The emperor at ninety

This is the month in which one of India's greatest sons will be ninety. Yusuf Khan, better known as Dilip Kumar, has been, for much of his life, the leading persona in Indian cinema. Today's younger generation may have already gone beyond even the three Ks and Big B, but there are still many of us around for whom the Shahenshah has to be Dilip Kumar. He has received the Dadasaheb Phalke award and countless others including the Nishan-e-Imtiaz from Pakistan (which brought the wrath of Balasaheb Thackeray on his head).

His co-stars and contemporaries are fast disappearing. Raj Kapoor and Dev Anand, two of the fifties' top trio, have departed. Nargis, Meena Kumari, Noor Jehan, Nalini Jaywant are no longer with us. Only Kamini Kaushal and Nimmi survive from those early days. The great directors he worked with—Mehboob Khan, Bimal Roy, Hrishikesh Mukherjee, BR Chopra, Yash Chopra—as well as Mohammad Rafi, Mukesh and Talat Mahmood, who sang his songs, are gone as is his favourite music director Naushad.

I first saw a DK film in 1945 when I was five. It was Milan, based on Tagore's Noukadubi, directed by Nitin Bose. Its images stayed in my mind for years. Here was DK playing the perfect Bengali bhadralok character. He revolutionised acting in Hindi cinema away from the theatrical bombast of Sohrab Modi and Prithviraj Kapoor and brought a realistic style. The younger generation of those days—anyone born after 1925— abandoned all the older stars and flocked to his films. He made them cry their hearts out as he portrayed a rural youth (Mela), a college student (Jugnu), a young martyr to the nation (Shaheed) or just a handsome young man around town dressed in a crisp pair of trousers and a nice shirt (Andaz, Babul, Shabnam, Nadiya ke Paar).

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