
—Ravi Vasudevan, updated by Usha Venkatachallam