Dilip Kumar: The Substance and The Shadow – An Autobiography – as narrated to Udayatara Nayar

Hardback | 230 x 150 | 450pages | ISBN 9789381398869

Publishers: Hay House India

In a very technical sense, this is the third book on Dilip Kumar, the previous two being Dilip Kumar: Star Legend of Indian Cinema by Bunny Rueben and Nehru’s Hero: Dilip Kumar In The Life Of India by Lord Meghnad Desai.

In fact, the very genesis of the present autobiography is that whatever has been written earlier about Dilip Kumar is considered to be ‘full of distortions and misinformation’. So less is known about Yousuf Khan, the substance, and it is so natural to get myths floating around a towering figure of the stature of Dilp Kumar, the shadow, that “an authentic, heartfelt and compelling narrative”, in the form of an ‘autobiography’ would invariably whip up the appetite for the various ‘aspects of life and times of THE titan of Indian Cinema.

This is not a review of the book, but a fairly selective, critical appraisal that would provide a reasonable insight into the contents of the book, and thereby in the principal protagonist, Dilip Kumar, born on 11th December, 1922 as Mohammad Yousuf Khan, the fourth among eleven children of nice, gentle and pious Pathan couple – Mohammad Sarwar Han and Ayesha Bibi.

The contents of the book is spread over four phases – The Personal Life of Yousuf Khan; First and Second Innings at the Hindi Film Cinema; Marriage and Life with Saira Banu and Reminiscences by actors, directors, friends and relatives.

We would take up each section every week, starting with –

The Seeds of a Flight of a Fruit Merchant’s Son, Yousuf Khan, The Substance,  To The Legendary Thespian Dilip Kumar, The Shadow

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The book opens with a Foreword by Dilip Kumar’s wife Saira Banu. She extols ‘widely known admiration’ in an ardently pride narrative and in the process, presents some quite interesting facets of the persona of Dilip Kumar: image

§ Dilip Kumar is a fanatically voracious reader. The range of the subjects he reads is as much varied as is his range of histrionics. Dilip Kumar is also very keenly fond of good poetry, classical music and dance.

§ His persona transcends lands, religions and castes. He sternly refuses to see negative side of anyone or any situation.

§ His secular beliefs spring straight from his heart and his respect for all religions, castes, communities and creeds. His closet friends are Parsis.

§ He is very fond of his family.

§ He would never want to miss out on enjoying any of the splendour of nature’s beauty.

§ Flying kites, with the whole family in the toe, is great love. He maintains his treasure of his kites and manja with as much care and as much detail as he maintains his personal wardrobe.

imageUdaytara Nayar, a veteran journalist and writer on her own, is also a very close friend of Dilip Kumar and Saira Banu. In Introduction (A Dream Come True), while presenting the challenge of drawing out Dilip Kumar from his dislike of talking about himself, has been quite painstaking in documenting the frequent use of chaste Urdu in a fairly flowing English narrative. Of particular interest are the accounts of Dilip Kumar’s grasp of management skills as a complete professional and awareness of social responsibilities as a star and a role model. His uncanny choice of Premnath in a negative role in Aan (1952) as a key driver of the publicity or “He never faked anything, be it his appreciation..or his concern for a colleague” or meticulously studying the script and character and then to draw upon from his keen sense of observation are typical takeaways for a professional in any field of activities.

The first eight chapters vividly describes the built up of base of Yousuf Khan’s metamorphosis into Dilip Kumar takes place.image

Yousuf Khan’s date of Birth, in the Kissa Khwani Bazaar of a famous city of Peshawar in the then undivided India’s North West Frontier Province itself would find a mention in the chronicles, because a huge fire had gutted the goldsmiths’ workshops in that area. Yousuf’s Dadi’s opinion of her grandson’s arrival on this earth amidst blizzard and fire was further bolstered by fakir’s prophecy that the child was “made for great fame and unparalleled achievements.” Dadi’s extra efforts to protect her grandson form the evil eyes of the world seemed to transform Yousuf into an ‘loner at school, getting lost in the make-believe world of pictorial books.’

The pain of The Matriarch and Her Brood giving infant Yousuf a very ugly look to protect him from the evil of the world was to surface from the subconscious of Dilip Kumar while playing early tragic roles in career of the soon to be titled tragedy king. The isolation at the school did not seem to affect young Yousuf’s activities at home, but the mental agony of the characters that Dilip Kumar portrayed on the screen did lead him to seek help of psychotherapy.

