Bollywood icon Dilip Kumar, hailed as the “tragedy king” and one of Hindi cinema’s greatest actors, yesterday died in a Mumbai hospital after a prolonged illness. He was 98.
The title of “tragedy king” came from Kumar’s numerous serious roles. In several, his character died as a frustrated lover or drunkard. He was also known as Bollywood’s only method actor for his expressive performances focused on a character’s emotions.
Kumar was hospitalized twice last month after he complained of breathlessness.
Yesterday, his family announced his passing “with a heavy heart and profound grief” on Twitter.
“Dilip Kumar will be remembered as a cinematic legend. He was blessed with unparalleled brilliance, due to which audiences across generations were enthralled. His passing away is a loss to our cultural world,” Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi wrote on Twitter, offering his condolences to Kumar’s family and admirers.
“An institution has gone,” Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan wrote on Twitter. “Whenever the history of Indian Cinema will be written, it shall always be ‘before Dilip Kumar, and after Dilip Kumar.’”
“It’s the end of an era,” filmmaker Madhur Bhandarkar said.
Kumar was born into a Muslim family as Muhammad Yusuf Khan on Dec. 11, 1922.
His Pathan family hailed from Peshawar, in what became Pakistan after the partition of the former colony of British India, and he visited his ancestral home in the late 1980s.
He changed his name as he debuted in Bollywood, the Hindi-language film industry centered in Mumbai, with the movie Jwar Bhata, or Sea Tides, in 1944.
His career spanned more than six decades, with more than 60 films.
His first major box-office hits were Jugnu, or “Firefly,” in 1947 in which he starred alongside Noor Jehan, and the 1948 film Shaheed, or “Martyr.”
He played a variety of characters — a romantic hero in Andaz, a swashbuckler in Aan, a dramatic drunkard in Devdas, a comic role in Azaad, a Muslim prince in the historical epic Mughal-e-Azam and a robber in the social movie Ganga Jamuna.
Director-producer Mehboob Khan’s 1952 blockbuster Aan was his first film in Technicolor and was among a string of light-hearted roles he took at the suggestion of his psychiatrist to shed his “tragedy king” image.
He starred in many social drama films like Footpath, Naya Daur (“New Era”), Musafir (“Traveller”) and Paigham (“Message”) in the 1950s.
His top female co-stars included Madhubala, Nargis, Nimmi, Meena Kumari, Kamini Kaushal and Vyjanthimala.
In 1966, Kumar married actress Saira Banu, who was 22 years younger than him, and the couple acted in Gopi, Sagina Mahato and Bairaag. They had no children.
In 1961, he produced and starred in Ganga Jamuna in which he and his brother, Nasir Khan, played the title roles. It was the only film he produced.
Indian media reports said he declined the role of Sherif Ali in British director David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia in 1962. The role went to Egyptian actor Omar Sharif.
He took a break in the late 1970s, but returned with a character role in the successful Kranti, or “Revolution” in 1981. He continued playing key roles in films such as Shakti, Karma and Saudagar. His last film was Qila, or “Fort,” in 1998.
In 1994, Kumar was given the Dadasaheb Phalke Award, the highest honor for contributions to Indian cinema. He also served a six-year term in the upper house of Indian Parliament.
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