Why Bollywood legend Dilip Kumar was no run-of-the-mill superstar

Photo: PTI
Photo: PTI

Dubai - A star-struck fan reminisces his only meeting with the thespian.

By Nithin Belle

Published: Wed 7 Jul 2021, 10:44 AM

I can distinctly recall my only meeting with thespian Dilip Kumar at a hotel in Dubai in 1991.

I remember reaching the hotel where he was staying, one evening, to interview the superstar, as he was visiting the emirate to promote one of his films. I had arrived 10 minutes ahead of the scheduled interview.


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I was used to the ways of India’s Hindi film industry, where stars would make budding journalists wait for hours before deigning to make an appearance.

But Dilip saab was an exception to the industry rule. He was not the run-of-the-mill superstar and never liked to keep people waiting.

He struck a big chord with me at the first instance, when he welcomed me warmly at the hotel at the appointed time.

Three decades on, as I woke up to the terrible news of his passing on Wednesday (July 7), I can still vividly recall his smiling visage, a child-like curiosity about me, the interviewer, and vivaciousness, which was, perhaps, in retrospect, an ode to his Pathan lineage.

He was all grace personified, polite and generous to a fault. He asked me about life in Dubai and that in Mumbai, then Bombay.

I had had a feel of several busy Hindi film stars and was expecting the interview to be over within 45 minutes.

But the pleasant Dilip saab was clearly not a man in a hurry.

He had all the time in the world and was seldom known for one-liners and quick ripostes. He was at ease with himself and the surroundings, shorn off any starry airs, willing to talk for hours and patiently responded to all questions.

The veteran actor was in Dubai around the time of the release of his award-winning film Saudagar in 1991 that was directed by Subhash Ghai, around five decades after he had made his debut in the industry in pre-Independence India in 1944.

It was a memorable interview, which is still etched in my mind. He recounted some of the greatest actors he'd worked with, the highs and lows of his epic journey, and his take on leaders from all walks of life.

Dilip saab possessed saintly qualities. He never harboured any ill-feeling towards anybody, despite the fact that the early 1990s were traumatic for India, as the country was torn asunder on communal lines.

He maintained good relations with all the leaders, cutting across political and social hues and affiliations.

He told me about his interactions with Bal Thackeray, the Shiv Sena founder, whom he used to meet often at his home in Bandra, Mumbai.

The industry’s “king of tragedy” went on to dwell on the high points of life and the love of his life, actress Saira Banu, whom he had married in 1966.


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For the uninitiated, Dilip saab was born as Mohammed Yusuf Khan in 1922 in Peshawar in undivided India under colonial rule.

He was multi-talented and was known for his mellifluous Urdu and proficiency in Marathi as well.

Few know that he had started his career running a canteen in Pune in the early 1940s.

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