Dilip Kumar’s Autobiography Part 2: The Drona to a Whole Generation of Eklavya’s

Yaaaay, Dilip made it all the way to 95!  And I made it all the way through his massive autobiography!  And now you don’t have to, because I am summarizing the whole thing!  Isn’t that nice of me? (part 1 here)

In the last section, I got through Childhood, Pre-Fame, Early Career, and Loves.

Now it’s time for Family, Later Career, Public Service, Community Leadership.  Fun!

Family

As I mentioned in the last section, Dilip spends a lot of time saying without saying that his oldest sister, Sakina Aapa, was a terror and a nasty brutal woman.  She kind of overshadows all his family stories.  Especially because, by the time he was a young man, Dilip was the head of the family with Sakina as his always contradictory co-head.

Dilip was part of a family of 12 children.  He had 2 older brothers and Sakina.  Below him, he had another 5 sisters and 4 brothers.  The brother he was closest to died as a young man after years as an invalid.  Dilip’s mother never really recovered, the asthma that plagued her got worse and worse, and finally she died as well.  Followed by her husband, broken hearted after the death of his wife.  Dilip’s oldest brother, Noor, had always been a little distanced in Dilip’s memories, moving on to his own thing.  Which left Dilip and Sakina as the defacto head of the household, in charge of raising all the younger siblings.

 

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(Sakina is the older woman looking judgemental at Saira)

Dilip had already been head of the household financially for years.  Even before his father died, he had taken charge and found and purchased a house in Bandra near the film studios.  His father retired and, along with the rest of the family, was living on Dilip’s earnings.

This is interesting just in terms of early stardom to me.  Dilip was making very good money, as one of the top 3 stars in the industry.  Enough to buy a large house and support a large family, including paying for overseas schooling for his younger siblings.  And enough for himself to casually travel to London and other overseas locations for pleasure.  But this is nothing compared to the money people make today.  Dilip wasn’t founding hospital wings or purchasing fleets of sports cars.  He didn’t have so much money that he didn’t know what to do with it, if that makes sense.  He had the exact right amount of money, enough to take care of his family and continue his own personal development.  And the area they were living in, back then, wasn’t the expensive exclusive top area of Bombay.  It was just the area near the film studios, where most of the stars, along with producers and writers and everyone else, lived because it was practical.

Anyway, Dilip’s father died and he became head of the family.  Sakina ran the house with an iron hand, but Dilip took charge of the education.  He had great visions for all his siblings, boys and girls.  And was disappointed when all 4 sisters chose marriage over work.  And further disappointed when all his support came to nothing, and two of his younger brothers went nowhere in their professions.  Another brother, Nasir, had a semi-successful film career, mostly thanks to Dilip’s support, and then contracted alopecia which put an end to his acting career.

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(Here is Nasir acting opposite his brother in Ganga Jumana)

His sister Akhtar was the one who really broke his heart.  She had the intelligence that made her stand out in the family, reminded him of the brother who had died.  He prepared to send her abroad for studies, to help with whatever she needed, and then she ran off with K. Asif (director of Mughal-E-Azam).  This wasn’t just a love marriage, Dilip didn’t care about his sisters having love marriages, it was a marriage to a man who he knew would be no good for her, who she was throwing herself away on.  The clear impression is that his preference would have been for her to remain unmarried and have a successful career at something, over ever marrying.  Let alone marrying someone who would force her to hide her light under a bushel.

K. Asif was already married twice.  His first wife was a Rakhi sister of Dilip’s, Dilip’s high regard for her was the main reason he continued to work with K. Asif.  He is already dismissive of K. Asif as an artist and an intellect, felt he had to do most of the work to bring out his character and any kind of subtleties to his role in Mughal-E-Azam on his own, felt that K. Asif unfairly promoted his romance with Madhubala just to help the film, suggests that K. Asif told Madhubala to seduce him so he would propose.  And then this twice married unintelligent much older man used his ability to go in and out of Dilip’s household to seduce Dilip’s innocent sister, who was meant for greater things.  Dilip reconciled with Akhtar years later (thanks to Saira’s interference), but you can see that the disappointment in her still burns.

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(K. Asif with Dilip and Madhubala, looking super sleazy)

This household was fairly established when Saira married into it.  Sakina and another unmarried sister ruled everything, Dilip hide out in a guest house in the backyard.  At marriage, he assumed that Saira would want her own home, but Saira rejected this idea, agreed that he had been so close to his siblings all these years, she would not take that away from him.  And so she moved in to Sakina’s household, and promptly became so ill that she almost died.

