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Dilip Kumar

Indian actor and politician

Dilip Kumar
Kumar in 1946
Mohammed Yusuf Khan

11 December 1922 (1922-12-11)[1]
Died7 July 2021(2021-07-07) (aged 98)[2]
Years active1944–1999
  • (m. 1966; his death 2021)
  • Asma Sahiba
    (m. 1981; div. 1983)
Member of Parliament, Rajya Sabha
In office
3 April 2000 – 2 April 2006

Dilip Kumar (born Mohammed Yusuf Khan;[3] 11 December 1922 – 7 July 2021) was an Indian actor and film producer, best known for his work in Hindi cinema. Referred to as the "Tragedy King"[4] and "The First Khan",[5][6] he has been credited for bringing a distinct form of method acting technique to cinema. Kumar holds the record for most wins for the Filmfare Award for Best Actor and was also the inaugural recipient of the award.[7][8]

Kumar debuted as an actor in the film Jwar Bhata (1944), produced by Bombay Talkies. In a career spanning over five decades, Kumar worked in over 65 films. Kumar is known for roles in films such as the romantic Andaz (1949), the swashbuckling Aan (1952), the social drama Daag (1952), the dramatic Devdas (1955), the comical Azaad (1955), the epic historical Mughal-e-Azam (1960), the social dacoit crime drama Gunga Jamuna (1961), and the comedy Ram Aur Shyam (1967).

In 1976, Kumar took a five-year break from film performances and returned with a character role in the film Kranti (1981) and continued his career playing leading roles in films such as Shakti (1982), Mashaal (1984), Karma (1986) and Saudagar (1991). His last film was Qila (1998).[9][10]

Kumar was also known for his long relationship with actress and frequent co-star Madhubala that ended due to the Naya Daur court case in 1957. He married actress Saira Banu in 1966 and resided in Bandra, a suburb of Mumbai, till his death in 2021.

Early life

Kumar was born as Mohammad Yusuf Khan[11] on 11 December 1922, to a Hindko speaking Awan family at his family home in the Qissa Khawani Bazaar area of Peshawar, British India, one of the twelve children of Lala Ghulam Sarwar Khan and his wife Ayesha Begum. His father was a fruit merchant.[12]

Kumar was schooled at Barnes School, Deolali, Nashik.[13] He grew up in the same neighborhood as Raj Kapoor, his childhood friend, and later his colleague in the film industry.[6]


1940s: First film roles and initial success

Kumar's first film was Jwar Bhata in 1944, which went unnoticed. After a few more unsuccessful films, it was Jugnu (1947), in which he starred alongside Noor Jehan, that became his first major hit at the box office.[14] His next major hits were the 1948 films Shaheed and Mela.

Kumar with actors Raj Kapoor and Nargis in a scene of the film Andaz (1949)

He got his breakthrough role in 1949 with Mehboob Khan's Andaz, in which he starred alongside Raj Kapoor and Nargis. Shabnam also released that year was another box office hit.[14]

1950s: Breakthrough years

Kumar went on to have success in the 1950s playing leading roles in several box office hits such as Jogan (1950), Babul (1950), Hulchul (1951), Deedar (1951), Tarana (1951), Daag (1952), Sangdil (1952), Shikast (1953), Amar (1954), Uran Khatola (1955), Insaniyat (1955) in which he co-starred with Dev Anand, Devdas (1955), Naya Daur (1957), Yahudi (1958), Madhumati (1958) and Paigham (1959).[15] Some of these films established his screen image as the "Tragedy King".[16] Kumar briefly suffered from depression due to portraying many tragic roles and on the advice of his psychiatrist, he also took on light-hearted roles.[17] Mehboob Khan's big-budget 1952 swashbuckling musical Aan featured him in one of his first lighter roles[18] and marked his first film to be shot in technicolor and to have a wide release across Europe with a lavish premiere in London.[19] He had further success with lighter roles as a thief in the comedy Azaad (1955), and as a royal prince in the romantic musical Kohinoor (1960)[16]

He was the first actor to win the Filmfare Best Actor Award (for Daag) and went on to win it a further seven times.[20][21] He formed popular on-screen pairings with many of the top actresses at the time including Vyjayanthimala, Madhubala, Nargis, Nimmi, Meena Kumari and Kamini Kaushal.[22] 9 of his films in the 1950s were ranked in the Top 30 highest-grossing films of the decade.[23]

In the 1950s, Kumar became the first actor to charge 1 lakh (equivalent to 85 lakh or US$120,000 in 2019) per film.[24]

Kumar with actress Meena Kumari in Yahudi (1958)

1960s: Mughal-e-Azam and venture into production

In 1960, he portrayed Prince Salim in K. Asif's big-budget epic historical film Mughal-e-Azam, which was the highest-grossing film in Indian film history for 11 years until it was surpassed by 1971 film Haathi Mere Saathi and later by the 1975 film Sholay. If adjusted for inflation, Mughal-e-Azam was the highest-grossing Indian film through to the early 2010s, equivalent to over 1000 crore in 2011.[25][26]

The film told the story of Prince Salim, who revolts against his father Akbar (played by Prithviraj Kapoor), and falls in love with a courtesan (played by Madhubala). The film was mostly shot in black and white, with only some scenes in the latter half of the film shot in colour. 44 years after its original release, it was fully colourised and re-released in 2004.

