He deserves better...
Dilip Kumar remains an important figure on Bollywood's silver screen. Surely he doesn't deserve an insipid biography like the one by Urmila Lanba.
TRUTH and reality can be more fascinating than fiction. Yet a biography is perhaps the most challenging genre for any writer. The problem with many biographers is that they are either unable to speak the truth, or are so awed by the subject as to drown objectivity in eulogy. Either way, the result is unrelieved shallowness. Urmila Lanba's effort demonstrates how even a great filmstar can be made to lose his lustre in namby-pamby raconteuring.
On the credit side, there are some good photographs (including one of a "Dilip Kumar Hot Chilli Pickle" jar with his tragic face on the wrapper). The chapters on Dilip Kumar's childhood and family background offer sidelights of the kind that kindle some reflection.
Born in Peshawar in 1922 now on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, among many siblings with whom he had close ties until the estrangement following his two marriages, little Yusuf had a happy life in a joint family. A horror scene in childhood was being sealed in a room with two corpses by accident.
We find Yusuf getting sensitised to literature and poetry through grandfather's readings from Persian and brother Ayub's collection of western classics. Soccer was an early passion, followed by badminton, kite-flying and cricket. Soon there were two households, one in Deolali, while the school going children were in Bombay under their eldest sister's care. We learn also that Yusuf loved nature, he was entranced by sunsets and talked to plants. Beginning as a waiter and fruit seller, his charm, good looks and ability to speak good English impressed Devika Rani, the first lady of Indian cinema, into casting him in lead roles. Despite some flops and setbacks, there was no looking back for the soon-to-be famous Dilip Kumar.
Lanba relates some good anecdotes in this section, including the puzzled reaction of the father who saw the son on a poster and exclaimed, "That boy looks like my Yusuf!"
It was left to his friend Diwan Bisheshwarnath (grandfather of Raj Kapoor) to break the stunning (and unwelcome) news that Yusuf had metamorphosed into Dilip Kumar.
But the long chapter on the thespian's films splurges superlatives and reads like the stringing of blurbs, with quotations from press reviews and this one from V. Shantaram "Had Shakespeare met Dilip Kumar, he would have added one more character to the already well-defined ones he had created."
If you expect something more profound in the discussion of Dilip Kumar's heroines, or of his (then) startling marriage to Saira Banu, or the even more startling and short-lived nikah with Asma, think again. There is something about the man's romance with Kamini Kaushal and more about Madhubala. But both the style and content remain at the level of schoolgirl reportage.
The worst is the description of the marriages. The biographer adopts a resentful tone towards Saira Banu and self-righteously condemns her as the cause of the rift between Kumar and his siblings. "Saira was rarely there. She was busy shooting and sometimes returned late at night in inappropriate costumes causing discord in the family."
With the Asma episode, you can see Lanba's sympathy for the duped star. She has her own standards of comparison for the women though. While Saira addressed her husband's friends and colleagues as "uncles", Asma "though much younger than Saira, played the part of the elder brother's wife and made a place for herself in their lives and their hearts."
And listen to this summing up of the man's character:
"Dilip is a born romantic; he hums, recites poetry, he is gentle and treats women with courtesy and chivalry. He always gets up when a lady enters, opens car doors for them, insists on carrying their vanity cases, etc. He has an old world charm they don't make men like that anymore!"
Whether secret marriage, police raid or his acceptance of an award from Pakistan, Lanba never tires of justifying and championing the Dilip Kumar cause. Her interviews with "insiders" seldom turn up anything beyond the superficial, while those with Dilip Kumar himself don't discover anything new. Surely so important a figure in Indian cinema and so charismatic a star deserves something better than anecdotage, gossip and platitudes for the story of his life, career and times.
Life And Films Of Dilip Kumar, Urmila Lanba, Vision Books, 2002, Rs. 325.
Send this article to Friends by