Dilip skates by this a bit but, having dealt with difficult relative situations myself (haven’t we all?), I can fill in the blanks.  There was something about Saira not being able to use the bathroom ever because Sakina and the other sisters would always jump in first.  Something about nasty remarks on the stairs, arguments over this and that.  And Saira was shy and young and unable to stand up to them, would just say “it’s all right, it’s all right”.  Until she started fainting and so on and Dilip rushed her to London where it was discovered that the stress had brought on colitis and she needed intensive hospitalization.

I’m just saying now, if your sister-in-law brings you to near death through stress related illness, MOVE OUT!!!!  Which is what Saira did.  She already had a house right across the road (remember, all the film people lived near each other for convenience), so she just started living over there with Dilip going between the two houses.  And she could eat the food she medically needed to eat, and use the bathroom when she needed to get ready for shoots in the morning, and generally be treated in a decent humane manner.

Sakina presumably died at some point, because she stops popping up in stories by the time Dilip is talking about his nephews and nieces.  Since Dilip was essentially head of the family for his younger siblings’ childhood, their children came to regard him as a grandfather.  He remembers with great pleasure their childhood, running in and out of the house, always playing games and keeping the house lively.  The end of the book includes reminiscences from some of those nephews and nieces which bare out his version.  He was their beloved “Yousaf Uncle”, always ready for a game or a joke, teaching them how to fly kites, taking them to movies, buying “tickets” for their amateur shows in the backyard.  That same push over personality which made him not the greatest defense against in-laws as a husband, made him a wonderful indulgent “Grandpa”.

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Later Career

Dilip does not talk as much in detail about his career as I want him to.  But that in itself is revealing, he didn’t see his career as “and then the film industry began to shift in this way, so I started signing contracts with this kind of production house”.  For him, it was clearly always about the roles.  When he describes his famous films, it is in terms of what attracted him to the character, a particular scene he struggled with how to play, the work itself above all.

What does become clear, both from Dilip’s stories and what others said in the end section of the book, is that Dilip was essentially writing and directing his films starting early on in his career.  He would sit in on weeks of story meetings, the director might casually ask him to just come up with his own idea for a particular scene and write his own dialogue, and he would show up with diagrams and notes on camera angles and speed and everything else.  Not to mention organizing and directing rehearsals with his co-stars so they performed as he wanted them to perform.

What Dilip says without saying it is that this is how he was trained back in the Bombay Talkies days, so far as he was concerned, this was the job of the star.  And not just this, but keeping everyone happy and safe on set.  There are stories of him organizing games, buying books, being friendly and supportive and helpful, the first person you would go to with a question or a problem.  That’s what Ashok was to him, that’s how Devika Rani told him he should be, so that is how he was.

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(For instance, a very young Farida Jalal was taken in hand by him.  It wasn’t just big stars he paid attention to, the “hero’s young sister” kind of actress got his personal attention as well)

And the thing is, as the only one among the big 3 in that era who never directed or produced, Dilip Sahib is the one we have to thank for most clearly modeling that behavior to everyone who came after him.  That’s still how stars are today.  They set the tone on set, they know everyone and everyone knows them, they sit in on story sessions write their own dialogue come up with their own bits of acting, direct the second unit , and so on and so forth.  Raj Kapoor and Dev were producing, obviously in charge.  But Dilip, he was there as “just” an actor, and the stories spread of what he considered part of his duties as “just” an actor, and that became the standard to live up to for everyone from Amitabh Bachchan to Aamir Khan.

Dilip was also the first to take a conscious break from acting.  He made no movies between the mid-70s and early 80s.  And then came back only in well-written scripts for directors he respected and with co-stars he was interested in working with.  It’s the same change that the 3 Khans are struggling with today, and Amitabh struggled with in the mid-90s, but Dilip was the first.  To go from “top actor” to “character actor” without any loss of dignity.

 

Public Service

Here’s the thing I really miss, Dilip was an out and proud Nehruvian!  He was asked by Panditji himself to help with a contested Bombay election, and from there he became a regular on the campaign circuit.  Giving gracious off the cuff remarks in support of his chosen candidate without ever wanting to run for office himself.  And without ever bringing strife between the groups.  In a later campaign when the two parties were holding rallies in the same place, Dilip was accidentally put on the BJP pavilion.  When he realized where he was, he made some gracious remarks about respecting his opponent, and smoothly removed himself.

It wasn’t just the campaigns, it was the way he lived his life.  Dilip was twice invited back to Pakistan.  The first time was to inaugurate a blood bank in Peshawar in his old neighborhood.  The second, to receive an award from the President of Pakistan.  Both times, Dilip paid in heartbreak for his attempts to bridge the gap between the two countries.

