Mohammed Yusuf Khan (11 December 1922 – 7 July 2021), better known by his stage name Dilip Kumar, was an Indian actor and film producer who worked in Hindi cinema. Referred to as the "Tragedy King" for his portrayal of serious roles and retrospectively as "The First Khan" of Bollywood, he has been described as one of the most successful film stars in the industry and is credited with bringing a distinct form of method acting to cinema. Kumar holds the record for most wins for the Filmfare Award for Best Actor (eight, which was later equalled by Shah Rukh Khan), and was also the inaugural recipient of the award.
Mohammed Yusuf Khan
11 December 1922
|Died||7 July 2021 (aged 98)|
Mumbai, Maharashtra, India
|Resting place||Juhu Qabrastan, Mumbai|
|Other names||Tragedy King, The First Khan|
|Member of Parliament, Rajya Sabha|
3 April 2000 – 2 April 2006
In a career spanning over five decades, Kumar worked in over 65 films in a variety of roles. He debuted as an actor in the film Jwar Bhata (1944), produced by Bombay Talkies. Following a series of unsuccessful ventures, he had his first box office hit in Jugnu (1947). Kumar found further success with the romantic Andaz (1949), the swashbuckling Aan (1952), the social drama Daag (1952), the dramatic Devdas (1955), the comical Azaad (1955), the romantic social Naya Daur (1957), the noir mystery Madhumati (1958), the comedy-drama Paigham (1959) the epic historical Mughal-e-Azam (1960), the social dacoit crime drama Gunga Jamuna (1961), and the comedy Ram Aur Shyam (1967). Both Andaz and Aan briefly became the highest-grossing Indian film up to that point, a feat later achieved by Mughal-e-Azam, which sustained the record for 15 years. As of 2021, the latter remains the highest-grossing film in India when adjusted for inflation.
The 1970s saw Kumar's career take a downturn, marked by three back to back commercial failures, namely Dastaan (1972), Sagina (1974) and Bairaag (1976). In 1976, he went on a five-year hiatus from film performances and returned with the revolutionary drama Kranti, which was the highest-grossing Indian film of the year. He continued to play leading roles in films such as Shakti (1982), Karma (1986), and Saudagar (1991). His last on-screen appearance was in the commercially unsuccessful Qila (1998), which saw him in a dual role. Kumar later served as a member of the Rajya Sabha, the upper house of India's parliament, from 2000 to 2006.
Kumar's personal life was the subject of much media attention. He was in a long-term relationship with actress and frequent co-star Madhubala that ended after the Naya Daur court case in 1957. He married actress Saira Banu in 1966 and resided in Bandra, a suburb of Mumbai, until his death in 2021. For his contributions to film, the Government of India awarded him with the Padma Bhushan in 1991 and the Padma Vibhushan in 2015, the country's third and second-highest civilian awards respectively. He was also awarded India's highest accolade in the field of cinema, the Dadasaheb Phalke Award in 1994. In 1998, the Government of Pakistan conferred Kumar with Nishan-e-Imtiaz, their highest civilian decoration, making him the only Indian to have received the honour. The house that Kumar grew up in, located in Peshawar, was declared a national heritage monument in 2014 by the Pakistani government.
Kumar was born as Mohammad Yusuf Khan on 11 December 1922, into an Awan Muslim family at his family home in the Qissa Khawani Bazaar area of Peshawar, a city in North-West Frontier Province, British India (present-day Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan). He was one of the twelve children of Lala Ghulam Sarwar Khan and his wife Ayesha Begum. His father was a fruit merchant.
Khan was schooled at Barnes School, Deolali, where his father owned orchards. He grew up in the same neighbourhood as Raj Kapoor, his childhood friend, and later his colleague in the film industry. In 1940, he moved to Pune and set up a dry fruit supply shop and a canteen. Despite hailing from Peshawar, Khan's family decided to remain in Bombay following the partition of the subcontinent in 1947.
Khan never acted under his birth name, debuting in Jwar Bhata in 1944 under the stage name Dilip Kumar. In his autobiography, Dilip Kumar: The Substance and the Shadow, he wrote that the name was a suggestion from Devika Rani, who was one of the producers on Jwar Bhata. In an interview in 1970, he said that he adopted this name out of fear of his father, who never approved of his acting career.
1940s: First film roles and initial success
Kumar's first film was Jwar Bhata in 1944, which went unnoticed. After a few more unsuccessful films, it was Jugnu (1947), in which he starred alongside Noor Jehan, that became his first major hit at the box office. His next major hits were the 1948 films Shaheed and Mela.
