One morning, as I entered the studio I was given the message that Devika Rani wanted to see me in her office. I wondered what it could be. I was certain it couldn’t be for expressing any displeasure because she was always courteous and pleasant whenever she met me and enquired how I was doing. So what could it be?
When I walked into her office, she was seated at her desk looking stunning and dignified as always. She smiled warmly and asked me to take a seat. I sat down and looked curiously at her. She began with the usual courtesies of asking me whether I would care for some tea made specially for her from leaves she had purchased from the English store in the city.
I was wondering what she had in mind when she came to the point, speaking in English, the language she was most fluent in. She said, quite matter-of-factly: ‘Yousuf, I was thinking about your launch soon as an actor and I felt it would not be a bad idea if you adopted a screen name. You know, a name you would be known by and which will be very appropriate for your audience to relate to and one that will be in tune with the romantic image you are bound to acquire through your screen presence. I thought Dilip Kumar was a nice name. It just popped up in my mind when I was thinking about a suitable name for you. How does it sound to you?’
I was speechless for a moment, being totally unprepared for the new identity she was proposing to me. I said it sounded nice but asked her whether it was really necessary. She gave her sweet smile and told me that it would be prudent to do so. She added that it was after considerable thought that she came to the conclusion of giving me a screen name. With her customary authority, she went on to tell me that she foresaw a long and successful career for me in films and it made good sense to have a screen identity that would stand up by itself and have a secular appeal. I was quick to appreciate her concern but I told her I needed to think about it a bit. She responded: ‘Fine … come back to me with your thoughts.’
‘We are now ready to begin preparations for your debut. So we must hurry up,’ she said breezily as I rose from my seat to leave.
I spent the rest of the day as per my routine but with the name Dilip Kumar ringing in my mind’s inner recesses. S. Mukherjee Sahab noticed that I was rather contemplative that afternoon as we ordered lunch from the canteen and shared some fried fish that came from Ashok Bhaiyya’s house. After lunch, when work started on the shooting stage, he asked me if there was something disturbing me and if I could share with him...
I told S. Mukherjee Sahab about the suggestion that had come from Devika Rani. He reflected for a second and, looking me straight in the eye, said: ‘I think she has a point. It will be in your interest to take the name she has suggested for the screen. It is a very nice name, though I will always know you by the name Yousuf like all your brothers and sisters and your parents.’ (I later came to know that Ashok Kumar was the screen name of Kumudlal Kunjilal Ganguly.)
Excerpted with permission from Dilip Kumar: The Substance And The Shadow—An Autobiography, Hay House India, ₹499.