Dilip Kumar, one of the biggest stars in the history of Indian cinema, died Monday morning in Hinduja hospital, Mumbai. He was 98. He is survived by his wife, actor Saira Banu. He was born Mohammed Yusuf Khan, in 1922, in Peshawar, now in Pakistan. His career took in almost the entire sweep of Indian cinema, from the early talkies to the internet age.
Tributes poured in from across the film world. Amitabh Bachchan, who acted with Kumar in Shakti (1982), tweeted: “Whenever the history of Indian Cinema will be written, it shall always be 'before Dilip Kumar, and after Dilip Kumar'”. Kamal Haasan tweeted about his influence as a performer, saying: “His understated approach is still tried by contemporary actors who are brave enough to attempt it”. "Our world is a little less bright today because one of our brightest stars has left us for the heavens,” said Anil Kapoor, who acted with Kumar in Shakti, Mashaal (1984) and Karma (1986). Sanjay Dutt, who acted with Kumar in Vidhaata (1982) and Kanoon Apna Apna (1989), said the actor was like a “father figure” to him.
Kumar began his career in 1944, with Jwar Bhata. Three years later, he had his first hit, Jugnu, alongside Noor Jehan. In 1949, he starred along with Nargis and childhood friend Raj Kapoor in Mehboob’s Andaz. He went on to become one of the biggest Hindi film stars of the 1950s and ‘60s. He partnered with director Bimal Roy on three films: Yahudi (1958), Madhumati (1958) and arguably the definitive version of Devdas (1955), which cemented him in the public’s mind as the ‘tragedy king’.
Kumar bagged the coveted role of Prince Salim in K. Asif’s long-gestating epic Mughal-e-Azam (1960). Today, the film is an undisputed classic of Indian cinema; the moment where Kumar brushes Madhubala with a feather is regarded as one of the finest love scenes ever filmed. BR Chopra’s Naya Daur (1957), and Ganga Jumna (1961), an influential dacoit film written by Kumar, were also huge successes.
Though categorized by some as a ‘method’ actor, Kumar worked in several registers, from naturalistic to mellow romantic to impassioned melodrama. The ‘tragedy king’ moniker stuck with him, but he also worked on lighter features, like the swashbuckler Aan (1952), or playing a double role in Ram Aur Shyam (1967). After tapering off in the 1970s, he returned as a distinguished elder in the ‘80s, shepherding films with younger actors like Kapoor, Dutt and Jackie Shroff. He finally retired from the screen with Qila (1998).
Though his health deteriorated in his advanced years, Kumar and Saira Banu maintained a warm public face on Twitter, re-posting tributes from fans and recently asking followers to share any photographs they may have of his ancestral home in Peshawar. It was from his account that Faisal Farooqui, a family friend, tweeted early Monday morning, “With a heavy heart and profound grief, I announce the passing away of our beloved Dilip Saab, few minutes ago. We are from God and to Him we return”.