Dilip Kumar was the first of his kind in Indian cinema and an institution, says Bollywood actor and director Farhan Akhtar.
“Before him, there was always a very loud theatrical style of acting. The hangover of entertainment shifting from stage to screen had still not worn off. Everything was projected and very loud,” Akhtar tells The National.
"And here came this guy who didn’t have any major background in acting, who created this idea of what an actor should be like in a time when everything was so heightened.”
Kumar, one of India's most respected actors known for his roles as a tragic hero in Hindi films, died on Wednesday morning, his family said. He was 98.
“To speak as softly as he did, to just mumble his line or just gesture with looks as opposed to relying on bombastic dialogues … I wasn’t even born then but I can imagine what a breath of fresh air it might have been to see something completely different and new,” Akhtar says.
Akhtar, who is promoting his coming film Toofaan, in which he plays a boxer, called himself “an absolutely massive fan” of Kumar.
“From playing Devdas, a really serious traumatic, helpless character, to someone in a film like Ram Aur Shyam, in which he is enthralling us with incredible comic timing, and action and drama, his range was phenomenal.”
Born Mohammed Yusuf Khan in 1922 in Peshawar, now in Pakistan, Kumar adopted the screen name of Dilip Kumar once he joined Indian cinema in the 1940s.
Kumar’s first role was in the 1944 film Jwar Bhata but his breakthrough movie was 1949’s Andaz, in which he played a jilted lover caught in a triangle between the woman he loves and her husband.
That role catapulted him to stardom, and was the beginning of a decade where he made a career of playing tragic roles.
Bimal Roy’s adaptation of Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay’s seminal novel Devdas in 1955 was the turning point in an already successful career, catapulting him to super-stardom.
His role as the doomed lover in Devdas earned Kumar the epithet of “tragedy king” – the man who embodied melancholy on screen.
“Anyone who’s come into film post-[Kumar’s] absolutely incredible career has been influenced by him,” Akhtar says. “Elements of his style and approach towards creating characters have been handed down through the generations.”
Akhtar, who comes from a family of filmmakers and actors, says he had the good fortune of meeting Kumar on a number of occasions.
“He was a thorough gentleman through and through, always witty and wise. He just had an aura about him … the fact that you were completely in awe of his talent added to it. But a great, great man,” he says.
“When people say things like ‘this man is an institution in himself', it’s for people like this that you say those things.”
Toofaan, directed by Rakyesh Omprakash Mehra and starring Akhtar, along with Paresh Rawal and Mrunal Thakur, debuts on Amazon Prime Video on Friday, July 16. Watch the trailer below: