Dilip Kumar changed the way acting was done in Hindi cinema and inspired an entire generation of legends, including Amitabh Bachchan and Naseeruddin Shah. The fact that he himself never went to a drama or film school but still ended up becoming the biggest institution for acting speaks volumes about both the man and the roles he portrayed.
As a child, I never had access to cable TV, and I am grateful for that. Doordarshan became my only source of entertainment: every Sunday, at 4 pm and sometimes at noon, an old classic was shown. I ended up consuming the movies of Guru Dutt, Raj Kapoor and Dilip Kumar when other kids were watching Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings.
Even though I am most fond of Raj Kapoor among the trinity of the golden era, over the years, as I have watched more and more cinema from around the world, I have been able to understand the fuss around the legend called Dilip Kumar. With his passing, people will want to revisit his famous filmography. If one is interested, I want to recommend a film that I don’t hear being mentioned by anyone.
I am talking about Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s directorial debut, Musafir, which came out in 1957. It is an interesting film with a fascinating history behind it. First of all, it is the first-ever Hindi film made in the form of an anthology, over half a century before the likes of Lust Stories and Ray.
In 1955, when Bimal Roy made Devdas, Hrishi-Da was the editor of the movie. If Devdas is such a fascinating product overall, a lot of credit goes to Hrishi-Da as well. Dilip Kumar was so impressed by this newcomer that he advised him to direct his own movies. Hrishi-Da wrote a script alongside his friend Ritwik Ghatak. The story revolved around a house and tenants that live in that house at different stages of their lives.
The movie had a stellar cast of Kishore Kumar, David, Nazir Hussain, Suchitra Sen, and Usha Kiran, among others. It is divided into three stories, ‘Marriage’, ‘Birth’ and ‘Death’, each with a different cast. The owner of the house, played by David, appears in all the stories. There is also Durga Khote as neighbourhood aunty and Mohan Choti is a tea seller, who appear across stories.
In order to not spoil the entire film, I will not talk about the first and the second act. Throughout, no matter who lives in the house, they constantly hear a violin being played in the distance, which Mohan Choti says is played by one Pagla Babu.
As the movie reaches its third act, new tenants come to live in the house: a widow, played by Usha Kiron, her advocate brother and her specially-abled child, the ever adorable Daisy Irani. The child is called Raja and can’t walk. One evening, he hears the violin and asks Mohan Choti about it. At the child’s request, Pagla Babu agrees to visit him. Pagla Babu is played by Dilip Kumar. When he arrives, it is revealed that he was the long-lost lover of Usha Kiran, Raja. The child, who is also called Raja, starts calling him ‘Achchhe Chacha’ or the good uncle.
Over time, it is revealed that Raja is dying and doesn’t have much time. He promises the child that when red flowers appear on the tree behind his window, the kid will start walking. During this phase of the story, there is a song called ‘Laagi Nahi Chhute’, which is a rare one because it has been sung by Dilip Kumar himself, alongside Lata Mangeshkar.
As the defeated, sick Pagla Babu, in a mere 30 minutes of screen time, Dilip Kumar gives a memorable performance. There is a scene between him and the kid where he talks about flowers and bees and his entire body acts. His eyes, the way his lips quiver, the way his fingers move, everything is authentic. His eyes remain sad even though he smiles and laughs at meeting the young kid and finding his lost lover. There is something in his performance that haunts you much after the movie has ended. By no means am I saying that this is his best performance, but I feel that it might be the best among those that are hardly talked about.
Dilip Sa’ab’s autobiography was called The Shadow and the Substance. I often wonder: who was the shadow and who was the substance? The man called Yusuf who had to leave Peshawar, was forever haunted by partition, and who stood his ground no matter what till the end of his days, or the star named Dilip Kumar, who carried this sorrow from real life into his eyes as he performed one act after another of men haunted and heartbroken, and became immortal?
One thing is very clear though. Mohammad Yusuf Khan might have died at 98, but Dilip Kumar will live forever.
Disclaimer: This article has not been written by Film Companion’s editorial team.