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Acclaimed as the Tragedy King of Hindi cinema, he is said to have had a soft corner for more than one heroine. He has also been accused of interfering with his directors' work. What is Dilip Kumar like? SURESH KOHLI tries to find out with Bunny Reuben and Sanjit Narwekar's biographies.

BUT FOR a few film historians, and those close to him, much in thespian Dilip Kumar's life, and the major events that have gone into making him the kind of person he is, are still hidden behind misty clouds. It is with a view to unmask the actor Dilip Kumar, and take a closer look at the real Yusaf Sarwar Khan that one sifted through 500 pages of Bunny Reuben's definitive biography, and Sanjit Narwekar's 150-page pictorial book on the subject: two bouquets by a close friend and a chronicler of the actor's eventful life - on his 81st birthday last month. Yusuf Khan, born December 14, 1922 in Peshawar, was the fifth of the 13 children of a successful fruit merchant who migrated to Bombay and Nashik, a small town in Maharashtra for medical rather than economic reasons. And the most handsome. He had his school and early college education in Bombay before joining his father's fruit selling business, and excelling in it. A chance meeting with the legendary Devika Rani, during a business trip to Naini Tal, resulted in a brief interview at the Bombay Talkies office and a break in movies in 1943. The first release was "Jwar Bhata" in 1944. In the following six decades he has starred in precisely 57 films two of which were in Bengali, and gave a guest appearance in four others. In 45 of these he had only 11 leading ladies. He was hopelessly in love with at least three of these; was interested in another; and married the fifth. He has worked with Nalini Jaywant in two, Kamini Kaushal (his first love) in four, Madhubala (the second love) in four, Meena Kumari in four, Nimmi in five, Nargis in six, Nutan in two in the later years as she refused to work opposite him in the prime years (the other one was Suraiya), Rekha in two, Vyjyanthimala (the third love) in seven, Waheeda Rehman (one-sided) in four, and Saira Banu (on the rebound, perhaps) in five. There were at least three other aborted romances, apart from the infamous second marriage to Asma. And the whole exercise to first deny it, and then humiliate the lady by summarily divorcing her left a bad taste even in the mouth of his most diehard fans.

There were at least 13 others that were either announced, launched, began shooting but shelved subsequently for a variety of reasons. Out of the 57 starrers his performance won him a record eight Filmfare trophies. He was also awarded the Padma Bhushan in 1991, Filmfare Raj Kapoor Lifetime Achievement Award in 1993, the Dadasaheb Phalke Award in 1995, the controversial Nishan-e-Imtiaz, the highest civilian award in Pakistan in 1997, apart from numerous others. Although Dilip Kumar does not regret his decision, three films that he declined went on to become landmarks in Indian cinema. Mehboob Khan's "Mother India", Guru Dutt's "Pyasa" and Raj Kapoor's "Sangam".

Although Dilip Kumar had several favourites in Hollywood whom he even sought to initially emulate - and one film in which he always wanted to star but had to wait for nearly 30 years before he eventually did with disastrous results for all, the Marlon Brando-starrer "Viva Zapata" - including Paul Muni, it was Brando who became his `first enduring inspiration'. Until, perhaps, the time when he evolved his own style, like his two other successful contemporaries Raj Kapoor and Dev Anand, the former being his sworn beta noire.

That Dilip Kumar imparted certain intensity to every role he essayed, and laboured relentlessly on every character he eventually portrayed on the screen is now almost a legion. Although colleagues have dubbed one's opinion as biased that the tragedy king of the Indian screen has always worked within the ambit of a limited range, and repeated himself without a pause, one would like to quote what the late Motilal had to say about him: "I have watched Dilip in several films since `Jwar Bhata' and I find - and Dilip will be the first to agree with me here - that he has fallen into a rut. He is very definitely, the great lover, but what else is he besides? He gives masterly emotional performances in all his pictures, but in his roles there is a sameness which he must avoid if he wants to remain where he is today - right on top. He must give himself a chance to be versatile."

That, of course, he did by essaying some interesting comedy roles. But, unfortunately, there again he started to repeat himself.

One has also heard tales of Dilip Kumar's gross interference what the thespian dubs involvement. It is debatable what is involvement, and what is interference, and the extent to which either contribute to the betterment of the film. He did not dare do with the likes of Bimal Roy, Mehboob Khan, K. Asif and some others. But while as a ghost director he put life and soul into the making of his home production, "Gunga Jumna", the same resulted in the ruining and inordinate delay in the making of "Sagina" and "Bairaag"', two of his greatest box-office disasters. The incomplete "Kalinga" - his official directorial venture - the making of which was always doused in controversy and bitterness tells its own sordid tale.

There is much more in the pages of both Bunny Reuben's "Dilip Kumar: Star Legend of Indian Cinema" (HarperCollins, Rs.500) and Sanjit Narwekar's "Dilip Kumar: The Last Emperor" (Rupa, Rs.295). They are valiant attempts at resurrecting the life and times of the star. Worth every penny.

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