It’s Mohammad Yusuf Khan’s birthday! Or, as he’s popularly known, the legendary Dilip Kumar. Going strong at 98, Dilip sahab was India’s first method actor and his enchanting looks, seamless suave, and incredible talent radically changed the Hindi film industry forever. Discovered by the ‘first lady’ of Hindi cinema, Devika Rani, Dilip Kumar’s first movie was the 1944 Jwar Bata, and nothing was the same after. Going on to play some of the biggest roles in Indian movies, the most emotionally-challenging ones made him known as the “Tragedy King” of the movies. Dilip Kumar soon became the subtlest, most charming talent of the subcontinent.
Here are 10 roles that he performed which radically changed Bollywood, forever:
1. Andaz, 1949
Andaz was the highest grossing film of 1949, until Raj Kapoor’s Barsaat released, breaking its record. Dilip, played by Dilip Kumar, grows feelings for Neena (Nargis), the daughter of a super rich man. Of course, drama unfolds when he discovers that she’s engaged to marry Rajan, AKA Raj Kapoor (there was clearly no innovation in creating character names). The movie quickly becomes super twisted, with affair accusations, going mad, molestation, murder and life imprisonment. But hey, for Dilip Kumar’s natural acting, I recommend it!
2. Tarana, 1951
The much-loved couple, Dilip Kumar and Madhubala, were a big reason why Tarana became a box office hit. A tragicomedy-drama-romance, Tarana is about Dr Motilal (Kumar), who is stranded after his plane crashes in a village. He falls in love with Tarana (Madhubala), a girl from the village whose family provides shelter to the doctor, and her lover hatches a plot to drive Dr Motilal out of the village. This movie is really great for its amazing soundtrack, and the mesmerising chemistry between Dilip Kumar and Madhubala. A must watch for all true cinephiles.
3. Devdas, 1952
You might know SRK as the tragic anti-hero from Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s 2001 film, but the OG one was performed by the one and only, Dilip Kumar. In a performance that rightly titles him as the Tragedy King, Dilip Kumar seems to deeply internalise the character of a drunken, immature toxic man. And without judgment! While SRK’s performance was over the top, overacted and full on masaledar, made with the purpose of entertaining, Dilip Kumar is restrained, poised, and makes Devdas even more antagonistic by portraying him with such subtle finesse. He didn’t need dramatic dialogues, hand actions or background songs to amplify Devdas’s toxicity. He did it all by playing the character as if he were real. Chilling.
4. Gunga Jumna, 1961
It is said that Dilip Kumar’s performance as Gungaram in Gunga Jumna inspired legends like Amitabh Bachchan and Salim-Javed to make movies like this one. Kumar plays a spirited, hardworking simpleton, who spent his entire life slogging with his mother (Leela Chitnis) who worked as a servant to a zamindar family. His brother Jumna, on the other hand, is brilliant and spent his life studying. After Gunga and Jumna’s mother passes away, Gunga works for her ex-employer while Jumna goes to the city to become a police officer. His first assignment involves confronting his own brother, Gunga, who is a convict. This movie is a family drama, a romantic drama involving the iconic Vyjayanthimala, and a massy drama which is what made it a commercial success.
5. Naya Daur, 1957
Naya Daur stars Dilip Kumar and Vyjayanthimala in lead roles, and was one of the biggest films of 1957. A sports drama that captivated all audiences, this movie also won multiple Filmfare awards. Shankar, played by Dilip Kumar, is a tongawala and Krishna, played by Ajit Khan, is a woodcutter, and the two of them are best friends. Shankar falls in love with Rajni — played by, once again, the gorgeous Vyjayanthimala (remember Uden jab jab zulfein teri?). Things change when rich industrialists come to Shankar and Krishna’s village with the plan to modernise it. What makes this movie captivating is Dilip Kumar’s ability to sink into the character of a UP village man, getting the language, diction and mannerisms authentic to the T. A true superstar.
