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Dilip Kumar, Film Star Who Brought Realism to Bollywood, Dies at 98

One of India’s earliest Method actors, he was the last survivor of a triumvirate of actors who ruled Hindi cinema in the 1950s and ’60s.

biography dilip kumar

By Baradwaj Rangan

Dilip Kumar, the last of a triumvirate of actors who ruled Hindi cinema in the 1950s and ’60s, died on Wednesday in Mumbai, India. He was 98.

His death, at a hospital, was confirmed by Faisal Farooqui, a family friend, who posted a brief statement on Mr. Kumar’s official Twitter account .

In post-independence India, Mr. Kumar and two other stars set about defining the Hindi film hero. Raj Kapoor reflected the newly minted Indian’s confusion: His signature role was that of the Chaplinesque naïf negotiating a world that was losing its innocence. Dev Anand , known as the Gregory Peck of India, embodied a Western insouciance that still lingered; he became a stylish matinee idol.

Mr. Kumar, though, delved deeply into his characters, breaking free from the semaphoric silent-movie style of acting popularized by megastars like Sohrab Modi and Prithviraj Kapoor.

As one of the country’s earliest Method actors, he was often compared to Marlon Brando, another early adopter of the technique , even though Mr. Kumar claimed he had used it first.

“I learned the importance of studying the script and characters deeply and building upon my own gut observations and sensations about my own and other characters,” Mr. Kumar said in his autobiography, “The Substance and the Shadow” (2014). “The truth is that I am an actor who evolved a method.”

His preparation for roles became the stuff of legend. For his death scene in the 1961 megahit “Gunga Jumna,” he ran around the studio so that he could enter the set at the point of exhaustion.

For a song sequence in the 1960 film “Kohinoor” (“Mountain of Light”), he learned to play the sitar. For emotional sequences in the 1982 movie “Shakti” (“Power”) and the 1984 movie “Mashaal” (“Torch”), he drew from memories of when his brother died, recalling the pain that registered on his father’s face.

Mr. Kumar was born Yousuf Khan in Peshawar (then part of British India, now in Pakistan) on Dec. 11, 1922, the fourth of Ayesha and Mohammad Sarwar Khan’s 12 children. His father, a fruit merchant, moved the family to Bombay, now known as Mumbai, and then to Deolali, in west India, where Dilip attended the Barnes School before enrolling in Khalsa College in Bombay.

He wanted to play soccer or cricket professionally, but the family’s financial situation forced him to look for work elsewhere. For a time he was an assistant at an army canteen in Poona (now Pune).

A chance encounter with a former teacher changed his life. When he said he was looking for a job, the teacher introduced him to the pioneering Indian actress Devika Rani, who, along with Himanshu Rai, had established the Bombay Talkies studio. The idea was to get a job, any job, but Ms. Rani asked if he would consider becoming an actor.

Mr. Kumar, who had seen only one film in his life — a war documentary — was flummoxed, but the money persuaded him. Ms. Rani said that taking on a Hindu screen name to obscure his Muslim background would help his career. He became Dilip Kumar.

His first film, “Jwar Bhata” (“Ebb and Flow”), released in 1944, was a flop; Baburao Patel, the acerbic critic of Film India, called him “anemic.” But three years later his performance in “Jugnu” (“Firefly”), alongside Noor Jehan, received more favorable attention. By the time “Shaheed” (“Martyr”) was released in 1948, Mr. Patel was singing his praises: “Dilip Kumar steals the picture with his deeply felt and yet natural delineation of the main role.”

The hits kept coming, including “Nadiya Ke Paar” (“Across the River”), “Shabnam” (“Dewdrops”) and Mehboob Khan’s “Andaz” (“Style”), in which Mr. Kumar was cast with Mr. Kapoor and the actress Nargis. In 1954, Mr. Kumar won the newly instituted Filmfare Award for best actor for his performance as an alcoholic in the tragic love story “Daag” (“The Stain”). He won seven more Filmfare statuettes for best actor in addition to a lifetime achievement award. Guinness World Records honored him on his 97th birthday for his “matchless contribution” to Indian cinema.

Many of his early films had him chasing unattainable women. The 1950 melodrama “Jogan” (“Nun”) ends with him weeping at his lover’s grave. That same year, he played a Heathcliff-like character in “Arzoo” (“Desire”), one of three variations on “Wuthering Heights” in which he acted.

He earned the nickname Tragedy King after appearing in a series of dramas that a psychiatrist later said had taken a toll on Mr. Kumar’s health. In the 1951 movie “Deedar” (“Sight”), Mr. Kumar played a blind man whose eyesight is restored through surgery but who blinds himself again when he realizes that he and the surgeon are in love with the same woman. (To prepare for the role, Mr. Kumar observed a blind beggar at the Bombay Central railway station.)

One of his best-known tragedies is Bimal Roy’s “Devdas” (1955), about a man who becomes an alcoholic when his childhood sweetheart deserts him.

Mr. Kumar’s love life made news; he had relationships with the actresses Kamini Kaushal, Madhubala (they co-starred in the 1960 blockbuster “Mughal-e-Azam,” about thwarted lovers, long after they broke up) and Saira Banu, whom he married in 1966 when he was 44 and she was 22. In the 1980s, while still married to Ms. Banu, Mr. Kumar married the socialite Asma Rehman in secret. The news quickly came out, and the marriage became a scandal, but Ms. Banu stuck with Mr. Kumar, who ended the second marriage.

