NEW DELHI: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was among the many people who paid tribute to legendary actor Dilip Kumar on Wednesday, calling his departure “a loss to our cultural world.”
Kumar died on Wednesday morning aged 98 following a prolonged illness, leaving behind an “incredible legacy” of films and fans. He is survived by his wife, veteran actor Saira Banu.
“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,” read a brief statement on his official Twitter account confirming the news.
“Dilip Kumar ji will be remembered as a cinematic legend,” Modi said in a Twitter post immediately after Kumar’s death.
“He was blessed with unparalleled brilliance ... his passing away is a loss to our cultural world,” he added
Amitabh Bachchan, 78, one of India’s best-known movie stars, said that with Kumar’s death, “the institution has gone.”
“Whenever the history of Indian cinema will be written, it shall always be ‘before Dilip Kumar, and after Dilip Kumar,’” Bachchan, who played the role of Kumar’s son in the hit film, “Shakti,” added.
Kumar was born as Mohammad Yusuf Khan to Lala Ghulam Sarwar Khan and Ayesha Begum, in Peshawar — then part of British India, now in Pakistan — on Dec. 11, 1922.
His father was a fruit merchant and moved the family to Bombay, now known as Mumbai, in the 1930s. Later he adopted his screen name, Dilip Kumar, on the advice of actor and producer Devika Rani, who cast him in his first movie “Jwar Bhata” (sea tide) in 1944.
Thereafter he became more popularly known as the ‘Tragedy King’ of Bollywood and reveled in various roles from Devdas, Andaz and Mughal-e-Azam to Ram Aur Shyam, in a career spanning more than five decades, as he enthralled audiences with his signature style of method acting in nearly 60 films.
But it was his “personal connection” with audiences that made the iconic actor “a class apart from the rest” and “instantly relatable.”
“Look at any of his roles — be it a horseman in Naya Daur, a villager and dacoit in Ganga Jamuna, a prince in Mughal-e Azam, or a lover in Madhumati — he looked like the character he played. He looked like me and you,” Trinetra Bajpai, who wrote Kumar’s authorized biography, “Dilip Kumar: Peerless Icon Inspiring Generations,” told Arab News.
“No one portrays India better than him,” Bajpai added, explaining how Kumar reflected the country’s political and social evolution through his films.
“You could always identify yourself with the character that Dilip Kumar played. It was as if he was you in the film. He was not like a movie star; he was like someone you knew, someone instantly relatable,” Bajpai, who was a close family friend of Kumar since the 1950s, added.
Recalling his last meeting with the actor on his birthday in December, Bajpai said: “He had severe dementia and this was expected but being such a wonderful personality his death came as a shock, we wanted him to cross 100, but that was not to be.”
Indian-born British academic and politician Lord Meghnad Desai, who in 2004 authored a book on Dilip Kumar, “Nehru’s Hero: Dilip Kumar,” revisited the first 25 years of India’s political life after independence in 1947 through the prism of Dilip Kumar’s cinema.
“I think, without doubt, Dilip Kumar was the greatest actor of Hindustani cinema and one of the top four greatest actors worldwide with Marlon Brando, Toshuro Mifune, Max Von Sydow in the same league,” Desai told Arab News.
“During his first 25 years, Kumar embodied for the young people an ideal they could aspire to. He was progressive — Nehruvian — in his politics,” he added.
The awards said it all. For his contribution to cinema, Dilip Kumar was conferred with the Dadasaheb Phalke Award, India’s highest award in the arts, and also received the Padma Bhushan and the Padma Vibhushan, the country’s second-highest civilian award.
Kumar also possessed the distinction of being the only Indian recipient of Pakistan’s highest civilian award, Nishan-e-Imtiaz.
Ziya Us Salam, a veteran film critic who conducted several interviews with Kumar, said he was “the first one who could bridge the gap between actor and star.”
Salam also shone a light on Kumar’s love for Urdu and Persian literature and his taste in music, telling Arab News: “He was a very good singer and music connoisseur, but what is unknown about Kumar is his humility and devotion to God. He was a pious, practicing Muslim, a humanitarian and among the best neighbors one could get.”
Kumar’s philanthropic nature found a mention in a tribute from across the border in Pakistan as well, with Prime Minister Imran Khan highlighting the actor’s efforts to help raise funds for the Shaukat Khanum Memorial Hospital (SKMTH), the cancer hospital Khan founded in the 1990s.
Khan said he was “saddened” to learn of the actor’s passing, calling him the “greatest and most versatile actor” of his generation.
“I can never forget his generosity in giving his time to help raise funds for SKMTH when the project launched.”
On Wednesday, Bollywood actors and filmmakers, including Shah Rukh Khan, Vidya Balan and Karan Johar, thronged to pay their respects to Kumar at his residence in Mumbai. The funeral was held with state honors at a graveyard in the city.