6. Ram Aur Shyam, 1967
I mean, what better movie to prove Dilip Kumar’s legendary acting? At a time when dual roles were huge in Bollywood, Kumar’s performance as the timid, terrified Ram and his identical twin, irreverent, bold Shyam, stole our hearts. The tragedy king broke away from sad roles for this movie, and what’s absolutely startling about it is his instinctive knowledge of comic timing and ability to switch from comedic to dramatic expressions within seconds. Watch Ram aur Shyam if you haven’t already. It stars Waheeda Rahman, Mumtaz, Nirupa Roy and the always amazing (and villainous) Pran in lead roles. Watch it for Dilip Kumar’s incredible, versatile range.
7. Madhumati, 1958
Known to be Bollywood’s first ever reincarnation film, Madhumati, starring Dilip Kumar and Vyjayanthimala, was an instant success. The plot focuses on Anand, played by Dilip sahab, a modern man who falls in love with a tribal woman named Madhumati (Vyjayanthimala). They are unable to have a relationship during their lifetimes and are reincarnated. Dilip Kumar is a heartthrob in this tragic romance, and his chemistry with Vyjayanthimala makes the whole narrative entirely believable. Both as Anand and the reincarnated Devinder, Yusuf sahab is authentic to their different contexts and times, making the audience root for him (and weep for him) instantly.
8. Sangdil, 1952
Shankar (Dilip Kumar) and Kamla (Madhubala) are childhood sweethearts who are unfortunately separated at a young age. They meet years later and rekindle their romance, but Shankar has a lot of dark secrets. When they are about to be married, a man shows up and confronts Shankar about his “wife”, and asks him how he can marry again and cheat his first “wife”. Apart from Dilip Kumar and Madhubala’s obvious chemistry and the fact that the two of them onscreen together could cause entire wars, this movie was a success because who doesn’t love watching Dilip Kumar love unconditionally and perform dramatic dialogues with conviction? The end of the movie might be a tragic one, but hey, don’t we Indians love melodrama?
9. Mughal-e-Azam, 1960
“Taqdeerein badal jaati hai, zamana badal jaata hai, mulkon ki tarikh badal jaati hai, Shahenshah badal jaate hai … magar is badalti hui duniya mein mohabbat jis insaan ka daaman thaam leti hai … woh insaan nahi badalta” – Dilip Kumar as Prince Saleem, Mughal-e-Azam.
There are infinite number of reasons to be amazed by K Asif’s masterpiece, Mughal-e-Azam, but a big part of it is Dilip Kumar as Prince Saleem. In a movie that has so much going on, that is mostly focusing on Akbar and Anarkali, Dilip Kumar holds his ground as the calm, poised prince of Hindustan. Only losing his cool once with his father in court, he is otherwise stoic and strongly rooted in his own beliefs of love and legacy. Dilip Kumar’s Saleem is not a good man — or a bad man, either. He is just another man ridden with flaws, burdened by his father, and, like every Indian man, treats his woman as property. But, the remarkable dialogue delivery in pure Urdu, the tumultuous relationship with Anarkali, and his struggle to please his father and his love, makes Dilip Kumar’s performance a fantastic, complex one. Only a method actor as skilled as him could have pulled it off.
10. Saudagar, 1991
His penultimate movie, Saudagar marked Dilip Kumar’s entry into the 90s, after having completed more than 4 decades in Bollywood. The movie starts with Mandhari, an old crippled man, telling a story of two friends to some kids. In the story, Rajeshwar Singh, a landlord’s son, and Veer Singh, a poor boy, become friends. They are naughty kids, calling each other as Raju and Veeru respectively. As the duo grow up, Raju decides to get his sister Palikanta’s marriage arranged with Veeru. Neither his sister nor Veeru have any objections to the marriage. The friendship between Veeru and Rajeshwar turns bitter and they become enemies. They choose to confront their enmity only years later when their respective grandchildren fall in love with each other.
Of course, things change. Older Veeru is played by Dilip Kumar, whose grace, pride and intensity for dramatic scenes is both entrancing and intimidating.
Happy birthday to India’s first method actor, biggest superstar till date, and an acting institution in himself.