Halfway through the production of the epic Mughal-e-Azam (1960), its lead pair Dilip Kumar and Madhubala fell out with each other. “The classic scene with a feather coming between our lips, which set a million imagination on fire, was shot when we had completely stopped talking,” writes Dilip Kumar in his autobiography, The Substance and the Shadow (2014). But that did not come in the way of their professionalism. Till today, this gorgeously picturised scene remains a classic. It is possible that Kumar, widely appreciated as the man who modernised acting by bringing in realism and nuance, had internalised the character of Salim to such a degree that he was unaffected by personal discord.
The screen icon and cultural ambassador, who has inspired generations of actors, passed away on Wednesday. He was laid to rest at Juhu Kabristan with full state honours.
Born Muhammed Yusuf Khan in Pakistan’s Peshawar in 1922, the actor debuted in Jwar Bhata in 1944. He appeared in a string of successful movies such as Mela (1948), Andaz (1949), Deedar (1951), Devdas (1954) and Naya Daur (1957), cementing his reputation as a superstar. Despite his phenomenal success, he remained down to earth. “From the most exalted admirer, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, to the lowest paid studio worker, who waited to say salaam to him, the warm extension of his hands in greeting was the same,” wrote actor Dharmendra in one of the articles by eminent colleagues in Kumar’s autobiography.
Kumar received numerous awards, including the Dadasaheb Phalke Award (1994), Padma Vibhushan (2015) and Nishan-e-Imtiaz (1998), Pakistan’s highest civilian honour. “Without exaggeration, I can say that every actor who came into the business after him and who is continuing to seek employment in the industry has emulated him,” wrote Dharmendra about Kumar’s legacy.