By Ali Peter John
Everyone who knows anything about Hindi films knows what a great actor Mohammad Yusuf Khan (the real name of Dilip Kumar, a name given to him by Devika Rani, the founder of Bombay Talkies which gives him his first break in “Jwar Bhata” in which Agha was the hero) is and if they don’t they know nothing, they are ignorant about anything to do with Hindi films. He has been called “the God of acting,” he has been
recognised as “the high priest of acting”, he has been described as “the alpha and the omega of acting”, “the sky of cinema” most scholars of Cinema call him “the ultimate reference point of acting”. Even in a place like Pakistan, he is known as “the Shahenshah of acting” and was even honoured by the government of Pakistan with its highest award for a civilian, “the Nishaan-e-Pakistan”.
But I have a feeling that very few know what a great speaker he is, an orator of the highest order who can speak on any subject and in three major languages, Urdu, English and even Punjabi. It is a privilege to listen to him when he speaks at home or in private meetings, but it is nothing less than a major celebration when he addresses huge crowds on grounds, maidans and even in Parliament. I have been a great fan of Dilip Kumar the actor but I have also been a mad fan about Dilip Kumar the man who can work magic with his words…
I was twelve when I heard him speak in public for the first time. He was the chief guest at the annual sports meet of my school in Andheri. He was taking his own time and people were growing restless. He then arrived in his big car, alighted from it in his typical all white outfit and there was the kind of noise that I have rarely seen people make. He was given the kind of welcome which kings would envy and then given a huge ornate chair to sit on but he brushed it aside and sat on a simple wooden chair. He kept watching the various sports and games and when it was time for him to speak, there was complete silence all over the ground. He first said “sorry” to the crowd for being late, but he also gave them the reason why he was late. He said, “I am really baffled at how people treat me when I come out of my house. They look at me as if I am some animal who has escaped from the zoo. Arre bhai, I am a human being like any one of you, I eat like you, I drink like you, I even breathe like you then what is the difference between you and me ? I came late on purpose because I have always been a great lover of all sports and games and I did not want my presence to disturb the interest of the people who were watching the different sport events which they had come to watch and not to gape at this man called Dilip Kumar who is special because he is an actor who has done some strange things on the screen.” He then distributed prizes and did not leave till the entire event was over. People of that time still remember his presence and the way he spoke to the people in simple words and with all the genuine feelings, also knowing well that he was talking to a crowd which was made up of a majority of Christians.
I got busy with my last years in school, but whenever I found an
opportunity to go and stand in a crowd to listen to Dilip Kumar, i left all that I was doing and rushed to the place where hundreds of people
waited for him because they knew what a great pleasure it was going to be for them when he came and spoke to them.
It was sometime in the late sixties when Mr.V.K.Krishna Menon, a great friend of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru was contesting the elections to the Lok Sabha from Mumbai. Dilip Kumar who was a great fan of Nehru was asked by his idol to campaign for Menon who was an outstanding barrister who also had the world record of speaking in English for nine hours without a break or even stopping to have a sip of water at the United Nations. All the leading stars which included Dilip Kumar, Dev Anand and Balraj Sahni actively worked for Menon, addressed hundreds of meetings, even suspended their own work to see that Menon went on to win with a thumping majority.
I was a student of the Bhavan’s College and took active part in all the various associations. The Economic Forum of the college wanted me to ask the thespian to find time to inaugurate the Forum and I was not just surprised but almost went mad when he instantly agreed. I didn’t sleep the night before the function and my principal, my professors and even my friends were still not sure whether he would come just on an invitation given to him by an ordinary student like me. All preparations were however made and he arrived at the time he had told me he would and there was a “hungama” all over the huge campus of the college. Everyone felt he would cut the ribbon, say a few words of encouragement and then leave. But he took the entire college by surprise when he announced that he was going to speak to them about a new development in the field of Economics, the coming up of a new offshoot of Economics called Bio-Economics. Many felt he was joking, but he was very serious and he spoke on the subject for the next one hour and not one person from the crowd shifted from his chair, forget trying to move out. That whole day the only subject that was talked about in the professors’ common room and even among the students was Dilip Kumar and his speech.
In 1986 the entire Industry in Bombay had gone on a one day strike. Every man and woman including Smita Patil who was more than 8 months pregnant wore black and marched from what is now the defunct Opera House to the Chowpatty Beach where they all gathered to hear their leaders speak. It was Dev Anand who first took the crowd by storm with his own style and manner of speaking without loosing track of the reason why they had gathered there. Raj Kapoor as expected was all emotions as he talked about the sad state of affairs in the Industry and the people listened to him with their faces and eyes looking very grim. The audience was getting anxious. They wanted to listen to that one man who they knew would speak and work his magic on them, Dilip Kumar. And whatever they expected from Dilip Kumar was what he gave them and he gave them much more. I have seen many speakers speak, I have heard the best of speakers, but during that one hour when Dilip Kumar spoke there was pin-drop silence, it seemed like the sun was waiting for his speech to get over so that it could set and even the waves tried their best to make the minimum sound they could. They all wanted to listen to the man who was weaving his magic with every word and with every pause. The then Chief Minister went on record to say that he had granted the demands of the Industry only because of the stirring speech made by Dilip Kumar.