He got his breakthrough role in 1949 with Mehboob Khan's Andaz, in which he starred alongside Raj Kapoor and Nargis. At the time of its release, Andaz was the highest-grossing Indian film ever, until its record was broken by Kapoor's Barsaat that same year. Shabnam was another box office hit that was also released in 1949.
1950s: Breakthrough years
Kumar went on to have success in the 1950s playing leading roles in several box office hits such as Jogan (1950), Babul (1950), Deedar (1951), Tarana (1951), Daag (1952), Amar (1954), Uran Khatola (1955), Insaniyat (1955) in which he co-starred with Dev Anand, Devdas (1955), Naya Daur (1957), Yahudi (1958), Madhumati (1958) and Paigham (1959). Several of these films established his screen image as the "Tragedy King". Kumar briefly suffered from depression due to portraying many tragic roles and on the advice of his psychiatrist, he also took on light-hearted roles. Mehboob Khan's big-budget 1952 swashbuckling musical Aan featured him in one of his first lighter roles and marked his first film to be shot in technicolor. Aan was the first Indian film to have a wide release across Europe with a lavish premiere in London. Aan was the highest-grossing Indian film ever at the time, domestically and overseas. He had further success with lighter roles as a thief in the comedy Azaad (1955), and as a royal prince in the musical Kohinoor (1960).
He was the first actor to win the Filmfare Best Actor Award (for Daag) and went on to win it a further seven times. He formed popular on-screen pairings with many of the top actresses at the time including Vyjayanthimala, Madhubala, Nargis, Nimmi, Meena Kumari and Kamini Kaushal. 9 of his films in the 1950s were ranked in the Top 30 highest-grossing films of the decade.
1960s: Mughal-e-Azam and venture into production
In 1960, he portrayed Prince Salim in K. Asif's big-budget epic historical film Mughal-e-Azam, which was the highest-grossing film in Indian film history for 11 years until it was surpassed by the 1975 film Sholay. If adjusted for inflation, Mughal-e-Azam was the highest-grossing Indian film through to the early 2010s, equivalent to over ₹1000 crore in 2011.
The film was originally shot in black and white, with only two songs and the climax scenes shot in colour. 44 years after its original release, it was fully colourised and theatrically re-released in 2004 and was once again a box office success.
In 1961, Kumar wrote, produced, and starred in Ganga Jamuna opposite his brother Nasir Khan, playing the title roles. Kumar produced the film under his production company Citizens and it would be the only film he produced. He chose the shade of saree that his co-star Vyjayanthimala would wear in every scene. The film received the National Film Award for Second Best Feature Film in Hindi, the Paul Revere Silver Bowl at the Boston International Film Festival, the Special Honour Diploma from the Czechoslovak Academy of Arts in Prague, and the Special Prize at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival.
In 1962, British director David Lean offered him the role of "Sherif Ali" in his film Lawrence of Arabia (1962), but Kumar declined to perform in the movie. The role eventually went to Omar Sharif, the Egyptian actor. Kumar commented in his much later released autobiography, "he thought Omar Sharif had played the role far better than he himself could have". Kumar was also being considered for a leading role opposite Elizabeth Taylor in a film that Lean was working on called Taj Mahal, before the project was cancelled.
His next film Leader (1964) was a below-average grosser at the box office. Kumar was also credited with writing the story of this film. His next film Dil Diya Dard Liya (1966), opposite Waheeda Rehman was rumoured to have been ghost directed by him but the final credit was given to Abdul Rashid Kardar. In 1967, Kumar played a dual role of twins separated at birth in the hit film Ram Aur Shyam. In 1968, he starred alongside Manoj Kumar and Waheeda Rehman in Aadmi which was an average grosser at the box office. That same year, he starred in Sunghursh with Vyjayanthimala which was their last film together which created a total of seven hit films together.
1970s: Career slump
Kumar's career slumped in the 1970s with the 1970 film Gopi being his only box office success. This film also marked his first pairing with his wife Saira Banu. That same year, they were paired again in his first and only Bengali film Sagina Mahato. In 1972, he once again played dual roles as twin brothers in Dastaan which was a box office failure.