In 1961, Kumar wrote, produced, and starred in Ganga Jamuna opposite his frequent leading lady Vyjayanthimala and his brother Nasir Khan, this was the only film he produced. Kumar chose the shade of saree that Vyjayanthimala would wear in every scene. The film received the National Film Award for Second Best Feature Film in Hindi, the Paul Revere Silver Bowl at the Boston International Film Festival, the Special Honour Diploma from the Czechoslovak Academy of Arts in Prague, and the Special Prize at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival.[27]

In 1962, British director David Lean offered him the role of "Sherif Ali" in his film Lawrence of Arabia (1962), but Kumar declined to perform in the movie.[28] The role eventually went to Omar Sharif, the Egyptian actor. Kumar comments in his much later released autobiography, "he thought Omar Sharif had played the role far better than he himself could have".[29] Kumar was also being considered for a leading role opposite Elizabeth Taylor in a film that Lean was working on called Taj Mahal, before the project was cancelled.[30]

His next film Leader (1964) was a below average grosser at the box office.[31] He was the co-director alongside Abdul Rashid Kardar of his next release Dil Diya Dard Liya in 1966, but was uncredited as director. In 1967, Kumar played a dual role of twins separated at birth in the hit film Ram Aur Shyam. In 1968, he starred alongside Manoj Kumar and Waheeda Rehman in Aadmi. That same year, he starred in Sunghursh with Vyjayanthimala which was their last film together which created a total of seven hit films together.

1970s: Career slump

Kumar's career slumped in the 1970s with films like Dastaan (1972) failing at the box office. He starred alongside his real-life wife Saira Banu in Gopi (1970). They were paired again in his first and only Bengali language film Sagina Mahato (1970). A Hindi remake Sagina was made in 1974 with the same cast. He played triple roles as a father and his twin sons in Bairaag (1976) which failed to do well at the box office.[32][33] He personally regarded M. G. Ramachandran's performance in Enga Veetu Pillai better than his role in Ram Aur Shyam. He regards his performance in Bairaag much higher than that of Ram Aur Shyam. Although his performance in Bairaag and Gopi were critically acclaimed, he lost many film offers to act in leading roles to actors Rajesh Khanna and Sanjeev Kumar, from 1968 to 1987. He took a five-year hiatus from films from 1976 to 1981.[34]

1980s: Return to success

In 1981, he returned to films as a character actor playing central roles in ensemble films. His comeback film was the star-studded Kranti which was the biggest hit of the year.[35] Appearing alongside an ensemble cast including Manoj Kumar, Shashi Kapoor, Hema Malini and Shatrughan Sinha, he played the title role as a revolutionary fighting for India's independence from British rule.[36] He then successfully collaborated with director Subhash Ghai starting with Vidhaata (1982), in which he starred alongside Sanjay Dutt, Sanjeev Kumar and Shammi Kapoor. Later that year he starred alongside Amitabh Bachchan in Ramesh Sippy's Shakti which was a hit grosser at the box office and won him critical acclaim and his eighth and final Filmfare Award for Best Actor.[37] In 1984, he starred in Yash Chopra's social crime drama Mashaal opposite Anil Kapoor which failed at the box office but his performance was critically acclaimed.[38] He also appeared alongside Rishi Kapoor in Duniya (1984) and Jeetendra in Dharm Adhikari (1986).

His second collaboration with Subhash Ghai came with the 1986 ensemble action film Karma. Karma marked the first film which paired him opposite fellow veteran actress Nutan. Three decades earlier however, they were paired together in an incomplete and unreleased film titled Shikwa.[36][39][40] He acted opposite Nutan again in the 1989 film Kanoon Apna Apna.

1990s: Directorial debut and career decline

In 1991, Kumar starred alongside fellow veteran actor Raaj Kumar in Saudagar, his third and last film with director Subhash Ghai. This was his second film with Raaj Kumar after 1959's Paigham. Saudagar was Kumar's last box office success.[41] In 1994, he won the Filmfare Lifetime Achievement Award for his contributions to the industry.[42]

In 1992, producer Sudhakar Bokade announced a film titled Kalinga which would officially mark Kumar's directorial debut after he had allegedly previously ghost directed Ganga Jamuna (1961) and Dil Diya Dard Liya (1967).[43] Kumar was also set to star in the title role with the cast including Raj Babbar, Raj Kiran, Amitoj Mann and Meenakshi Seshadri. After being delayed for several years, Kalinga was eventually left incomplete and shelved.[44][45]

In 1998, Kumar made his last film appearance in the box office flop Qila, where he played dual roles as an evil landowner who is murdered and as his twin brother who tries to solve the mystery of his death.