Sunil Dutt joined active politics in 1984. And the first thing he did was open his own election office and he wanted Dilip Kumar to inaugurate his office and from 1984 till the last time he contested he only had Dilip Kumar to be present at the beginning of his campaigns, it had become a belief for him and he also knew that when Dilip Kumar spoke about him and why he would be elected, he would certainly be elected.
He could also be very unpredictable and funny at times. At a function to honour the music director Naushad who was his neighbour and a very good friend, he kept the audience in raptures as he kept pulling the leg of the maestro and the man had no way out but to tolerate the thespian and what someone called his “mad mad ways”.
The first time one could see that one of the greatest speakers of our time was faltering was when he was inaugurating Sunil Dutt’s office the last time. The crowd was bigger than any crowd I have seen in
years. He started speaking about his “brother” , Sunil Dutt and people were all ears, but suddenly he seemed to have lost track and he shocked the crowd when he went back in time and started speaking about the Indo-China war of 1962 and no-one could stop him. It came as
a very big shock for one and all. The second time he committed the
same blunder was when he was the chief guest at a musical show and instead of taking about music or the occasion, he went into a flash back and talked about his days as a football player who played for Khalsa College. Things got worse when he promised his wife, Saira Banu that he would not make a mistake when he agreed to speak at a function
organised by one of her friends. He remembered the names of all those dignitaries sitting on the dais, but when it came to Saira’s friend, he suddenly stopped and started fumbling, he had clearly forgotten the man’s name. That was the last time he was allowed by Saira and his doctors to speak in public and he has not come out of his house during the last eight years. He has even forgotten what he has achieved during his life time and can now not even remember some of his best friends and even Saira, his wife for more than four decades. How times plays dirty games even with the greatest emperors!!!
TRIVIA ON DILIP KUMAR, THE ORATOR
- His voice was found to be very weak by Devika Rani, the lady who gave him his first break as an actor in “Jwar Bhata”. The hero was Agha who later took to acting as a full time comedian but Dilip Kumar had the best lines to speak and he stammered and Devika Rani was not satisfied and
asked him to practice speaking before the mirror to get his voice right. He refused to follow her advice and decided to do something about his voice all on his own
- He heard all the great actors of Hindi film and the big names from Hollywood and tried to imitate them, but again decided to find his own way. He realized that the only way he could bring his voice alive was by trying to imagine the character he was playing and how the character would speak under different circumstances. In the early fifties only those actors were considered great who could who could scream, actors like Sohrab Modi and Prithviraj Kapoor from Hindi films and Sivaji Ganesan, Gemini Ganesan and Prem Nazir from the south. Dilip Kumar believed it was the kind of
language that suited theatre and not Cinema.
- He then read all the plays of some great playwrights in English and Urdu, especially Shakespeare whose characters spoke what he believes was the kind of language that would make an impact on all classes of people.
- He worked very hard on the dialogue of his films and when he was not satisfied, he asked the writers and his directors to make
changes in the language and he was accused of “interfering” with their work. This was a practice he followed till he did his last film “Qila” with Rekha as his heroine.
- He was very fond of reading and found out the magic “which not only gave me an understanding of characters but also how various characters would speak.”
- His favourite speakers in plays were Julius Caesar, Brutus and Mark Antony. He also learnt the niceties and nuances of different
languages from the great poets and writers who gathered at his house in the evening and recited their poems and read out dialogue and speeches they had written for different films.
- He was a very good learner and spent hours over the dialogue he had to speak in his scenes the next day. He had no hesitation in cutting out lines written by writers who he felt did not know the basics of writing and wrote the dialogue himself which was also called his “interference”.
- He found time of to listen to some of the great speakers on different subjects and in different languages. It was a part of his learning process .
- His pauses while he spoke became a major part of his speeches and he even used them in his films. It was this style of speaking that was followed by many other actors but they could not come up to his standards.
- Dilip Kumar was at his best when he spoke at public meetings and during all the campaigns he took apart in. He knew the moods and the pulse of his audience.
- According to Manoj Kumar who tried to imitate him in everything he did, he could speak volumes with just a whisper
- Women went crazy when he spoke about romance and whispered sweet nothings into his beloved’s ears . His most romantic scenes being the ones with Madhubala in “Mughal-e-Azam”, a film during which Dilip and Madhubala were madly in love in real life, a love story that had a tragic end
- His favourite speaker among politicians was Nehru who he said understood the feelings of the people he was talking to and the subject he was talking about.
