RIP, Dilip Kumar.
A living legend has gone. Yusuf Khan, aka Dilip Kumar, one of the greatest actors (many would say the greatest) of Hindi cinema, a man who could seemingly effortlessly enact any role. A man who could convincingly be the maudlin drunk, the happy-go-lucky joker, the broken-hearted lover, the cynic who looks on with contempt at a world gone awry. Unlike several of his most successful contemporaries, who let their stardom get to their heads until what you saw onscreen was always the star, never the character—Yusuf Sahib managed always, unerringly, to bring the character to life. He was Devdas, he was Noshu. Amar, Azaad, Saleem. And every other character he has played.
While I have compiled a list of my favourite Dilip Kumar songs earlier, I couldn’t not post a tribute to one of my favourite and most-respected actors on his passing. This, therefore: ten songs that show Dilip Kumar in different moods. As always, these are all from pre-1970s films that I’ve watched; additionally, this list does not overlap with my earlier list; which is why you won’t find some iconic Dilip Kumar songs—like Madhuban mein Radhika naache re or Yeh mera deewanapan hai—here. Also, while some of these songs are solos and some are duets, one thing they have in common is that Dilip Kumar’s character always sings.
And, yes, one last condition: no two songs are from the same film.
1. Nature-loving: Suhaana safar aur yeh mausam haseen (Madhumati, 1958). This is one of my favourite nature songs, and I love the way everything about the song comes together to celebrate the beauty and joy of nature. Shailendra’s lyrics evoke the ‘laughter’ of flowers, the frolicking of a river, the mountains all around—and the cinematography, the sheer gorgeousness of the landscape, reflects that reveling in nature. And Dilip Kumar, as the bewitched wayfarer who is both inspired by this natural beauty as well as awed by it, is endearing. The joy in his face when he bends down to a clump of flowers, for instance, or the sudden delight when he teases an echo out of the surrounding mountains: wonderful.
2. Joyful: Aayi hain bahaarein mite zulm-o-sitam (Ram aur Shyam, 1967). A boisterous and wild man who won’t take any nonsense from anyone finds himself mistaken for his long-lost identical twin and catapulted into a household where tyranny rules. He sets about setting things right in the only way he knows how: by showing that he won’t be pushed around, and won’t let other, meeker souls, be pushed around either. And here, at a birthday party for the girl to whom he’s become honorary uncle, he reinforces that message.
Several years back, someone had asked me if there was any actor from the Golden Years of Hindi cinema who was as uninhibited as Shammi Kapoor. Kishore Kumar, I had said; and Shashi Kapoor too. But yes, Dilip Kumar, when the occasion called for it, could be pretty uninhibited too. See the way he lies down on the floor here, or the way he frolics around with thee troop of children doing the twist: no stilted movements, no staid shaking of a mere leg.
3. Restless. Shaam-e-gham ki kasam (Footpath, 1953). This song always evokes for me a combination of emotions. There is the impatience, of course, of the man who is waiting for a lover who has not come. But there is also a simmering restlessness, a tension that surrounds him as he sings of how it is to be alone. There is loneliness here, and a deep yearning for the beloved. While Talat’s voice, Khayyam’s music and Majrooh Sultanpuri’s lyrics create the ambience and tone for the song and its setting, Shaam-e-gham ki kasam may not have been the same without Dilip Kumar, who portrays Noshu so well. That ache, that near-despair, the attempt, even, at resignation. Brilliant.
4. Seductive. Yeh hawa yeh raat yeh chaandni (Sangdil, 1952). As in the case of Shaam-e-gham ki kasam, here too the emotion is not a single one (which goes to show what nuances Dilip Kumar was able to bring into his performances even when he was only lip-syncing to a song). Here, his character is singing a paean to the pretty woman he is with (played by Shammi). He is saying all the right things, and the way he looks at her, touches her, puts his head on her shoulder, acts as if they were all alone in the room: she would be forgiven for thinking he was going all out to seduce her. But there is, too, an underlying cynicism, a certain hardness about the eyes that belies this seduction. He may seduce her, but he doesn’t love her.
5. Maudlin. Ae mere dil kahin aur chal (Daag, 1952). Rarely has it happened that, compiling a post of some favourite songs, watching those songs again for the nth time, I discover something there that never struck me before. That is what happened with this post, and with some of the songs: I thought they mostly exemplified one major emotion, but when I watched them this time, especially closely studying Dilip Kumar’s acting, what struck me was how nuanced it was. Here, though he starts off being the happy drunk, that happiness sinks into a melancholy, a sort of self-pity that swamps him before the happiness reappears briefly—only to be replaced by a vaguely lost look, a man glancing around and not seeing light in the dark anywhere.
