Dilip Kumar: A look at his initial years from 1944-1948

By

Sharada Iyer

With the passing away of our dearest Dilip Kumar on 7th July, 2021, an era of Hindi cinema came to an end. As people bid farewell to this legendary pillar of our film industry, it was a poignant moment as one realized that a part of cinematic history was lost forever. Though he had quit acting many years ago, his mere physical presence amongst us made us feel connected to the golden era of our cinema and now that connection is gone forever.

Born as Yusuf Khan on 11th December, 1922, in Peshawar (now in Pakistan) he became Dilip Kumar for his innumerable fans across the world and he was loved by millions for not just his acting but also his humane qualities which made him stand out in the crowd. His unbelievable and amazing journey from a fruit vendor to attaining an iconic status as the heartthrob of millions is the stuff one only hears in stories. He was an original in every respect along with his other much-loved contemporaries- Ashok Kumar, Dev Anand, Raj Kapoor and Kishore Kumar.

Dilip Kumar’s father had been a fruit vendor and after helping in his father’s business for a while, he wanted to do something on his own to prove his worth to his father. One day the youngster left home without informing anyone, took a train and reached Pune where, impressed with his excellent knowledge of the English language, he got the job of an assistant manager at the British Army Club Canteen frequented by the British and high-profile Indians. After a successful stint of five years, he came back home but once again wanted to explore something different.

One day while waiting at a train station in Bombay, Dilip Kumar came face to face with Dr. Masani, who had given a lecture in the college when Dilip Kumar had been a student. The doctor was on his way to the Bombay Talkies Studio and upon finding out that Dilip Kumar was unemployed and had come to the city to explore some business opportunity, he suggested to Dilip Kumar to accompany him in the hope that he may get some employment at the studio.

Thus it was a chance meeting with the beautiful and enigmatic Devika Rani-the owner of the prestigious Bombay Talkies Studio- that turned his life forever and there was no looking back for the young Yusuf. So impressed was Devika Rani with his handsome face, charming personality, and his superb knowledge of Urdu, that she suggested he join the studio immediately on a monthly salary, learn the ropes of acting and soon he would be launched as an actor. Dilip Kumar could not believe what was happening. As a shy and unassuming 20-year-old, a career in films was something which had never entered his head even as much as a fleeting thought but then destiny played its hand and he became the chosen one!

As a youngster he was totally blessed not only to become part of the top studio of that time like Bombay Talkies, but also to be in the august company of a wonderful actor and human being like Ashok Kumar who became a mentor-cum-elder brother to Dilip Kumar. Both Devika Rani and Ashok Kumar who was a star at that time, had predicted that in no time would Dilip Kumar have such a huge fan following especially female fans, that he would find it difficult to handle his popularity in the near future.

No amount of training in any kind of film institute or being some part of training classes would have given Dilip Kumar the kind of knowledge about acting and the technical know-how of all the departments and aspects of film-making, as he got to learn by just being on the sets of Gyan Mukherjee’s Kismet and observing the inimitable Ashok Kumar’s natural acting during the shooting. Another person who took him under his wings was the talented and intelligent director Shashadhar Mukherjee, Ashok Kumar’s brother-in-law, from whom Dilip Saab learnt a lot. Others with whom he got to interact in his early years were Gyan Mukherjee, Amiya Chakravorty, Paidi Jairaj, David Abraham, etc.

Though he entered films without any struggle success did not come to Dilip Kumar overnight. But Devika Rani had faith in her discovery and believed in him. From 1944-1948, he acted in nine films of which five were released in 1948, and the tide turned in his favour. After that, there was no looking back as he scaled glorious heights and gave us many memorable gems to cherish and remember.

Initially Dilip Kumar hid the fact that he was working in a film studio from his family and because of the changed name they also did not come to know. Only one of his elder brothers was aware of it. His father had always wanted him to be an officer with an OBE as the suffix. But later when he came to know how well his son was liked he was proud of him. Sadly, Dilip Kumar’s mother passed away in 1948 and his father in 1950 and both did not live to see the extraordinary success of their son.

