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Thursday, December 8, 2022

Dilip Kumar (1922-2021): Life And Times Of The ‘Tragedy King’

The Veteran Actor Acted In Over 60 Hit Films And Won 14 Awards, Including National Awards

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Raju Vernekar
Raju Vernekar
Raju Vermekar is a senior Mumbai-based journalist who have worked with many daily newspapers. Raju contributes on versatile topics.

INDIA. Mumbai: Thespian Dilip Kumar’s death on Wednesday has left the entire Indian film fraternity shocked and in mourning. The veteran actor who was admitted to Hinduja hospital, located at Khar West in North West Mumbai, on June 29, 2021, when he complained of breathlessness, passed away on July 07, 2021.

He was 98 and is survived by actress wife Saira Banu. The last rites will be held at Juhu Qabrastan at Santacruz west in northwest Mumbai with full state honours on Wednesday evening.

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He was earlier admitted to the same hospital on June 06 and was discharged on June 11. The Hindi cinema veteran was then diagnosed with bilateral pleural effusion — a build-up of excess fluid between the layers of the pleura outside the lungs and underwent a successful pleural aspiration procedure. His death has left a void in cinema and a huge body of work behind, for future filmmakers and actors to learn from.

Popularly known as the ‘Tragedy King’ of Bollywood, Kumar was known as a method actor who was never limited to genres. In a career spanning more than five decades, the prolific legend was part of comedies, dramas, romance, and so on. Some of his best known films include Aan, Daag, Devdas, Madhumati, Azaad, Mughal-e-Azam, Gunga Jamuna, Kranti, Karma, Ram Aur Shyam, among others. His last big-screen appearance was the 1998 film “Qila”.

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Tributes for the cultural icon flew in from all quarters, with political figures as well as film celebrities expressing their condolences. Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, NCP President Sharad Pawar, a host of politicians and actors including Shabana Azmi, Shahrukh Khan and Anil Kapoor called on Saira Banu and consoled her. “With a heavy heart and profound grief, I announce the passing away of our beloved Dilip Saab, few minutes ago. We are from God and to Him we return,” his friend Faisal Farooqui wrote on the actor’s official Instagram account.

Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray and his son Minister Aditya Thackeray called on Saira Banu and consoled her.(Photo credit: Prashant Parab).

Dilip Kumar,was born Mohammad Yusuf Khan to Ayesha Begum and Lala Ghulam Sarwar Khan, one of 12 children, on December 11, 1922, at home in the Qissa Khawani Bazaar area of Peshawar in the then British India. His father was a landlord and fruit merchant who owned orchards in Peshawar and Deolali near Nashik in Maharashtra. He was schooled at Barnes School, in Deolali.


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His 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. His next major hits were the 1948 films “Shaheed” and “Mela”. 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.

From the Independence of India to the late 2010s Dilip Kumar held the record of giving the highest number of box office grossing films (9 films) until his record was broken by actor Salman Khan by delivering 10 films. But when adjusted for inflation, the record remains with Dilip Kumar. His historical movie “Mughal-E-Azam” is the highest-grossing film (equivalent to over Rs. 2000 crore) in India when adjusted for inflation. He was also honoured with CNN-IBN Lifetime Achievement Award in 2009.

A long list of films

Actor Dilip Kumar in his earlier days.(file pic)

The list of his films is long and includes: Jwar Bhata(1944), Pratima(1945), Milan(1946), Jugnu(1947), Ghar Ki Izzat, Shaheed, Mela, Anokha Pyar, Nadiya Ke Par-(1948), Shabnam, Andaz(1949), Jogan, Arzoo, Babul (1950), Hulchul, Deedar, Tarana-(1951), Daag, Sangdil, Aan(1952), Shikast, Footpath(1953), Amar(1954), Devdas, Azad, Uran Khataula, Insaniyat, (1955), Musafir, Naya Daur(1957), Yahudi, Madhumati (1958), Paigham (1959), Kohinoor, Mughal E Azam(1960), Gunga Jumna(1961), Paari, Dil Diya Dard Liya (1966), Ram Aur Shyam (1967), Aadmi, Sangharsh, Sadhu Aur Shaitaan (1968), Sagina Mahato, Gopi(1970), Dastaan, Anokha Milan, Koshish (1972), Sagina, Phir Kab Milogi (1974), Bairaag( 1976), Kranti(1981), Shakti, Vidhaata(1982), Mazdoor(1983), Mashaal, Duniya(1984), Dharm Adhikari, Karma(1986), Kanoon Apna Apna(1989), Izzatdaar(1990), Saudagar(1991) and Qila(1998).


He won 14 awards which include: National Award in 1961, National Award in 1994, Filmfare Lifetime Achievement Award (1994), IIFA in 2004, Filmfare Special award (2005). Till the 2000s Dilip Kumar was the only actor to have won 8 Filmfare Best Actor Awards until his record was shared by Shahrukh Khan by the mid-2000s. The list of his Filmfare awards as a Best Actor includes:Daag(1954), Azaad(1956), Devdas(1957),Naya Daur( (1958), Kohinoor(1961),Leader (1965), Ram Aur Shyam (1968), and Shakti (1983).

Personal life

He had fallen in love with actress Madhubala during the shooting of “Tarana”. They remained in a relationship for seven years until the “Naya Daur” court case, during which Dilip Kumar allegedly betrayed Madhubala, by testifying against her and her father, thus ending their relationship. They never worked together again after “Mughal-e-Azam (1960). In 1966, Dilip Kumar married Saira Banu, who was 22 years younger than him. He later married Hyderabad socialite Asma Sahiba, taking her as a second wife in 1981. That marriage ended in January 1983. He and his wife Saira Banu were living in Bandra in northwest Mumbai. They had no children.

In his biography “Dilip Kumar: The Substance and the Shadow”, he revealed that Saira Banu conceived in 1972 but developed high blood pressure in her eighth month of pregnancy and the doctors couldn’t save the baby, which had been strangulated by the umbilical cord. After that, they did not try to have children believing that it was God’s will.


He was appointed as the Sheriff of Bombay (now Mumbai) by the Maharashtra Governor for the period 1979–1982. He was honoured with Padma Bhushan (1991) and Padma Vibhushan (2015) by the Government of India, while Pakistan honoured him with Nishan-e-Imtiaz in 1998. He was nominated as a member of the Rajya Sabha, the Upper House of the Indian Parliament, by the Indian National Congress, for the period 2000–2006 from Maharashtra.

Social work

He was involved with several charitable and social initiatives. He planned and conceptualized the famous Joggers’ Park at Bandra West in North West Mumbai, along with late Sunil Dutt.  He used his good offices to get the necessary clearances from the Maharashtra Government for the establishment of this public park. He utilized a significant portion of his Members of Parliament Local Area Development fund(MPLAD fund) towards the construction and improvement of the Bandstand Promenade and the gardens at Bandra Fort at Lands End in Bandra.

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


  • Raju Vernekar

    Raju Vermekar is a senior Mumbai-based journalist who have worked with many daily newspapers. Raju contributes on versatile topics.

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