He is survived by Ms. Banu.

Professionally, Mr. Kumar’s record was spotless, with films that have not only been successful but have also left a lasting impact. Films like “Naya Daur” (“New Era”) in 1957, “Yahudi” (“The Jews”) in 1958, “Madhumati,” also in 1958, and “Ram Aur Shyam” (“Ram and Shyam”) in 1967 are still remembered.

Mr. Kumar found fewer roles in the 1970s, with younger, more agile actors being cast as heroes, and he took a break.

He returned in 1981 with a blockbuster, “Kranti” (“Revolution”), which reshaped his screen persona as an older moral center. He had similar roles in star-heavy mega-productions like “Vidhaata” (“The Creator”) in 1982, “Karma” in 1986, Saudagar (“The Merchant”) in 1991 and especially “Shakti,” in which he was cast for the first time opposite the reigning Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan.

Mr. Kumar’s last film was “Qila” (“Fort”), released in 1998. By then, a reviewer wrote in India Today , his style felt “more than just outdated, it’s prehistoric,” adding, “Dilip Kumar’s long-drawn-out dialogue delivery is out of sync with the times.”

Mr. Kumar received the Padma Bhushan, one of India’s highest civilian awards, in 1991; the Dadasaheb Phalke, India’s highest award for cinematic excellence, in 1994; and the Padma Vibhushan in 2015. From 2000 to 2006 he served as a member of the Rajya Sabha, the upper house of Parliament.

But these honors from the Indian government consumed far less newsprint than the decision by the Pakistani government, in 1998, to confer on him its highest civilian honor, the Nishan-e-Imtiaz. Amid heightened religious tensions, Mr. Kumar was branded an anti-national by Hindu politicians, who asked him to return the award to Pakistan. He did not. He said in his autobiography that returning it “could have only soured relations further and produced bad vibes between India and Pakistan.”

If Mr. Kumar was a tactful diplomat off screen, on the screen his characters would launch into more rebellious rhetoric. In the 1974 period drama “Sagina,” when labeled a traitor, his character responded, “If you’ve drunk your mother’s milk” — meaning, if you’re man enough — “then come get me.”

Mujib Mashal contributed reporting.

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Bollywood Icon Dilip Kumar Has Died

The Associated Press

biography dilip kumar

Veteran Bollywood actor Dilip Kumar, shown here in 2008, died Wednesday in a Mumbai hospital after a prolonged illness. He was 98. Gurinder Osan/AP hide caption

Veteran Bollywood actor Dilip Kumar, shown here in 2008, died Wednesday in a Mumbai hospital after a prolonged illness. He was 98.

NEW DELHI — Bollywood icon Dilip Kumar, hailed as the "Tragedy King" and one of Hindi 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.

Kumar was hospitalized 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.

"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' .."

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Kumar's body, draped in the Indian flag, was accorded a state funeral led by a police band. He was buried in a Muslim graveyard in Mumbai city.

Major Bollywood stars, including Shah Rukh Khan, visited Kumar's residence to pay their respects.

"It's the end of an era," filmmaker Madhur Bhandarkar said.

Kumar was born Muhammad Yusuf Khan, a Muslim, on Dec. 11, 1922. His Pathan family hailed from Peshawar, in what became Pakistan after the Partition, and he visited his ancestral home in the late 1980s.

Kumar was hugely popular among cinema lovers in Pakistan as well. In 1998, he was awarded the "Nishan-e-Imtiaz," Pakistan's highest civilian honor, becoming the only Indian citizen to receive it.

Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan said he was saddened to learn of Kumar's death. "For my generation, Dilip Kumar was the greatest and most versatile actor,'' he tweeted.

Khan also recalled Kumar's generosity in helping to raise funds in Pakistan and London for a trust to set up cancer hospitals in his mother's memory.

He changed his name as he debuted in Bollywood, the Hindi-language film industry centered in Mumbai, with "Jwar Bhata," or "Sea Tides," in 1944.

Kumar's 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." But his portrayal of a Muslim prince in the historical epic "Mughal-e-Azam" cemented his popularity among the masses and catapulted Indian cinema to the world stage.

Mehboob Khan's blockbuster "Aan" in 1952 was his first film in Technicolor and was among a string of light-hearted 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" ("New Era"), "Musafir" ("Traveller") and "Paigham" ("Message") 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," or "Revolution" in 1981. He continued playing key roles in films such as "Shakti," "Karma" and "Saudagar." His last film was "Qila" ("Fort") in 1998.

In 1994, he was given the "Dadasaheb Phalke" award, the highest honor for contributions to Indian cinema. He also served in the upper house of Indian Parliament after being nominated for a six-year term.

Kumar is survived by his wife, actor Saira Banu.

Dilip Kumar Age, Death, Wife, Family, Biography & More

Dilip Kumar

Some Lesser Known Facts About Dilip Kumar

Dilip Kumar smoking

Dilip Kumar smoking

Dilip Kumar's childhood photo

Dilip Kumar’s childhood photo

  • His father was a landlord and fruit merchant and also owned orchards in Deolali (in Maharashtra, India) and Peshawar (in Pakistan). In the late 1930s, his family moved to Bombay (now Mumbai) from Peshawar, Pakistan. In Bombay, Dilip Kumar was the neighbour of the legendary Indian actor Raj Kapoor . In an interview, he was asked how much did he miss Peshawar? He replied,
I remember a lot. With age, this trend has increased even more. I miss my grandmother. Reminds me of childhood. I miss playing my football.”
  • In 1940, when Dilip Kumar was a teenager, he left his home and moved to Pune, Maharashtra, after an altercation with his father. There, he started a dry fruit shop and a sandwich stall at an army club in Pune, Maharashtra.
  • After almost three years, the legendary Indian actress Devika Rani and her husband Himanshu Rai spotted Dilip Kumar in a military canteen. They liked him and offered him the lead role in the Hindi film ‘Jwar Bhata’ (1944). In an interview, he shared how he developed an interest in acting. He said,
Yes, I used to watch movies, but they used to be English films. When I got a chance to work in Hindi films, I had seen only a few Hindi films. In those days I was crazy about English films. He used to watch these films hiding from his family members. Later he came to know about this. He was also worried about my passion for films. When I decided to become an actor in Hindi films, I was worried how to do something I don’t know. But then Devika Rani of Bombay Talkies told me that just as you are learning to sell fruits, you will also learn acting.” Dilip Kumar and Devika Rani
  • Before making his debut in the Hindi films, at the suggestion of Devika, he changed his name from Mohammed Yusuf Khan to Dilip Kumar. During an interview, Dilip Kumar shared why he had changed his name. He said,
Haqeeqat bataun? Pitayi ke darr se maine yeh naam rakha (Should I tell you honestly? It was because I was scared of beatings that I used this name).”

Dilip Kumar in Jugnu

Dilip Kumar in Jugnu

Raj Kapoor, Nargis, and Dilip Kumar on the sets of Andaz

Raj Kapoor, Nargis, and Dilip Kumar on the sets of Andaz

  • In the 1950s, he appeared in many super-hit Hindi films like ‘Jogan’ (1950), ‘Babul’ (1950), ‘Hulchul’ (1951), ‘Shikast’ (1953), and ‘Uran Khatola’ (1955).

Dilip Kumar with Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru

Dilip Kumar with Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru

Dilip Kumar in Devdas

I had been playing characters who were ill-fated and a morbid outlook had seized me as a result of my extreme involvement and my living the character beyond the working hour.”
  • His first technicolour film was ‘Aan’ (1952) which was released worldwide and premiered in London.

Dilip Kumar with his Filmfare Award

Dilip Kumar with his Filmfare Award

  • In 1951, while shooting for the Hindi film ‘Tarana’ Dilip Kumar fell in love with his co-star Madhubala . After a courtship of almost seven years followed by an engagement, troubles started arising in their relationship due to the court case of the Hindi film ‘Naya Daur’ in 1957. Their last film together was the epic Hindi film ‘Mughal-e-Azam’ (1960). In an interview, while talking about Madhubala, he said,
I must admit that I was attracted to her (Madhubala) both as a fine co-star and as a person who had some of the attributes I hoped to find in a woman at that age and time…She, as I said earlier, was very sprightly and vivacious and, as such, she could draw me out of my shyness and reticence effortlessly.”

Dilip Kumar in Amar (1954)

Dilip Kumar in Amar (1954)

  • Kumar portrayed the role of Prince Salim in K. Asif’s epic historical film ‘Mughal-e-Azam’ (1960). The film remained the 2nd highest-grossing film till 2008 in the history of Hindi films. The film was shot in black & white, and some scenes of the film were shot in colour. In 2004, after almost 44 years of its original release, the film was fully colourised and was re-released in theatres.

  • In the Hindi film ‘Gunga Jamuna’ (1961), the role of his younger brother was played by his real brother Nasir Khan. The duo appeared together in another Hindi film ‘Bairaag’ (1976).
  • In 1962, he was offered a role in the British film ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ by the British director David Lean, which he declined.
  • He got married to the Indian actress Saira Banu in 1966 who was almost half of his age. While he was married to Saira, he fell in love with a girl from Pakistan Asma and secretly got married to her in 1980. His marriage with Asma did not last long, and he returned to his first wife, Saira. During an interview, he talked about his marriage to Saira. He said,
When I married Saira she was young, even younger than my sisters. I wondered how she would cope with establishing the right vibes with my brothers and sisters, especially since she belonged to a small family. We siblings were a dozen. But she not only respected and loved them as a devoted sister-in-law, but also keeps me close to all of them.” A collage of Dilip Kumar’s wedding photographs

Gopi (1970)

Gopi (1970)

Dilip Kumar in Karma

Dilip Kumar With Ashok Kumar

Dilip Kumar With Ashok Kumar

  • In 1993, during the riots in Maharashtra (caused by the demolition of Babri Mosque in Ayodhya), he made his home as a command centre for the relief work. He was involved in various social activities, and he was one of the members who conceptualised Jogger’s Park in Bandra, Mumbai.

Dilip Kumar campaigning for the Congress party

Dilip Kumar campaigning for the Congress party

Dilip Kumar filing his nomination papers

Dilip Kumar filing his nomination papers

Dilip Kumar (left), Raj Kapoor (centre), and Dev Anand (right)

Dilip Kumar (left), Raj Kapoor (centre), and Dev Anand (right)

  • Dilip Kumar loved cooking, and the best dish he used to make was chicken soup. In an interview, the Indian politician Priya Dutt said,
Dad had a very special relationship with Dilip Uncle. Dilip uncle was always an elder brother and advisor to dad. Whenever father had problems in his life and was going through any kind of an upheaval, he would directly walk all the way up to Dilip uncle’s house. He would go up to him and say that I want to eat with you. Dilipsaab himself used to cook a dish then – Chicken Soup. They used to sit over dinner and discuss. They were very important moments to my father. Dad was always giving advice to others as an elder, but he never had someone older than him to handhold him when he needed.”
  • Kumar was the idol of the veteran Indian actor Dharmendra . While talking about Dilip in an interview, Dharmendra said,
I used to go and meet him and at times I would want to leave early because I wanted to have my regular (alcohol). Dilipsaab would understand and would ask for alcohol to be served too. But I loved his Chicken soup and what Narmada (his cook) cooked and he would give me advice on my career as well.”

He further added,

Imagine our talks and with so much love he gave me a sweater to wear. It used to get nippy those days in 60s so I told him ‘I will not return it, can I take it?’ He happily gave it to me with a lot of love. Then we were shooting one day; he would tell me wear my suit and I told Saira ‘I have got my own, will wear my own cause his are a little loose’ and I couldn’t say no to him then I reminded him, ‘Dilip sahib I took your sweater’ since nobody forgets if they have bought something nice so he said, ‘Yea I got 2 from Paris, one Nasir took and the other you took.” Dilip Kumar and Dharmendra
  • Once, Congress parliamentarian Lilavati Munshi raised the issue of Dilip Kumar’s hairstyle while he was in the Rajya Sabha. She said,
It had “adverse effects” on Indian youths.”

Dilip Kumar with Atal Bihari Vajpayee

Dilip Kumar with Atal Bihari Vajpayee

Dilip Kumar and Lata Mangeshkar

Dilip Kumar and Lata Mangeshkar

  • In 2008, a Hindi documentary ‘Abhinay Samrat Ki Dastan’ was released on the life of Kumar.

Dilip Kumar's Twitter account

Dilip Kumar’s Twitter account

  • In an interview, while talking about the new age actors, Dilip Kumar said,
Yes, most of today’s actors are thinking that what is kept in literature. I have to say that literature works to keep your sensibilities alive. We have become friends with machines as if we too have become machines. I have read a lot of writers like Mir, Ghalib, Tagore, Iqbal, Faiz, Josh, Premchand, Sharatchand and Manto. These are the writers everyone should read. All the great writers of the world should read. But very few actors of today read literature. This round is looking a little too fast, but it should be considered whether this fast race will be successful in taking a person somewhere.”

Dilip Kumar featured on the Filmfare magazine's cover

Dilip Kumar featured on the Filmfare magazine’s cover

Nehru's Hero Dilip Kumar in The Life of India

  • He was well-versed in speaking various languages including Pashto, Hindko, Urdu, Hindi, and English.
  • Dilip Kumar was very close to the famous Indian actor Shah Rukh Khan . In an interview, Dilip’s wife Saira said that Shah Rukh Khan was their mooh-bola-beta. She further said,
Dilip saab gave the ceremonial clap (Dil Aashna Hai). I have always said that if we had a son, he might have looked like Shah Rukh. Both he and saab are a lot alike and have similar hair, which is why I like to run my fingers through Shah Rukh Khan when we meet. This time (during one of their earlier meetings) he asked me, ‘Aaj aap mere baalon ko haath nahin laga rahi hain?’ I was happy to.” Dilip Kumar with Shah Rukh Khan and Saira Banu
  • Once, Dilip Kumar said that he was one of the poorest actors in India, he further said,
My costumes and everyday clothes are stitched by the tailor on Pali Naka who had been making my cloths ever since I started living in Bandra. I have my own barber who visit my house once in a month.”
  • In the Guru Nanak Khalsa College in Mumbai, an auditorium has been named after him with the name ‘Dilip Kumar Auditorium.’ In an interview, the college officials said,
The College hall has been named after the alumnus and thespian actor Dilip Kumar. This center is amphitheater for budding talents. Having a proper stage with a green room facility, the college hall has a 500 plus seating capacity. Apart from being the venue for formal functions, the hall is also used for events like drama competitions, literary events, Kavi-Sammelan, Mehfil and allied artistic pursuits.”
  • Dilip and Saira did not have any child of their own. During an interview, while talking about it Dilip said,
It would have been great if we had our own kids. But we have no regrets. We are both submissive to the will of God. As for incompleteness, I must tell you that neither Saira nor I can complain of a lack of contentment. It is enough for us that we have our families to share our happiness and our small dismays with. Mine is a large family, with so many nieces and nephews and their families of growing kids speaking the language of today, which is as bewildering as it is befitting the times they are living in. Saira’s is a small family comprising her brother Sultan and his kids and grandchildren. We feel we are lucky to be there for them when they need us.”
  • In an interview, while talking about Saira Banu , Kumar said,
I wish to live for the happiness of my wife. I knew and know even more strongly now that she loves me as no one, other than my mother, has. I wish to live for her love and devotion. It is so lovely to wake up and see the preparations she has done to make each day worth living for. In fact, our common wish now is to care for, and make, each other happy. You have to be truly lucky to be in my place.”
  • In 2013, he visited Masjid al-Haram (The Great Mosque of Mecca), Saudi Arabia, along with his wife and a few relatives. In an interview, Kumar said,
Allah has been kind that he’s given me the strength to go on Umrah (pilgrimage) with Saira, Asif, Faisal… My doctor friends, few relatives are also accompanying me to Umrah. Keep me in your prayers.”
  • As he was getting older, he suffered from various age-related ailments. Later, he was detected with prostate cancer which had spread in the other organs of his body. After a prolonged illness, he passed away on 7 July 2021 in Hinduja Hospital in Mumbai, and on his demise, one of the doctors involved in his treatment said,
He had water in pleural cavity and suffered kidney failure. He required blood transfusion multiple times. We carried out the last transfusion but it did not help.”
  • On 7 July 2021, he was wrapped in a tricolour flag and with the full state honour, he was buried at the Juhu Qabrastan in Santacruz, Mumbai. Many Indian actors like Amitabh Bachchan , Shah Rukh Khan , Ranbir Kapoor , and Dharmendra were present at his last rites.
  • On his demise, many Indian and Pakistani celebrities shared their condolences on Twitter. The Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi tweeted,
Dilip Kumar Ji 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. Condolences to his family, friends and innumerable admirers. RIP.”
  • Even the Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan was disheartened to know about Dilip’s demise. He tweeted,
Saddened to learn of Dilip Kumar’s passing. I can never forget his generosity in giving his time to help raise funds for SKMTH when project launched. This is the most difficult time – to raise first 10% of the funds & his appearance in Pak & London helped raise huge amounts. Apart from this, for my generation Dilip Kumar was the greatest and most versatile actor.”
  • The legendary Indian actor Amitabh Bachchan tweeted,
An institution has gone… Whenever the history of Indian Cinema will be written, it shall always be ‘before Dilip Kumar, and after Dilip Kumar’ … My duas for peace of his soul and the strength to the family to bear this loss. Deeply saddened.”

Saira Banu Age, Husband, Children, Biography & More

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Dilip Kumar … ‘never caricaturing or descending into cliches’.

Dilip Kumar was a Bollywood great who epitomised India’s emotional struggles

The actor, who has died at 98, gave expression to the intense cultural complexities raised as independence met modernity – with respect, depth and subtlety

R arely do Narendra Modi and Imran Khan agree, but the death of Indian film great Dilip Kumar united the prime ministers of India and Pakistan in grief as each expressed their admiration and affection for the actor who has died aged 98 .

Born Muhammed Yusuf Khan in 1922, in Peshawar, close to the border with Afghanistan in what was then British India , he moved to Bombay to take his first role in Jwar Bhata (High and Low Tides) – a film now remembered only for featuring his debut – and would go on to become a star in the post-independence boom in Hindi cinema, as the industry became a unifying voice for a vast, disparate population, who saw its concerns and aspirations reflected back to it with compassion and intelligence for the first time.

His own story mirrored many of the audience’s concerns. Born a Muslim – a religion he practised throughout his life – it was believed he took a Hindu stage name to further his career (though India’s film industry has always been very liberal and diverse), until a 1970 interview in which he admitted it was the fear of his father’s thrashings – he’d never approved of his son’s acting career – that had made him do so.

Kumar with co-star Madhubala in the 1960 epic Mughal-e-Azam.

The son of a fruit merchant, Kumar was sensitive to and respectful of the mores of a highly traditional public, making him loved across the social spectrum, including by my mother, who fell for his acting as a teenager in a Punjab village. Like most of Kumar’s audience, she eagerly took long bus rides to the nearest theatre to watch each new release.

His characters were full of “ dhookh aur dhaardh ” – “hurt and pain” – she recalls, often expressing the anguish of forbidden love. Indeed, his two most iconic roles, as the melancholic drunkard Devdas in the 1955 film of that name, and in 1960 as Prince Salim in Mughal-e-Azam (The Great Mughal), were both heartbroken men unable to be with the women they loved because of social convention.

A poster for 1981 film Kranti.

While often likened to Marlon Brando because of the intensity of his performances, Kumar never had Brando’s machismo and air of menace. Mostly playing gentle, confused and conflicted characters, he gave them enormous emotional generosity and nuance, achieving powerful rapports with female actors to portray relationships that were deeply compelling while sexually chaste. He was the perfect leading man for India’s romantic tragedies, creating a template for leading men that endures today. However much the muscles of Akshay Kumar and Shah Rukh Khan ripple as they play action heroes, there’s a teary softness to their onscreen romances. Relationships are always driven by the heart, not loins.

Whether playing a lovelorn alcoholic in Daag (Stain) in 1952, who struggled to sell toys while caring for his elderly mother, or a poor horse-carriage driver in the 1957 film Naya Daur (New Era), whose livelihood is threatened when his village gets a bus service, Kumar spoke to the obligations and anxieties of his audience with honesty, empathy and often humour, never caricaturing or descending into cliche when depicting the lives of ordinary Indians. There was always great kindness and humility in these portrayals as he gave the difficult, often painful but unglamorous challenges of everyday life in India the consideration they deserved.

Kumar in Savage Princess from 1953.

The affection in which he is held by a generation of Indians who came into independence, seeing their practical and emotional struggles shown on screen with such honesty and respect, cannot be underestimated.

The Muslim who played a Hindu, the seething romantic hero who doesn’t get the girl, Dilip Kumar epitomised the contradictions that newly independent Indians had to contend with as they sought to bring their ancient and traditional society into a modernity of their own. Rarely has any actor so pointedly yet subtly captured such a moment in a nation’s history.

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Bollywood's 'tragedy king' Dilip Kumar dies at 98

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Bollywood star Dilip Kumar smiles after receiving an award in New Delhi

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  • Rose to fame in 1950s and 60s

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Dilip Kumar (1922-2021)

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Dilip Kumar

  • 17 wins & 10 nominations

Dilip Kumar and Madhubala in Mughal-E-Azam (1960)

  • DCP Ashwini Kumar

Leader (1964)

  • Vijay Khanna

Qila (1998)

  • Jagannath Singh
  • Judge Amaranath Singh

Anupam Kher, Manisha Koirala, Dilip Kumar, Raaj Kumar, Vivek Mushran, and Amrish Puri in Saudagar (1991)

  • Veeru Singh

Rekha and Dilip Kumar in Aag Ka Dariya (1990)

  • Collector Jagatpratap Singh

Jackie Shroff, Anil Kapoor, Dilip Kumar, and Naseeruddin Shah in Karma (1986)

  • Vishwa Pratap Singh aka Rana (Dada Thakur)

Sridevi, Jeetendra, and Dilip Kumar in Dharm Adhikari (1986)

  • Mohan Kumar

Mashaal (1984)

  • Vinod Kumar

Mazdoor (1983)

  • Dinanath Saxena

Vidhaata (1982)

  • Shamsher Singh

Kranti (1981)

  • Director (uncredited)
  • In-development projects at IMDbPro

Mughal-E-Azam (1960) Trailer

Personal details

  • Encyclopedia
  • France's national library catalogue
  • 5′ 8¼″ (1.74 m)
  • December 11 , 1922
  • Peshawar, North-West Frontier Province, British India
  • July 7 , 2021
  • Mumbai, Maharashtra, India (prolonged illness)
  • Spouses Asma Rehman 1981 - 1983 (divorced)
  • Parents Lala Ghulam Sarwar Khan
  • Relatives Ayub Khan (Niece or Nephew)
  • Other works memoir: "Dilip Kumar: The Substance and the Shadow"

Did you know

  • Trivia Declined the role of Sherif Ali in David Lean's 'Lawrence of Arabia', ultimately played by Egyptian star Omar Sharif. Sharif was offered the role of Tafas who is ironically shot by Sherif Ali in his introductory desert sequence. Omar Sharif got catapulted into the world scene with this role, going on to further collaborate with David Lean in another epic 'Doctor Zhivago' (this time in the lead role).
  • Quotes Am overwhelmed by the affection shown by the people over the years. But to be very frank, I have been outdone by actors like my seniors M.G.Ramachandran and Pran and then by Sivaji Ganesan, Sanjeev Kumar and Rajesh Khanna who were much more versatile than me as actors. Their number of films and the various characters they have done are much more than that of mine.
  • Trademark His deep, rich voice
  • Legendary Khan
  • Tragedy King
  • When did Dilip Kumar die?
  • How did Dilip Kumar die?
  • How old was Dilip Kumar when he died?

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Dilip Kumar Biography

Dilip Kumar, also known as the Tragedy King, was one of the greatest actors in Indian cinema. With a career spanning over five decades, he was a prominent figure in the Golden Era of Indian Cinema. Despite starting out as a canteen owner, he quickly established himself as an emotive character actor and became renowned for his portrayal of tragic roles. Dilip Kumar was the first actor to receive a Filmfare Best Actor Award, winning it eight times throughout his illustrious career.

Quick Facts

  • Indian Celebrities Born In December Also Known As: Muhammad Yusuf Khan
  • Died At Age: 98
  • Family: Spouse/Ex-: Saira Banu (m. 1966–2021), Asma Rehman (m. 1981–1983), Saira Banu (m. 1966–2021), father: Lala Ghulam Sarwar, mother: Ayesha Begum, siblings: Akhtar Asif, Ayub Sarwar, Nasir Khan, Noor Mohammed
  • Born Country: India
  • T V & Movie Producers
  • Height: 5’10” (178 cm), 5’10” Males
  • Died on: July 7, 2021
  • Place of death: Mumbai Maharastra, India
  • City: Peshawar, Pakistan
  • Awards: 1954 – Filmfare Best Actor Award (Daag), 1956 – Filmfare Best Actor Award (Azaad), 1957 – Filmfare Best Actor Award (Devdas), 1958 – Filmfare Best Actor Award (Naya Daur), 1961 – Filmfare Best Actor Award (Kohinoor), 1965 – Filmfare Best Actor Award (Leader), 1968 – Filmfare Best Actor Award (Ram Aur Shyam), 1983 – Filmfare Best Actor Award (Shakti)

biography dilip kumar

Childhood & Early Life

Dilip Kumar, originally named Muhammad Yusuf Khan, was born into a Pashtun family in Peshawar, which is now in Pakistan. His father, Lala Ghulam Sarwar, was a fruit merchant. Dilip Kumar received his primary education from the prestigious Barnes School in Deolali. During the 1930s, his large family relocated to Mumbai in search of a better future for the children. In the early 1940s, Dilip Kumar went to Pune, where he operated a canteen and supplemented his income by supplying dry fruit.

In 1943, Dilip Kumar had the opportunity to meet actress Devika Rani and her husband Himanshu Rai. Rai, who owned Bombay Talkies, selected Dilip Kumar for the lead role in their film ‘Jwar Bhata’, which was released in 1944. It was during this time that he acquired the screen name Dilip Kumar. He continued to star in several movies, including ‘Jugnu’ in 1947, which was his first major hit. After the success of ‘Jugnu’, Dilip Kumar received numerous movie offers and appeared in several films in 1948, such as ‘Shaheed’, ‘Mela’, and ‘Anokha Pyar’. His breakthrough came with Mehboob Khan’s ‘Andaz’ in 1949, which became the top-grossing film in India at that time.

Throughout the 1950s, Dilip Kumar played tragic roles in films like ‘Jogan’ (1950), ‘Deedar’ (1951), and ‘Daag’ (1952), establishing himself as a tragic hero. In 1955, he portrayed the title role in “Devdas”, which is considered one of his best-known works. The 1960s brought more success for Dilip Kumar, with notable films like ‘Kohinoor’ (1960), ‘Gunga Jumna’ (1961), ‘Dil Diya Dard Liya’ (1966), ‘Ram Aur Shyam’ (1967), and ‘Aadmi’ (1968).

During the 1970s, Dilip Kumar’s career faltered as newer actors gained popularity. He appeared in only a few films during this time and took a five-year hiatus. However, he made a successful comeback in 1981 with the film ‘Kranti’. In the following decades, he played roles more suited to his age and appeared in numerous films as the father or grandfather of the young protagonists. His last film appearance was in ‘Qila’ in 1998, in which he played dual roles.

Major Works

One of Dilip Kumar’s most well-known works is the film ‘Devdas’, a love triangle that revolves around the doomed love of Devdas and Paro. The movie won him a Filmfare Award and was ranked among the Top 25 Must See Bollywood Films by Indiatimes Movies in 2005. Another notable film is ‘Kohinoor’, in which he played a light-hearted role opposite Meena Kumari. Dilip Kumar won a Filmfare Award for his performance in this film. ‘Ram Aur Shyam’ is also a famous film in which he played dual roles of twin brothers.

Awards & Achievements

Dilip Kumar received eight Filmfare Best Actor Awards, which is a record he shares with Shah Rukh Khan. He was honored with the Padma Bhushan, the third highest civilian award in India, by the Government of India in 1991. He also received the Filmfare Lifetime Achievement Award in 1993.

Personal Life & Legacy

Dilip Kumar was in a romantic relationship with actress Madhubala, but they had to end their relationship due to opposition from Madhubala’s father. He married actress Saira Banu in 1966, and they had a second marriage with Asma in 1981, which ended in divorce in 1983. Dilip Kumar served as a Member of Parliament in Rajya Sabha from 2000 to 2006. He passed away on July 7, 2021, at the age of 98, after battling prostate cancer.

Dilip Kumar went into a depression after playing several tragic roles and was advised by his psychiatrist to take on light-hearted roles. He also held the Guinness World Record for the maximum number of awards won by an Indian actor.

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  • Throwback! When Dilip Kumar revealed one 'grave' mistake he made in his marriage with Saira Banu

Throwback! When Dilip Kumar revealed one 'grave' mistake he made in his marriage with Saira Banu

Throwback! When Dilip Kumar revealed one 'grave' mistake he made in his marriage with Saira Banu

About the Author

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    Dilip Kumar. Dilip Kumar (born Mohammed Yusuf Khan; 11 December 1922 - 7 July 2021) was an Indian actor who worked in Hindi cinema. Credited with pioneering method acting in cinema, [3] after Motilal, he dominated the Indian cinema from late 1940s throughout 60s, being referred to as Abhinay Samrat ( Hindi for "Emperor of Acting").

  2. Dilip Kumar

    Dilip Kumar (born December 11, 1922, Peshawar, British India [now in Pakistan]—died July 7, 2021, Mumbai, India) one of the legendary actors of Bollywood.With his low-key, naturalistic acting style, he excelled in a wide range of roles. In addition to his acting, he was noted for his good looks, deep voice, and fine accent. Kumar was born into a Pashtun family of 12 children.

  3. Dilip Kumar, Film Star Who Brought Realism to Bollywood, Dies at 98

    Gautam Singh/Associated Press. Dilip Kumar, the last of a triumvirate of actors who ruled Hindi cinema in the 1950s and '60s, died on Wednesday in Mumbai, India. He was 98. His death, at a ...

  4. Dilip Kumar

    Dilip Kumar (1922-2021) is widely considered the greatest acting exponent India ever produced. Born Muhammad Yusuf Khan on December 11, 1922, in Qissa Khwani Bazaar, Peshawar, British India (present-day Pakistan), he is better known by his stage name Dilip Kumar given to him by actress and owner of Bombay Talkies, Devika Rani. Credited with ...

  5. Dilip Kumar, Iconic Actor From The 'Golden Age' Of Indian Cinema ...

    Dilip Kumar was one of the most iconic leading men of what is considered the 'golden age' of Indian cinema in the 1950s and 60s. On Wednesday, Kumar passed away in Mumbai at 98.