JWAR BHATA (1944)

Dilip Kumar’s debut film Jwar Bhata was released on 29th November, 1944 in Majestic Talkies, Bombay. Directed by Amiya Chakravorty, the film revolved around the story of two sisters and two men in their lives. The heroines in the film were Mridula Rani and Shamim Bano and the two heroes were – Agha Jaan and Dilip Kumar. The heroine Mridula also made her debut with this film. However, the film not do well and Dilip Kumar did not garner rave reviews for his performance.

I could not find any link to watch the film but for those interested, I found a YouTube link where the story of the film is being narrated and it seems an interesting story.

PRATIMA (1945)

The next year in 1945 came Pratima which was Paidi Jairaj’s debut as a director, and Dilip Kumar was cast opposite Swaran Lata, the heroine from the previous year’s super-hit film, Rattan. The story mentioned here is collected from the internet and I could not get any link to watch the full film. In this film Dilip Kumar falls in love with Swaran Lata, an orphan girl but his family wants him to marry a rich landlord’s girl. However, unknown to anyone the rich landlord had many years back killed the orphan’s father, which resulted in her mother losing her memory and the little girl brought up by a reformed dacoit.

Dilip Kumar starts spending time near the statue of a girl in the rich landlord’s backyard where an old woman is always sitting. The film’s narrative then unfolds to reveal the landlord’s evil acts, realize the old lady is actually the orphan’s mother and that she is actually the owner of the big house and the land. It was not much of a story and expectedly the film did not do much to Dilip Kumar’s career.

Interestingly, actor Mukri who made his debut in films with Pratima had been Dilip Kumar’s school mate in Anjuman Islam school but at that time they hardly knew each other. Even during this film, they hardly interacted. It was only during the shooting of Anokha Pyar that they became friends and the deep friendship remained till the very end.

MILAN (1946)

The film directed by Nitin Bose was based on Rabindranath Tagore’s story titled ‘Naukadoobi’. Dilip Kumar is a law student and falls in love with his friend’s sister played by Meera Misra, and they both are very happy. One day Dilip Kumar receives a message and is urgently summoned to his village by his father. Upon reaching he finds out that his marriage has been fixed with a poor widow’s daughter because the father had promised the family many years back. His pleas fall on deaf ears and the marriage takes place forcibly. But the same night when the boat belonging to the wedding party is returning from the girl’s village, there is a storm and the boat sinks with Dilip Kumar being the lone survivor. But when he wakes up and starts looking around, he finds a bride lying unconscious and takes her with him thinking her to be ahis wife.

Ironically, the same night, there had been another wedding procession going for the wedding and the bride’s party had also been caught in the storm. In their case the bride had survived. Dilip Kumar now takes it upon himself to find out the whereabouts of the groom but keeps all these events a secret so that the bride’s reputation is not smeared. His friend and his girlfriend are later shocked to know of the marriage and this upsets them very much. After some more confusion, things are sorted and the bride reaches her groom and Dilip Kumar marries his girlfriend. Though this film performed well in certain cities, things had still not fallen in place for our Dilip Saab.

JUGNU (1947)

Dilip Kumar hit jackpot with this film which went on to become that year’s biggest box-office hit. Directed by Shaukat Hussain Rizvi, Noorjehan’s husband, this entertaining love-story starred the beautiful actress-singer Noorjehan opposite Dilip Kumar and their pairing became very popular. But this film which was shot before the country’s partition could get theatrical release only after the partition. By then, Noorjehan had decided to settle with her husband in Pakistan. With the result the two never acted again together and in fact met each other many decades later when Noorjehan visited India.

The first half was breezy and fun-filled campus romance which was quite bold for its time and apparently came in for a lot of flak from critics. The second half had the young lovers facing some unexpected obstacles in the path and the story took a tragic turn. The audience loved the endearing chemistry between the two youngsters. Looking at Dilip Kumar, one could see the same natural acting, dialogue delivery, an innate charm and an affable screen presence which became his trademark over the years. The film is a must-watch for his fans!

Incidentally, singer Mohammed Rafi had a small cameo (his lone on-screen outing) and appears for two scenes and also as a playback singer his association with Dilip Kumar started with this film. His song ‘Yahan badla wafa ka bewafaai ke siva kya hai…’ picturized on Dilip Kumar became a hit.

GHAR KI IZZAT (1948)

Produced and directed by Ram Daryani, the film represented a typical situation of a middle-class family of that era and boldly throws light upon several societal issues like dowry, the fights arising due to caste and class difference, the treatment meted out to the daughter-in-law, the inability of the son to stand up against parental oppression and the mute acceptance of her fate by the wife.

This time Dilip Kumar’s heroine was Mumtaz Shanti, the brilliant actress of Kismet and Basant. Others in the cast include Jeevan who plays her elder brother, Manorama who plays Dilip Kumar’s sister and Gope who plays the brother-in-law. Mumtaz Shanti is a school teacher and lives with her jobless elder brother and a school-going younger brother and the family runs through her meagre income. Dilip Kumar is a lawyer belonging to a rich family.

When the two fall in love and get married, expectedly clashes arise. She quits her job and has to put up with abuse from her in-laws. When Dilip Kumar unable to convince his parents to change their behaviour offers an escape to his wife by suggesting that they just walk away and start a life elsewhere to avoid all the everyday torture, Mumtaz Shanti refuses to accept and feels it is her duty to stay in the house come what may.

Dilip Kumar out of frustration leaves the house and takes to drinking and gambling while his wife is caged in the house. The only enterprising character in the film is Manorama who has a superb role and tries to sort out the situation by talking to all the characters. Though Dilip Kumar’s character after a point is not a very loving one, his acting is superb. In fact, acting by the entire cast is very natural and situations very believable for the society of those times.

SHAHEED (1948)

A patriotic film directed by Ramesh Saigal, Shaheed went on to become that year’s biggest grosser and had the touching patriotic song ‘Watan ki raah mein watan ke naujawan shaheed ho…’ sung by Mohammed Rafi. Dilip Kumar is part of the youth brigade involved in freedom struggle.  Though he has his mother’s (Leela Chitnis) blessings there are many clashes with his father (Chandramohan) who works for the British. Kamini Kaushal who looks stunning plays his love interest and her on-screen chemistry in the romantic scenes with Dilip Kumar was superb. They made an endearing pair loved by the audience.

Dilip Kumar came up with a superlative performance probably one of his career-best. Leela Chitnis as the mother and Chandramohan as the father were superb. The latter with his big bold piercing eyes and a powerful voice was perfectly cast as the father and his clashes with Dilip Kumar were brilliant to watch. This well-directed powerful film with a brilliant cast and good music may have now become part of forgotten cinematic history but this a rare gem that should not be missed.

MELA (1948)

The film produced and directed by S U Sunny was a tragic story of unrequited love but the plot touched our hearts thanks to the superb acting by Dilip Kumar and Nargis and some brilliant songs composed by music director Naushad. Dilip and Nargis are childhood friends which gives way to romantic feelings when they grow up. For a change there is no objection from the fathers and even their marriage date is fixed. But then if things were so smooth there would be no film. Into the story enters the lecherous Jeevan who happens to be their old schoolmate but had gone away to make a life for himself and now comes back having picked up some broken English and pretending to be very learned.

Jeevan lusts after Nargis’s friend but both Dilip and Nargis warn him to be careful of his wayward ways and he decides to avenge them. When Dilip Kumar goes to the city to buy jewellery for the wedding, he is beaten up by goons, the jewellery stolen and he is left unconscious. He misses the wedding date. Taking advantage of the situation, Jeevan manages to convince the panchayat that Dilip Kumar has run away with his mistress. In a hurry and to avoid further humiliation, Nargis’s stepmother decides to marry her off on the same day to a 70-year-old widower who is a father to many small kids and she moves to another village.