- He was a great speaker in private life too and people who came as guests during Eid or his birthday on December 11 made it a point to stay on for as long as possible and all they wanted was to listen to him talk in his voice which was solace to their hearts, souls and minds
- He never made a conscious attempt to make an impact on people
with his talk, it just “came to me naturally”, he said.
DILIP SAHAB AUR ME
– My mother was a great fan of his. Every September she would take me to the Bandra Fair, but she made it a point to ask the taxi driver to first take us around the bungalow of Dilip Kumar and they were all happy because they too wanted to see the bungalow. But on one occasion we found the legend standing at a small gate of his bungalow and we all reacted as if we had seen God. We did not want to go many further and when he waved out to us, it seems like we would all faint with happiness. I was only eight years old then. Little did I know that I would be a part of his family one day and he would be a friend more than the legend he was.
– I had joined “Screen” on the advice of my mentor, K.A Abbas and one of my first “jobs” was to attend the Eid celebrations in his house. I felt when very odd sitting with some of the biggest, most powerful and rich men, but he came and sat next to me and put his hand around me and said, “Young man, this is your own house. Don’t feel shy or don’t hesitate to ask for anything you need” . It was the beginning of a very long association of which I will be proud till the end of my life.
– I was attending one of the functions at which he was the chief guest and after the function, I came and stood at the Haji Ali bus stop. Soon his red Mercedes came and stood close to me and I heard him call out, ” Aye Chalta Hain Kya.?” I felt thrilled and honoured. That was only the beginning. He drove me home and treated me to the kind of lunch kings would envy. And I was thinking of having my thaali in my office canteen!
– I was drenched to my last bone. I was somewhere in Pali Hill and I just walked into 34 Pali Hill where Dilip Kumar and Saira Banu lived. He saw me in my condition and asked for a large size towel and brought his white paijama and kurta and said, “stupid boy, you can die of pneumonia if you stay in this condition for even a few minutes more. Go into my bathroom, dry yourself and change into these clothes. I felt awkward, but it was Dilip Kumar who was asking me to do something in my own interest. I was looking like a scare crow, but I loved myself because I was dressed in the clothes of Dilip Kumar! He then got me what I was dying for, a glass of rum with warm water and said, “now, you will be absolutely fine. I know that even if I had not offered you this glass, you would have gone to one of your favorite addas and driven out all the cold from your young bones” it was followed by one more grand lunch
– he never said no to any of the functions I invited him too. He once forgot the time he had given me and all I had to do was make one call and he came rushing back home and asked me whether he should wear a suit and I said, “the suit is not important, you will make the suit important” he came down within 5 minutes and we rushed towards his car and I saw his shirt hanging out. I told him about it and he said, “phir tu kya kar raha hain, andar daal na.” I never knew that I would be doing this to Dilip Kumar one day
– The only time he fired me in public was when he saw me getting drunk at the Sun & Sand Hotel. He came up to me and said, “you rascal, you write like an angel and drink like the devil himself. You will have to swear to me that you will not drink like this again” I felt ashamed because I kept on drinking because I had sold my soul, body and mind to the bottle. I met him again only when I gave up drinking and went to his house to invite him and Saira to my wedding reception. He was very glad about the change in me and said he would not be able to attend the reception, but he would come to my house to celebrate my wedding, but he first got busy with the shooting of his first film as a director, “Kalinga” and then kept falling sick and now of I have one big regret, it is his not being able to come to my house.
I don’t know if what I used to do on his request was right or wrong he used to call me home and then tell me that Saira was not allowing him to go out of the house and said, “tum jaakar usko bolo ki tumhare koi zaroori kaam se jaa rahe hain toh jaane degi” I used to tell Saira what he said and he was like a dove left free from a age when he came out. All he wanted to do was Dilip visit some friends and have a couple of drinks. I used to drive with him till he reached his friend’s place and before going up he asked me, “upar aata hain kya, do teen peg lagaakar jaana.” I received and he asked me to take his Mercedes and have a good round and send the car back after an hour.
– The industry and people all around were discussing his affair and so called marriage to Asma, and Saira almost had a nervous breakdown. The only two men who kept consoling her were Dev Anand and Sunil Dutt who visited her every evening when Dilip Kumar was not around and told her that her Sahaab would come back to her. I met Dilip Kumar on the sets of B.R Chopra’s “Mazdoor and the only question I ask him was, ” Sahaab, what about all the awe?” And all he said was, “don’t worry, son, it will come back” and it did come back and Dilip Kumar and Saira have been living happily ever since.
– He loved good food and once even about Biryani into the ICU of the hospital he was admitted in. But the one woman’s food that he loved the most was the food prepared by his favorite cook, Narmada Bai who he even took with him to all the countries he travelled in and the one driver who he trusted the most was Kutty who he had so much trust in that he let him handle all the money in cash that he received from producers
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