Dilip Kumar: King of all times
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However technologically advanced the medium may become in the years to come, Indian cinema audiences are happy only when they have sat through an absorbing narrative and applauded the subduing of the bad fellow by the good
Saira (Bano) is a hard working person. I was pleasantly
surprised by her competence in enacting the role of the tribal girl with a wild cat personality in Sagina considering how refined and elegant she is in reality
How do you feel on the occasion of this very special year — your 90th birthday? Does age lend wisdom?
I think the summer of life should be sunny, bright and chirpy like the season and I am happy to be experiencing it. Age and wisdom should not be related. I think I became wise very early in my life, thanks to my being the fourth elder one in a large family of girls and boys who had individual demands, competence and aspirations.
Dilip Kumar, Dev Anand and Raj Kapoor were the leading trio of 50s and 60s. What your professional and personal rapport with the other two greats of Hindi cinema?
My personal rapport with Raj was very special because our acquaintance went way back to our childhood in Peshawar, and then our college years at Khalsa, where we were both Arts students. We belonged to the college football team and we played passionately. Raj was invariably the goal keeper or referee. He was so handsome that the girls would cheer him, and he loved the attention. We met later at Bombay Talkies, and it pleased him that I had entered the profession he wanted me to be in. We were like brothers, and we let the scribes write whatever they wanted to and maintained our relationship securely. Dev was very westernised, and he had his own preoccupations which did not let us meet as often as Raj and I met. I have spoken and written so many times on the topic of the perceived unhealthy rivalry between Raj Kapoor, Dev and me. The perception came about only because Raj, Dev and I enjoyed equal success as actors, and our starrers also had equal success at the box-office When we met we shared genuine spontaneity and respect for each other.
Raj had his own screen presence and Dev had his. Raj's fans loved the romance and the musical content in his work and the simpleton characters he brought to life on the screen. Dev's admirers loved his style, and the films he acted in had a huge attraction for the youth of the time. As for me, I had to work hard to mould myself into a serious actor, and try really hard to endow realism to my acting. Between Raj and me there was no mean jealousy about the success our films got. He often sat with me and watched rushes of my films, and invited me to watch the result of the initial work of some of his films. We have genuinely admired and criticised each other's work, and motivated each other. He was genuinely moved by some of my films, and I could sense it in his voice and his warm clasp of my hand at the end of the trial screening. It is a great assurance when someone who cares, approves of your work.
Would you then say that competition between top guns in showbiz should be healthy?
Every period in the growth of the medium has had actors, directors, music directors and technicians giving their best, and it is good to have healthy competition if only to spur innovation. I have always admired the way Shammi Kapoor made himself different from the other actors, and created his own place. There was not much variety in the romantic roles offered to leading men at that time, and he would have had to still his fears while inventing a robust and flamboyant screen image for himself.
To stay ahead you don't have to arrest the progress of others. You must see how you can improve and apply the audacity of imagination. If A.R.Rahman is getting more recognition than the others, it is because he is letting his creativity fly on the wings of imagination and invention. When competition is healthy and taken in the right spirit, it yields outstanding performance be it in sports, education, business or everyday life.
Tell us about your favourite leading ladies and whether there were more (to them) than beauty.
I had much respect for the inherent talent of Nalini Jaywant. She was the most spontaneous actress I have worked with. Madhubala combined well with me, and so did Meena Kumari and Vyjayantimala. I also liked the supreme confidence of Leela Mishra, who played mother to Shyam in Ram aur Shyam.
What is your idea of beauty? Who, besides Sairaji, according to you exemplifies perfect beauty?
Yes, Saira is a beauty but she believes her mother Naseemji was much more beautiful and I will not dispute that, the good husband that I am.
Tell us about your impression of Sairaji as an actress. Is there anyone from the present generation to draw a parallel to her gamine charm?
Saira is basically a hard working person, who takes pains to achieve flawlessness in everything she does. She was observant and alert when she worked with me in Sagina and Gopi. I was pleasantly surprised by her competence in enacting the role of the tribal girl with a wild cat personality in Sagina considering how refined and elegant she is in reality. Soon after our marriage, her film Sagina was shown to me and I realised it would not be sensible on her part to abort her career at that stage, when she was blossoming into a fine, vivacious artiste. Many of her films thereafter revealed that I was right.
Noted writer lyricist Javed Akhtar has said of you, that you were the first method actor from India long before Hollywood actors —would you agree? Also, how was your method different from that of your contemporaries — Raj and Dev Sa'ab as such?
I can't figure out how I came to be identified as a method actor. If penetrating the very marrow of a subject and character, and rendering it with the determination of a gardener, who trims a hedge into a thing of beauty by trimming the useless leaves and branches and twigs, and putting his full consciousness into that which counts in his work is called method acting, then so be it. The difference between Raj, Dev and Dilip Kumar was only in the story material; we chose keeping our individual capabilities in mind. The dedication, effort and pursuit of faultlessness were the same, I would say.
After Mughal-e-Azam, the epic romance, a timeless classic that you starred in, historicals have been few and far between —Umrao Jaan and Jodhaa Akbar among the notable ones. Do you think they were able to match up to the grandeur of Mughal-e-Azam?
I watched Jodhaa Akbar and liked it immensely for the sensitive treatment it received from the director, as well as for the authentic ambience the art director created for the unfolding of a little known story from the Moghul period of our history. The script and screenplay also had strength and substance, especially in establishing the contributions of Emperor Akbar as the founder of secular India, and as a man who believed in being honest to his conscience.
What makes for lasting cinema?
Cinema has always had something of the art of magic in its ability to enthrall and captivate the audience. Dadasaheb found the stories in Indian mythology ideal for his films, because they were replete with captivating situations and magical moments and, above all, they conveyed the message of the victory of good over evil. From his time to this day, the backbone of a film is the story and a director's skill in telling the story imaginatively, sensitively and engagingly. However technologically advanced the medium may become in the years to come, Indian cinema audiences are happy only when they have sat through an absorbing narrative and applauded the subduing of the bad fellow by the good, honest, upright fellow, who loves his mother and his motherland equally.
Cinema has always been a writer's and director's medium, and as such its rejuvenation can only be brought about by the continuous inflow of writers and directors, who are aware of and alive to the rhythm of life around them. Each decade in cinema's history has been noted for the changes that came about in content, acting styles, music compositions, choreography, cinematography etc. That was possible because of new entrants in the medium, and their boldness in changing what had become passé. I have not watched many films in recent years, but the few that I have seen are sufficient indication that the focus is now more on the international market, and keeping up with the technical superiority and surface gloss of foreign products is more important than anything else. I can see that the youth segment in India is being wooed by film-maker, who are themselves youthful and daring. It is as it should be. The decades to come will be equally full of surprises and changes, which must be welcomed and encouraged.