The Escapades and Adventures of childhood years of Yousuf certainly seem to have ignited Dilip Kumar’s sense of storytelling. Young Yousuf would walk to the city square every day, in the toes of his father, Aghaji, to listen to unfolding of a narrative by one of the maulanas. He would not only enjoy the narrative but also let his fertile imagination conjure up characters and situations in his mind so graphically that back home he would try enacting the characters with the lines spoken by maulana. Several years later these embedded experiences were to unfold in the storytelling exercises for the cinema! Dadi was the first censor Yousuf came across in his life. She would abruptly curtail a story being told at the congregation of the family members around a bon fire of a sigdi on winter night, if she felt it was it was not good enough to be told in the presence of women and children. In his solitudes Child Yousuf also indulged in the pastime of imitating ladies and men who came visiting his parents. Among these visitors was the elder son of Yousuf’s father’s Hindu friend Basheshwarnath Kapoor, who would stun the ladies with his handsome appearance. That was Raj Kapoor’s father, Prithviraj Kapoor.

Off To Bombay: A New Chapter Begins when Yousuf’s father shifted to Bombay to explore the business potential in the wake of the news of impending world war. During the journey to Bombay by Frontier Mail, family friends would come to meet them with refreshments at some of the stations. Some of them were Hindus. When the trains stopped at stations, the vendors would sell ‘Hindu Chai, Hindu Paani, Muslim Chai, Muslim Panni. The travelling Khan family did take little notice of the difference. Adolescent Yousuf grew up in an atmosphere of warmth and affection. He was extremely shy, but not unhappy. There was no more shaving of his pate now (in the year 1937). The growth of thick black hair elicited compliments form all ladies, which would yield into a ritual by his mother for shooing away the evil eye. ‘Today, in (his) ninety-second year, (Saira Banu) performs the same ritual every time a visitor says something about,, looks or good health or when… dozens of people come for (autographs) and praise.. work!’

In The Growing Up Years, the family had shifted to Deolali (a hill station in Maharashtra, located about 180 km form Mumbai). Yousuf learnt English to a quite proficient degree. He also started taking keen interest in soccer. In fact, at that stage he had a desire to become a soccer champion and his father desired an OBE attached to his name. He met Raj Kapoor after many years at Khalsa College. In fact, theirs was not merely a friendship of two individuals in the same profession but a bonding that grew from well-placed trust and respect. Even as Yousuf was always trying to help his father, a destiny was being cared for him by the Almighty.

The Poona Interlude helped teenaged Yousuf find his own bearings, gain some valuable experience. That taste of a little bit of ‘freedom’ also made him unsure whether he would be able to continue to submit to the will of his father, and take over his mantle.

At that point of time, inevitable changes led to The Return of The Prodigal to Bombay, pining for warm, indescribable security of family and familiar surroundings.

Whilst in Bombay, Yousuf was now keenly searching for a meaningful occupation. One morning he happens to meet his father’s acquaintances. Dr. Masani. One thing led to another. Yousuf met Devika Rani and landed up with a job of Rs 1250 per month. This was The Turning Point. He also met Ashok Kumar, marking the beginning of a friendship that was to last and entire lifetime.

In addition to these chapters on his-pre-film life, Dilip Kumar has chosen to end the book with Family Matters to present his reply to persistent question asked to him: Whether there is anything at all that (he regrets) and wish(es) to obliterate from the canvas of (his) life. One such episode is his getting involved, under pressure, with lady named Asma Rehman. That mischievously perpetuated ‘second marriage’ was an error of judgement by a fallible human being. Saira Banu, despite the hurt caused to her pride and because of her intense faith in him, stood solidly by him. The whole episode strengthened their closeness and emotional dependence on each other. During the episode it was wrongly represented that Saira could not bear a child. The truth is she did conceive a child (in 1972), but was lost in the eighth month of the pregnancy because of several medical complications. Dilip Kumar also goes into a deep retrospective when he passionately narrates his attempts to give each of his brother and sister to scale the heights that he dreamt for them. He felt a moment of proud and that lump in the throat when Lata Mangeshakar, whom he fondly calls his ‘younger sister’, sang for him Allah Tero Naam on the eve of her soulful rendering of Ae Mere watan Ke Logo at a function in the presence of the then Prime Minister Jawhar Lal Nehru in Delhi.


We will take up next part of the article – First and Second Innings at the Hindi Film Cinema – on 19 February, 2015