Dilip Kumar’s legacy

Published July 8, 2021

TOMES have been written about his magical and unparalleled talent as a movie actor. The late thespian Dilip Kumar, however, endeared himself to South Asia’s moviegoers with more than his range and calibre as an actor’s actor. It was his studiously cultured persona and dedicated work as a public intellectual — rather cannily in the footsteps of his self-confessed icon Marlon Brando — that promises to be inexorably entwined with Dilip Kumar’s lasting memory. He spoke for peace and communal harmony, a factor that may have prompted the Pakistan government to anoint him with its highest civilian award in 1998. The citation described Dilip Kumar as a great actor, of course, but also underlined his struggle for multicultural and multiethnic harmony. That naturally riled reactionary quarters in India. The fact that his death on Wednesday at 98 coincided with a sharp downturn in India’s political standing as a rainbow democracy is thus not bereft of irony.

Dilip Kumar’s early grooming and eclectic education enabled him to make a seamless transition as a polyglot between his native Pashto, which he spoke fluently with Punjabi and Urdu in which he excelled. American-born actor Tom Alter asked him the secret of his brilliance. Pat came the reply: “Sher-o-sukhan.” Simply put, love of literature and Urdu poetry in particular showed starkly in the aura of the actor called Dilip Kumar. This was true of his contemporaries too, like Balraj Sahni and Motilal. It was another era. He was, however, not constrained by his love for Urdu. The one immensely successful movie he made — Ganga Jamuna — saw him and his handpicked Tamil heroine Vyjayanthimala delivering lines with near accuracy in the difficult Bhojpuri dialect of eastern UP. Dilip Kumar pointedly questioned any link between his language and his religion as a Muslim. There wasn’t a movie other than the magnum opus Mughal-i-Azam in which he played a Muslim character. Yet it was sher-o-sukhan that inspired his fabled dialogues and the pauses between the lines.

Published in Dawn, July 8th, 2021



Updated 21 May, 2022

Band-aid measure

A more pronounced impact would have been possible had the cap on energy prices been removed.
21 May, 2022

Bilawal’s defence

BILAWAL Bhutto-Zardari’s robust defence at the UN headquarters of former prime minister Imran Khan’s Feb 24 trip...
21 May, 2022

Yasin Malik’s conviction

THE conviction of veteran Kashmiri freedom fighter and head of the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front Yasin Malik by an...
Updated 20 May, 2022

TTP peace talks

ANOTHER attempt to sue for peace with the outlawed TTP is being made, again facilitated by the Afghan Taliban that...
20 May, 2022

Beyond the law

THE senior judiciary should take care not to overreach in its zeal to ‘fix’ issues it ideally need not worry...
20 May, 2022

Political musical chairs

YET another political crisis is brewing in Balochistan, where old rivals Jam Kamal Khan Alyani and Sardar Yar...