The old fellow feels bad for his young bride and says that she need only to look after the kids as a mother. One day, by chance, Dilip rescues the old man from the railway track as he has an attack of fits and when he takes him home, he finds out that his wife is none other than Nargis. After some days, the old man dies and Nargis is thrown out of the house by some evil aunt. Nargis’s best friend manages to arrange a meeting between Dilip Kumar and Nargis. However, the meeting ends in a tragedy as they are caught in a storm and Nargis falls off a cliff.

Once again Jeevan intervenes and manages to convince the police that Dilip Kumar had murdered her and he is sentenced to twenty years of jail which he accepts wordlessly. After 20 years when he comes out, he goes straight to the cliff and sees Nargis’s ghost calling out to him and he also falls down the cliff.

Mohammed Rafi’s signature song from the film ‘Yeh zindagi ke mele duniya mein kum na honge…’ is remembered to this day. But here I am posting a Mukesh solo ‘Gaaye ja geet milan ke tu apni lagan se…’ which comes at a vey ironic juncture in the film. Dilip Kumar is returning from the city dreaming of his marriage while, Nargis is leaving for her husband’s village after being forcibly married off to a life she never wanted.

ANOKHA PYAR (1948)

This film directed by Dharamsey was a love triangle with both Nargis and Nalini Jaywant falling in love with Dilip Kumar who plays a poor aspiring writer in the film. Nalini Jaywant plays a simple flower seller who is one day rescued by Dilip Kumar when a goon tries to create trouble. In the ensuing fist cuff, Dilip gets hurt in the eye and she takes him to the local doctor. As Dilip Kumar has no house, he stays in the doctor’s house for some days to recuperate and Nargis who is the doctor’s daughter helps him and they end up falling in love with each other.

Nailini Jaywant mistakes Dilip Kumar’s friendship for love and seeing them together Nargis thinks Dilip Kumar and Nalini Jaywant are in love with each other. In between, Dilip Kumar even goes to jail for a while for a murder he did not commit. After a lot of misunderstandings, things get cleared but being a triangle, one of them has to meet with a tragic end.

There is an innocent charm and simplicity to the story and all three actors look good and act well. Dilip Kumar’s pairing with both actresses was appealing.  The film was one of the hits of 1948. Music by Anil Biswas became popular especially the song ‘Yaad rakhna chaand taaron is suhani raat ko…’ which is sung by Lata Mangeshkar, Meena Kapoor and Mukesh.

NADIYA KE PAAR (1948)

Director Kishore Sahu whipped up a tragic love story between a rich ‘thakur’ boy (Dilip Kumar) and a poor tribal girl (Kamini Kaushal). The ebullience and innocence of young love is brought out evocatively by the lead pair’s chemistry. Dilip looks very boyish and handsome and Kamini Kaushal looks beautiful in the tribal outfit and has a lively screen presence. Their chemistry is palpable and romantic scenes are believable because of their natural acting.

Only after falling in love, do they become aware of the extent of enmity between their families and realize they have to overcome too many obstacles to get married. They show a lot of dare and even plan to escape but ultimately tragedy strikes. Our society since time immemorial has always been obsessed with not allowing lovers to live happily coming up with some pretext or the other to create trouble. Here is a melodious duet picturized on them sung in the voices of Lalita Deulkar and Mohammed Rafi.

Song: ‘More raja ho le chal nadiya ke paar…’

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7 thoughts on “Dilip Kumar: A look at his initial years from 1944-1948

  1. very interesting and informative article. what an unusual journey! how different those times must have been. so much friendship between co-stars. wonderful actors and great human beings all. please continue with the later years of Dilip saab.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Quite amazing to read this and go yesteryears ; Terrific guy Dilip Saab and your blog post is fab. Look forward to your next piece about this amazing legend. great read. . Cheers and keep it up.

    Liked by 1 person

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