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Dilip Kumar (b. 1922)


Dilip Kumar

Dilip Kumar was one of the three top stars of the 1950s and 1960s and is currently one of the most respected seniors in the Hindi film industry. Born in Peshawar (now Pakistan) as Yusuf Khan to a family of 12 children, Kumar emerged from humble origins. While one account states that his family moved to Maharashtra as fruit merchants (Rajadhyaksha and Willemen 1999), another states that Kumar ran away from his family to Pune and eventually set up a fruit stall (Raheja and Kothari 1996). What is known for certain is that Kumar worked in a British army canteen in Bombay in 1940, Devika Rani is said to have discovered him and recruited him for Bombay Talkies. Noted Hindi novelist Bhagwati Charan Varma renamed him Dilip Kumar.

He attained stardom with Jugnu and super stardom with Mehbooh Khan’s Andaz, co-starring Raj Kapoor and Nargis. Kumar achieved a lasting reputation for naturalistic, underplayed acting. He frequently depicted characters who were innocent loners caught in and destroyed by conflicting social pressures. Kumar’s first block of successful films (Mela, Andaz, Babul, Jogan, Deedar) depicted him as a tragic lover. By the time he portrayed the doomed lover in Devdas, where he drinks himself to death, Kumar apparently had to seek psychiatric counseling as the surfeit of tragic roles took their toll on his mental health. He was advised to move away from tragedy and changed to a more masculine, heroic image (Aan, Azad, Kohinoor, Gunga Jumna), although he maintained his romantic image as well (Mughal-e-azam, Madhumati). Though nicknamed the ‘Tragedy King’ by the Indian press, Dilip Kumar also appeared in comic roles (Gopi, Ram aur Shyam). After taking a break from acting for about eight years, he made a comeback with Kranti (1981) and Shakti (1982). In the latter he starred as Amitabh Bachchan’s unyielding, morally upright police-officer father. His legendary star status was further confirmed by his series of films with Suhhash Ghai (Vidhaata, Karma, Saudagar).

Although he virtually directed some of his films (Gunga Jumna), his first official directorial credit is for Kalinga, which was held up in production and was never released. Kumar was a recipient of the Dadasaheb Phalke Award in 1994 – Tejaswini Ganti

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