What an actor Dilip Kumar was.
6. Patriotic. Yeh desh hai veer jawaanon ka (Naya Daur, 1957). Dilip Kumar’s not unusual onscreen persona of a somewhat conflicted character—basically good, but often fairly flawed as well, as in Amar, Devdas, Aadmi, etc—was not the sort of goodie-goodie uber-patriotic hero of the average Hindi patriotic film. And Naya Daur, while it had a socialist (somewhat Luddist) message, was not a run of the mill patriotic film. This song, though a paean to a motherland that is much loved, has a raw, earthy charm to it that I find very believable for a villager to be singing.
And Dilip Kumar shows that he is capable of all the physicality this song demands. While the bhangra troupe and the other extras do most of the dancing, Dilip Kumar and Ajit do have some fairly energetic leaping about near the end of Yeh desh hai veer jawaanon ka, and Dilip Kumar looks like he’s having a lot of fun.
7. Flirtatious. Tere husn ki kya taareef karoon (Leader, 1964). This film, unlike Naya Daur, was rather more overtly patriotic; Dilip Kumar acted the part of a political leader (and got to lip-sync to the very good Apni aazaadi ko hum hargiz mita sakte nahin). It was an average film, sadly, but what redeemed it somewhat was a clutch of really good songs. Here, in a playful, teasingly flirtatious one, Dilip Kumar and Vyjyanthimala’s characters praise each other to the skies, and insist on tagging on a caveat: this doesn’t mean I’m in love with you. I see you and my heart starts fluttering, but I’m not in love with you. You are too beautiful for me to praise adequately, but I’m not in love with you. And so on and so forth.
The lyrics are teasing, even romantic, and the picturization is playful, what with them play-acting, so to say: she ‘reading’ a ‘letter’ he hands her; he ‘reeling her in’ and so on.
8. Earnest. Tu kahe agar jeevan bhar (Andaaz, 1949). Click the link to this video and (if you don’t want to listen to all of the song) go to the 1:20 mark. See how Dilip Kumar looks fixedly at Nargis as he lip-syncs to this stanza. She blinks, she smiles, she turns away to laugh as Cuckoo’s character comes dancing up to the piano. But Dilip Kumar doesn’t look away. He is mesmerized; he has eyes only for this woman. Even his song, though sung in public, is addressed just to her (even if she does not notice it). This man is earnest. You just have to see his eyes to realize that. Given Dilip Kumar’s character in Andaaz—a man who falls so deeply in love with a woman who regards him as a friend, only to be unable to handle the fact that she is going to marry another—this is a piece of acting that sets up the character really well.
9. Miserable. Mitwa re lagi yeh kaisi anbujh aag (Devdas, 1955). From one of Dilip Kumar’s landmark films—a film with which he’s so inextricably associated that there are many who refer to the actor himself as ‘Devdas’—is this song of the lover who pines for the woman he loves, but who can never be his. There is no shortage of similar songs in Hindi cinema; no lack of men aching for a woman who has been snatched away by fate, by enemies, by even what the character may regard as the woman’s own bewafaai. But few actors manage to portray, without melodrama, what the character is going through. Dilip Kumar does it, and so convincingly that it’s hard to imagine that he isn’t really the dejected, depressed, completely shattered man who’s spending all his days just wandering about, trying to find some relief from the ache… look at that emptiness in his eyes, the sheer misery.
10. Empathetic. Chhod baabul ka ghar (Baabul, 1950). And, to end, a fitting song for a much-loved actor who is now gone. A song of farewell. I had wanted to post O door ke musaafir, from Udan Khatola, but I’d already included that in my earlier list of Dilip Kumar posts. But this one, another song in which Dilip Kumar’s character bids farewell to the woman who has loved him, is also very dramatic. The interesting bit here is that Dilip Kumar plays a man loved by two women: a poor village girl (played by Nargis) and a wealthy city girl (Munawar Sultana); he falls for the latter, without realizing that the village girl has misunderstood his kindness for love. Much drama ensues, but at the end, when the village girl is dying, he sings to her a song she had sung earlier. A song of farewell, but a song also of empathy and comfort. This man feels no romantic love for this woman, but he shares in her anguish, he is able to feel for her as she leaves…
Goodbye, Mr Khan. Thank you for the cinema. You will live on, your films will endure.