2000s–2021: Intermittent work and political career

In 2001, Kumar was set to appear in a film titled Asar – The Impact alongside Ajay Devgan and Priyanka Chopra, which was shelved.[46] His classic films Mughal-e-Azam and Naya Daur were fully colourised and re-released in cinemas in 2004 and 2008 respectively.[47] An unreleased film he had shot and completed in 1990 titled Aag Ka Dariya was set for a theatrical release in 2013 but has not been released to date.[48] He was also set to appear in Subhash Ghai's war film, Mother Land, alongside Amitabh Bachchan and Shah Rukh Khan, but this film was shelved after Khan decided to leave the project.[49]

Kumar was a member of the Rajya Sabha, the upper house of India's parliament, from 2000 to 2006.[50] He was nominated by the Indian National Congress to represent Maharashtra.[51][52] Kumar utilized a significant portion of his MPLADS fund towards the construction and improvement of the Bandstand Promenade and the gardens at Bandra Fort at Lands End in Bandra.[53]

Personal life

Kumar with Madhubala on the sets of Mughal-e-Azam in 1954
Kumar with Vyjayanthimala on the sets of Leader

Kumar had fallen in love with Madhubala during the shooting of Tarana. They remained in a relationship for seven years until the Naya Daur court case, during which Kumar testified against Madhubala and her father, ending their relationship.[54] They never worked together again after Mughal-e-Azam (1960).[55] In the late 1950s, Vyjayanthimala was linked by gossip magazines with Kumar, who has acted with her the most compared to any other actress, which resulted in great on-screen chemistry between them. While working for his home production Gunga Jumna (1961), Kumar reportedly handpicked the shade of sari that Vyjayanthimala would wear in every scene.[56]

Kumar with his wife Saira Banu in 2007

In 1966, Kumar married actress Saira Banu, who was 22 years younger than him. He later married Hyderabad socialite Asma Sahiba, taking her as a second wife in 1981.[57][58] That marriage ended in January 1983.[59] Banu and he lived in Bandra. They did not have any children. In his autobiography, Dilip Kumar: The Substance and the Shadow, he revealed that Banu had conceived in 1972, but developed complications in the pregnancy, leading to the child's death. Following this, they did not try to have children again, believing that it to be God's will.[60][61]

Kumar was fluent in Urdu, Hindi, Pashto (his first language), Punjabi, Marathi, English, Bengali, Gujarati, Hindko, Persian and the Awadhi and Bhojpuri dialects.[13][62] He was also a great music enthusiast and also learnt how to play the sitar for a film.[63] He loved cricket and played it often.[64]

His younger brother Nasir Khan (1924–1974) was also a noted film actor.[65] Two of his younger brothers died during the COVID-19 pandemic after testing positive for COVID-19: Aslam Khan died at the age of 88 in August 2020, and Ehsan Khan died at 90 in September 2020.[66][67]


Kumar died at Hinduja Hospital, Mumbai, on 7 July 2021 at 7:30 am.[68] He had been suffering from prostate cancer.[69] The Government of Maharashtra approved his burial with state honours at Juhu Cemetery on 7 July 2021.[70]


Kumar with actor Shah Rukh Khan in 2009

Kumar is widely considered one of the greatest actors in the history of Hindi cinema.[71][7][8] He holds the Guinness World Record for winning the maximum number of awards by an Indian actor.[72][73][74] Over his career, he received eight Filmfare Awards for Best Actor (with 19 total nominations) and a Filmfare Lifetime Achievement Award (1993).[75] He also received a Special Recognition Filmfare Award at the 50th Filmfare Awards for being one of the first recipients of Filmfare Awards along with Lata Mangeshkar and Naushad Ali.[42][76] Many great actors including Shah Rukh Khan consider Kumar as their inspiration.[77] Kumar was also known as "Tragedy King" because of the depressing but award-winning roles he took.[4]

Kumar greets Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan at Meenambakkam Airport, Chennai (c. 1960). Kumar is the only Indian recipient of Pakistan's highest civilian award, Nishan-e-Imtiaz.

Kumar was appointed Sheriff of Mumbai (an honorary position) for 1980.[78] The Government of India honoured Kumar with the Padma Bhushan in 1991, the Dadasaheb Phalke Award in 1994 and the Padma Vibhushan in 2015.[79] The Government of Andhra Pradesh honoured Kumar with NTR National Award in 1997. The Government of Pakistan conferred Kumar with Nishan-e-Imtiaz, the highest civilian award in Pakistan, in 1998.[80][81][82][83] The ruling political party of Shiv Sena in Maharashtra had objected to this award and questioned Kumar's patriotism. However, in 1999 in consultation with the then Prime Minister of India, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Kumar retained the award.[84] He was honoured with CNN-IBN Lifetime Achievement Award in 2009.[85]

From the Independence of India to late 2010s Kumar held the record of giving the highest number of box office grossing films(9 films) until his record was broken by Salman Khan by delivering 10 films. But when adjusted for inflation, the record remains with Kumar. His historical movie Mughal-E-Azam is the highest-grossing film (equivalent to 2000 crores in 2015) in India when adjusted for inflation.[86]



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External links