  6. Dilip Kumar obituary

    Wed 7 Jul 2021 09.41 EDT. Last modified on Wed 7 Jul 2021 12.41 EDT. The veteran actor Dilip Kumar, who has died aged 98, was the pioneer of method acting in Bollywood. The early Indian film ...

  7. Dilip Kumar, Bollywood legend and 'tragedy king' of Indian cinema, dies

    Bollywood legend Dilip Kumar, who was a defining figure in post-independence Indian cinema, has died aged 98. Kumar had been taken to hospital in Mumbai last week suffering breathlessness, but ...

  8. Dilip Kumar

    Dilip Kumar was an Indian actor who worked in Hindi cinema. Credited with pioneering method acting in cinema, after Motilal, he dominated the Indian cinema from late 1940s throughout 60s, being referred to as Abhinay Samrat. Kumar holds the record for most wins for the Filmfare Award for Best Actor and was also the inaugural recipient of the award.

  9. Bollywood Icon Dilip Kumar Has Died At 98 : NPR

    He was 98. NEW DELHI — Bollywood icon Dilip Kumar, hailed as the "Tragedy King" and one of Hindi cinema's greatest actors, died Wednesday in a Mumbai hospital after a prolonged illness. He was ...

  10. Dilip Kumar, legendary Bollywood star, dies at 98

    New Delhi CNN —. Bollywood actor Dilip Kumar, one of the most beloved figures in Indian cinema, died on Wednesday at the age of 98, his doctor confirmed. Kumar was known to several generations ...

  11. Dilip Kumar Age, Death, Wife, Family, Biography & More

    Dilip Kumar's first anti-hero role was in Mehboob Khan's Hindi film 'Amar' (1954). Dilip Kumar in Amar (1954) Kumar portrayed the role of Prince Salim in K. Asif's epic historical film 'Mughal-e-Azam' (1960). The film remained the 2nd highest-grossing film till 2008 in the history of Hindi films.

  12. Dilip Kumar was a Bollywood great who epitomised India's emotional

    Hurt and pain … Kumar with co-star Madhubala in the 1960 epic Mughal-e-Azam. Photograph: Everett Collection Inc/Alamy. The son of a fruit merchant, Kumar was sensitive to and respectful of the ...

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    Dilip Kumar, who won worldwide fame playing tragic heroes in Bollywood films, died on Wednesday aged 98 and was cremated with state honours in India.

  14. Dilip Kumar filmography

    Dilip Kumar (11 December 1922 - 7 July 2021) was an Indian actor. He made his acting debut in 1944 with Jwar Bhata. The 1947 drama Jugnu opposite Noor Jehan was his first major success. Nadiya Ke Par was similarly that year's highest grossing Indian film. In 1949, he featured alongside Raj Kapoor in Mehboob Khan's Andaz opposite Nargis.This love triangle at the time of its release was the ...

  15. Dilip Kumar Biography

    Dilip Kumar, popularly called the Tragedy King, was among the greatest actors ever to have graced Indian cinema.Born as Muhammad Yusuf Khan, he adopted the screen name Dilip Kumar in keeping up with the traditions of early Hindi filmdom. The iconic actor had a long and illustrious career spanning over five decades and was considered one of the foremost figures of the 'Golden Era of Indian ...

  16. Dilip Kumar Biography: Early Life, Acting Style & Award

    This biography delves into Dilip Kumar's life and times, chronicling his early struggles, meteoric rise to stardom, groundbreaking contributions to Indian cinema, personal triumphs, and enduring legacy. Dilip Kumar's journey is a testament to the power of talent, perseverance, and artistic integrity, from his unforgettable portrayals of ...

  17. Bollywood's legendary actor Dilip Kumar dies at 98

    Dilip Kumar, nicknamed Bollywood's "Tragedy King," enjoyed a career spanning more than 50 years and nearly 60 films. He was known for big hits such as "Devdas" (1955) and "Mughal-e-Azam" (1960).

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    Dilip Kumar. Actor: Gunga Jumna. Dilip Kumar (1922-2021) is widely considered the greatest acting exponent India ever produced. Born Muhammad Yusuf Khan on December 11, 1922, in Qissa Khwani Bazaar, Peshawar, British India (present-day Pakistan), he is better known by his stage name Dilip Kumar given to him by actress and owner of Bombay Talkies, Devika Rani.

  19. Dilip Kumar Biography, Life & Interesting Facts Revealed

    Dilip Kumar was in a romantic relationship with actress Madhubala, but they had to end their relationship due to opposition from Madhubala's father. He married actress Saira Banu in 1966, and they had a second marriage with Asma in 1981, which ended in divorce in 1983. Dilip Kumar served as a Member of Parliament in Rajya Sabha from 2000 to 2006.

  20. Dilip Kumar: The Substance and the Shadow

    Dilip Kumar: The Substance and the Shadow is a book about the filmmaker and politician Dilip Kumar that was written by the film journalist Udaya Tara Nayar.The first part of the book chronicles Kumar's and career; using first-person narrative, the autobiography chronicles Kumar's childhood in Peshawar, British India (present-day Pakistan); his education, his 62-year-long cinematic and ...

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    Dilip Kumar Salvadi (born 30 April 1985) is an Indian actor, director, and editor who works predominately in Telugu and Tamil films. Career [ edit ] He started his career as a child artist between the early 1990s and 2000s staring with Number One (1994). [2]