A Hindi remake of Sagina Mahato, simply titled Sagina, was made in 1974 with the same cast reprising their roles. In 1976, he played triple roles as a father and twin sons in Bairaag (1976), which failed to do well at the box office. He personally regarded M. G. Ramachandran's performance in Enga Veettu Pillai better than his role in Ram Aur Shyam. He regards his performance in Bairaag much higher than that of Ram Aur Shyam. Although his performance in Bairaag and Gopi were critically acclaimed, he lost many film offers to act in leading roles to actors Rajesh Khanna and Sanjeev Kumar from 1970 to 1980. He took a five-year hiatus from films from 1976 to 1981.
1980s: Return to success
In 1981, he returned to films as a character actor playing mature elderly roles. His comeback film was the star-studded historical epic Kranti which was the biggest hit of the year. Appearing alongside an ensemble cast including Manoj Kumar, Shashi Kapoor, Hema Malini and Shatrughan Sinha, he played the title role as a revolutionary fighting for India's independence from British rule. In 1982, he collaborated with director Subhash Ghai for the first time with Vidhaata (1982), in which he starred alongside Sanjay Dutt, Sanjeev Kumar and Shammi Kapoor. Vidhatta was the highest grossing film of the year. Later that year he starred alongside Amitabh Bachchan in Ramesh Sippy's Shakti, which was an average grosser at the box office, but won him critical acclaim and his eighth and final Filmfare Award for Best Actor. In 1984, he starred in Yash Chopra's social crime drama Mashaal opposite Anil Kapoor, which failed at the box office, but his performance was critically acclaimed. He also appeared alongside Rishi Kapoor in Duniya (1984) and Jeetendra in Dharm Adhikari (1986).
His second collaboration with Subhash Ghai came with the 1986 ensemble action film Karma. Karma marked the first film which paired him opposite fellow veteran actress Nutan, although they were paired in an incomplete and unreleased film in the 1950s titled Shikwa. He acted opposite Nutan again in the 1989 action film Kanoon Apna Apna which also reunited him with Sanjay Dutt.
1990s: Directorial debut and final works
In 1990, he co-starred with Govinda in the action thriller Izzatdaar. In 1991, Kumar starred alongside fellow veteran actor Raaj Kumar in Saudagar, his third and last film with director Subhash Ghai. This was his second film with Raaj Kumar after 1959's Paigham. Saudagar was to be Kumar's penultimate film and last box office success. In 1994, he won the Filmfare Lifetime Achievement Award for his contributions to the industry.
In 1991, producer Sudhakar Bokade who had previously worked with Kumar in Izzatdaar announced a film titled Kalinga which would officially mark Kumar's directorial debut after he had allegedly previously ghost directed Ganga Jamuna (1961) and Dil Diya Dard Liya (1967). Kumar was also set to star in the title role with the cast including Raj Babbar, Raj Kiran, Amitoj Mann and Meenakshi Seshadri. After being delayed for several years Kalinga was eventually shelved in 1996 with 70% filming completed.
In 1998, Kumar made his last film appearance in the box office flop Qila, where he played dual roles as an evil landowner who is murdered and as his twin brother who tries to solve the mystery of his death.
2000s–2021: Shelved projects and political career
In 2001, Kumar was set to appear in a film titled Asar – The Impact alongside Ajay Devgan and Priyanka Chopra, which was shelved due to Kumar's declining health. He was also set to appear in Subhash Ghai's war film Mother Land, alongside Amitabh Bachchan and Shah Rukh Khan, but this film was shelved after Khan decided to leave the project.
His classic films Mughal-e-Azam and Naya Daur were fully colourised and re-released in cinemas in 2004 and 2008 respectively. An unreleased film he had shot and completed titled Aag Ka Dariya was set for a theatrical release in 2013 but has not been released to date.
Kumar was a member of the Rajya Sabha, the upper house of India's parliament, from 2000 to 2006. He was nominated by the Indian National Congress to represent Maharashtra. Kumar utilised a significant portion of his MPLADS fund towards the construction and improvement of the Bandstand Promenade and the gardens at Bandra Fort at Lands End in Bandra.
Kumar had fallen in love with Madhubala during the shooting of Tarana. They remained in a relationship for seven years until the Naya Daur court case, during which Kumar testified against Madhubala and her father, ending their relationship. They never worked together again after Mughal-e-Azam (1960). In the late 1950s, Vyjayanthimala was linked by gossip magazines to Kumar, who has acted with her the most compared to any other actress, which resulted in great on-screen chemistry between them. While working for his home production Gunga Jumna (1961), Kumar reportedly handpicked the shade of sari that Vyjayanthimala would wear in every scene.