The first time, Dilip’s oldest friend Raj Kapoor fell sick while he was out of the country.  Rishi gives an account in the back of the book of what happened.  He remembered his whole life, Dilip being in and out of their home, his father being all excited and thrilling with anticipation any time Dilip planned to come over, and then greeting him with a booming “You are late again today!”  So when Dilip finally arrived from Peshawar, flying immediately to Delhi to visit Raj in the hospital where he had fallen in to a coma, he came into the room and sat by the bed and took his hand and told him “even today I am late!  Don’t punish me by not speaking to me, wake up.  I went back to Peshawar, I saw the streets of our childhood, I have brought it all back with me to tell you, just wake up.”  And of course Raj never did wake up, dying before Dilip was able to share with the only person in the world who would know what it was like to return to their shared childhood home.

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(Here they are in happier times)

The second time Dilip went to Pakistan, Bal Thackaray lead a charge against him for being “unIndian”.  He returned to face a public relations disaster, and the hatred of the same people who used to love him.  Dilip mentions this briefly himself, but also mentions that he later made up with Bal.  Which I kind of can’t believe, but I will chalk it up to Dilip’s greatness/inability to handle confrontation.

 

Community Leadership

By this I mean the way he took the lead in the industry.  Which is something Dilip himself doesn’t talk about much, but the end of the book is a series of reminiscences (I cannot BELIEVE I spelled that right on the first try!) from others, family and friends and fellow industry folks.  And what they all talk about is endless warmth, graciousness, and support.

For instance, Amitabh was driving around with Salim-Javed late one night, like at 4am, and they passed Dilip Sahib’s house and Salim said “hey, we should go in!”  Amitabh was embarrassed and tried to stop them, but Salim kept saying “it’s fine, it’s fine!”  So the went in, told the watchmen to tell Dilip that his friends were here to see him, and a few minutes later Dilip came down, gracious and sincerely delighted to see them.

Dilip himself talks about how one of the things he loves about Saira is how she runs the house.  Taking on the challenge of being able to feed dozens of people on a moments notice, they just have a huge freezer with food ready to be prepared as needed.  This is how Dilip lives, this is what he believes is the right thing to do, to be kind and helpful and generous to all who come to his door.

Dharmendra had another story.  The real first time he met Dilip was the first time he came to Bombay.  He had this idea in his head that Dilip was his big brother.  So he found out where Dilip’s house was and just walked right in and then right into the bedroom.  Because where he came from, that’s what you did, everyone had open house all the time.  But then he saw Dilip, surprised to see this 20 year old stranger standing in his bedroom, and ran out.

The next time he came, he had won a FilmFare contest.  And Dilip’s sister was coincidentally one of the young women helping to prepare him for his interview.  He found out who she was, and begged for an introduction, saying that Dilip was his “brother”, and sure enough she invited him back to the house.  Dilip came down, greeted him as his little brother, and after a wonderfully encouraging and helpful talk about his future as an actor, Dilip literally gave him the shirt off his back, the sweater he was wearing that day, as a remembrance.

The younger crowd, they may not have met him in person, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t influence them.  Aamir Khan (I think) uses the Eklavya-Drona comparison.  Which is very apt.  He considers Dilip Sahib his “guru”.  Because just watching his works and studying his craft is enough to teach him how to act, how to be a star.  Whether or not Dilip himself took him in hand personally.

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(Okay, so they did meet at least once)

That’s the ultimate legacy of Dilip, I think, after reading this whole book.  Not his messy personal life, or a successful series of children/siblings/nieces and nephews, or even his great performances.  At least not just his great performances.  It’s his performances, his dedication in putting them together, his willingness to help others give similar performances, his interest in helping the film industry as a whole move forward, all of the many many ways he has influenced those who came after him.

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9 thoughts on “Dilip Kumar’s Autobiography Part 2: The Drona to a Whole Generation of Eklavya’s

    • Only in a photo caption, “explaining something to Shahrukh”. There are a lot of other people in his life who are not mentioned, for instance any Kapoor besides Raj Kapoor. Or any of his nieces or nephews. Clearly his mind was wandering back to his youth and childhood, there are a lot more stories from that era.

      That was part of the reason I wanted to read it, I’ve heard such confusing accounts of how close he is, or isn’t, with Shahrukh. But there’s no clarity available. It could be anything from family connections from Peshawar, to a young actor who admires him and visits occasionally, no idea which.

      On Thu, Dec 14, 2017 at 12:49 PM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      • When I met Dilip Saab and talked to him also about ShahRukh he was delighted and told me that ShahRukh is his younger brother 🙂 it seemed to me that he genuinely loves him.

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        • I can easily believe that based on this autobiography. Just because he talks so warmly about all kinds of people, he seems to have a very big heart and is able to adopt multiple “brothers” and “sisters” and love them all sincerely.

          On Thu, Dec 14, 2017 at 1:29 PM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  1. Pingback: Happy Birthday John Abraham! A Dozen Reasons I Love You! | dontcallitbollywood

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