Bollywood icon Dilip Kumar, hailed as the “Tragedy King” and one of Indian cinema’s greatest actors, died Wednesday in a Mumbai hospital after a prolonged illness. He was 98.
The “Tragedy King” title came from Kumar’s numerous serious roles. In several, his character died as a frustrated lover and a drunkard. He also was known as Bollywood’s only method actor for his expressive performances identifying a character’s emotions.
Saira Banu, wife of Indian actor Dilip Kumar, wearing blue mask, centre, mourns near his body at a hospital in Mumbai.
Kumar was hospitalised twice last month after he complained of breathlessness, and his family tweeted “with a heavy heart and profound grief” the announcement of his passing.
“Dilip Kumar will be remembered as a cinematic legend. He was blessed with unparalleled brilliance, due to which audiences across generations were enthralled. His passing away is a loss to our cultural world,” Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in a tweet that also offered his condolences to Kumar’s family and admirers.
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“An institution has gone,” Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan tweeted. “Whenever the history of Indian cinema will be written, it shall always be ‘before Dilip Kumar, and after Dilip Kumar’ …”
“It’s the end of an era,” filmmaker Madhur Bhandarkar said.
He was born Muhammad Yusuf Khan, a Muslim, on December 11, 1922. His Pathan family hailed from Peshawar, in what became Pakistan after Partition, and he visited his ancestral home in the late 1980s.
He changed his name as he debuted in Bollywood, the Hindi-language film industry centreed in Mumbai, with Jwar Bhata,’ or Sea Tides, in 1944.
His career spanned over six decades with over 60 films. His first major box-office hits were Jugnu, or Firefly, in 1947 in which he starred alongside Noor Jehan, and the 1948 film Shaheed or Martyr.
He played a variety of characters – a romantic hero in Andaz, a swashbuckler in Aan, a dramatic drunkard in Devdas, a comic role in Azaad, a Muslim prince in the historical epic Mughal-e-Azam and a robber in the social movie Ganga Jamuna.
Mehboob Khan’s blockbuster Aan in 1952 was his first film in Technicolor and was among a string of lighthearted roles he took at the suggestion of his psychiatrist to shed his “Tragedy King” image.
He starred in many social drama films like Footpath, Naya Daur, Musafir, and Paigham in 1950s.
His top female co-stars included Madhubala, Nargis, Nimmi, Meena Kumari, Kamini Kaushal and Vyjanthimala.
In 1966,Dilip Kumar married Saira Banu, who was 22 years younger than him, and the couple acted in Gopi, Sagina Mahato and Bairaag. They had no children.
In 1961, he produced and starred in Ganga Jamuna in which he and his brother, Nasir Khan, played the title roles. It was the only film he produced. Indian media reports say he declined the role of Sherif Ali in David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia in 1962. The role went to Egyptian actor Omar Sharif.
He took a break in the late ’70s but returned with a character role in the successful Kranti, in 1981. He continued playing key roles in films such as Shakti, Karma and Saudagar. His last film was Qila in 1998.
In 1994, he was given the Dadasaheb Phalke award, the highest honour for contributions to Indian cinema. He also served in the upper house of Indian parliament after being nominated for a six-year term.