In 1966, Kumar married actress Saira Banu, who was 22 years younger than him. He later married Hyderabad socialite Asma Sahiba, taking her as a second wife in 1981. That marriage ended in January 1983. Banu and he lived in Bandra. They did not have any children. In his autobiography, Dilip Kumar: The Substance and the Shadow, he revealed that Banu had conceived in 1972, but developed complications in the pregnancy, leading to the child's death. Following this, they did not try to have children again, believing it to be God's will.
Kumar was fluent in Urdu, Hindi, Pashto, Punjabi, Marathi, English, Bengali, Gujarati, Hindko, Bhojpuri, Persian and the Awadhi dialect. He was also a great music enthusiast and also learnt how to play the sitar for a film. He loved cricket and played it often. He led a cricket team against Raj Kapoor in a friendly cricket match held for charity. Both growing up in Peshawar and in Bombay, Dilip Kumar and his family had a close relationship with the Kapoor family.
Kumar died at Hinduja Hospital, Mumbai, on 7 July 2021 at 7:30 am, aged 98. He died after a prolonged illness. He had been suffering from several age-related issues, in addition to testicular cancer and pleural effusion. The Government of Maharashtra approved his burial with state honours at the Juhu Muslim Cemetery that same day.
Expressing their condolences, Prime Minister Narendra Modi stated in a tweet that Kumar would be remembered as a cinematic legend, while the President, Ram Nath Kovind, stated that "he was loved across the subcontinent". The Prime Minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan, also expressed condolences for his death and remembered his efforts in raising funds for the Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital in a tweet. The former President of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, and the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina, also expressed condolences to Kumar and his family.
Artistry and legacy
Kumar is widely considered one of the greatest and most influential actors in the history of Indian cinema, and cinema in general. Kumar was a pioneer of method acting, predating Hollywood method actors such as Marlon Brando. He inspired many great Indian cinema actors, including Amitabh Bachchan, Shah Rukh Khan, Kamal Haasan, Aamir Khan, Balraj Sahni, Naseeruddin Shah, Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Irrfan Khan. Kumar, who pioneered his own form of method acting without any acting school experience, was described as "the ultimate method actor" by noted filmmaker Satyajit Ray, despite not having worked with him.
Kumar was also known as "Tragedy King" because of the depressing but award-winning roles he took early in his career. He is also retrospectively known as "The First Khan" of Bollywood. He became one of the earliest and most revered stars in the history of Indian cinema who was loved across the subcontinent and among the Indian diaspora worldwide.
Kumar, Raj Kapoor and Dev Anand together formed "the golden trio" of Indian cinema, with camaraderie between the three contemporary actors, all considered great for their own style. Kumar went on to become the biggest Indian film star of 1950s and 1960s ahead of Raj Kapoor and Dev Anand. So total was his presence that film critics have quoted, "Kumar towered like a mountain in the middle of Hindi film history, obscuring his predecessors and dwarfing his contemporaries."
Over his career, Kumar received eight Filmfare Awards for Best Actor (with 19 total nominations), the most of any actor (and was also its inaugural recipient), and a Filmfare Lifetime Achievement Award (1993). He also received a Special Recognition Filmfare Award at the 50th Filmfare Awards for being one of the first recipients of Filmfare Awards along with Lata Mangeshkar and Naushad Ali.
Kumar was appointed Sheriff of Mumbai (an honorary position) for 1980. The Government of India honoured Kumar with the Padma Bhushan in 1991, the Dadasaheb Phalke Award in 1994 and the Padma Vibhushan in 2015. The Government of Andhra Pradesh honoured Kumar with NTR National Award in 1997. He was honoured with CNN-IBN's Lifetime Achievement Award in 2009.
The Government of Pakistan conferred Kumar with the Nishan-e-Imtiaz, the highest civilian award in Pakistan, in 1998. The ruling political party of Shiv Sena in Maharashtra, India, had objected to this award and questioned Kumar's patriotism. However, in 1999, in consultation with the then-Prime Minister of India Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Kumar retained the award.
From the independence of India in 1947 to the late 2010s, Kumar held the record of performing in the highest number of highest-grossing box office grossing films (9 films) until his record was broken by Salman Khan, who performed in 10 such films. However, when adjusted for inflation, the record remains with Kumar, with his historical movie Mughal-e-Azam remaining the highest-grossing film in India.
Kumar was voted the "Greatest Indian Actor of All Time" in a Rediff Readers poll in 2011. He holds the Guinness World Record for having received the most awards by an Indian actor. He was honoured by the World Book of Records on his 97th birthday for his "matchless contribution to Indian cinema and promoting social causes".
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