One rainy Bengaluru evening my editor emailed me requesting a review of the book, Dilip Kumar: In The Shadow of a Legend, written by Faisal Farooqui. Needless to say I was apprehensive, as neither do I watch many movies nor do I enjoy reading biographies.
Dilip Kumar is a legend. But, sadly as he acted in movies way before I was born, I never got the opportunity to see any of his movies, except Saudagar which was one his last few memorable works. But, luckily I had heard a lot about Dilip Kumar and his phenomenal acting skills from close family members who had grown up watching his movies.
A few chapters into the book I had warmed up to the man people called the thespian. Dilip Kumar was introduced to Farooqui through his elder brother, Asif. As a young boy Farooqui was enraptured Dilip Kumar.
The book starts with the chapter titled, "Milte Rehna". Once, Dilip Kumar was invited to watch a play performed by college students. After the play, the actor wanted to meet the person who had written and directed it. Complimenting the professor, Dilip Kumar told him, milte rehna. The engineering professor was none other than Kader Khan.
He repeated the same phrase to a bus conductor with whom he had a brief conversation, during his frequent bus travels in his younger days. The conductor’s unique way of walking fascinated him. So did his nasal voice. The bus conductor was Johnny Walker. Farooqui doesn’t mention whether both Khan and Walker got a break through Dilip Kumar but the words "milte rehna" certainly turned out to be inspirational for both Khan and Walker.
Born in Peshawar, a city in Pakistan, Kumar’s birth name was Mohammed Yusuf Khan. His father Lala Ghulam Sarwar Khan was a fruit merchant, owning orchards in Peshawar and Deolali near Nashik. As a young boy playing with his friends, he witnessed the Qissa Khwani Bazaar Massacre of 1930, an incident that left a lasting impression on the boy’s mind.
Soon his family shifted to Mumbai. Due to the family’s dwindling finances, getting a job was high on Dilip Kumar’s mind. His first job was in Pune where he worked in the British Army Cantonment canteen. An officer impressed with the young lad helped him open his own canteen. With his two-year lease over, he returned to Mumbai to look for another job. A chance encounter with their family friend Dr Masani led him to the suburban studio, Bombay Talkies, where he met the studio owner Devika Rani. She offered him a job at a salary of Rs 1,200 per month, as a lead actor for their upcoming movie Jwar Bhata and also asked him to choose his stage name, giving him three choices. Dilip Kumar kept his family in the dark about his movie role. The way his father finds out makes for one of the book’s most hilarious chapters. The sobriquet of ‘Tragedy King,’ that Dilip Kumar acquired at the age of 26, from the roles of the troubled souls he played in many movies, ended up giving him depression for a brief period in his life.
One thing I liked was the way Farooqui has handled the writing. Though at times his hero worship comes across clearly, he has ensured that the reader collects a whole lot of wisdom and life teachings from Dilip Kumar. In my opinion, that is what makes the book stand out.
Dilip Kumar: In the Shadow of a Legend
By Faisal Farooqui
pp. 186, Rs.599