Dilip Kumar: Harbinger of Method Acting dies at 98

Aditi Malewar
Wednesday, 7 July 2021

Tragedy King, Dilip Kumar's became a legend whose craft is studied, relevant and followed (even today!).

Considered (undisputedly) to be the first superstar of the Indian Hindi film industry, actor Dilip Kumar is no more. Born on December 11, 1922, as Mohammed Yusuf Khan in Peshawar (now in Pakistan), the actor passed away at the age of 98 on Wednesday at Hinduja Hospital, Mumbai.

One the last of a triumvirate - along with Dev Anand and Raj Kapoor - the actor became a legend whose craft is studied, relevant and followed (even today!). Film historians often referred to the actor as the tragedy king considering the fact that he usually portrayed the character of a loner, especially in movies like JugnuDeedar and Devdas, among others. 

Harbinger of method acting

Considered to be one of the first actors to use method acting in Hindi cinema, his serious and impactful characters in countless movies sometimes came with a personal price. David Dhawan told the Asian Age, “Dilip Saab was called the Tragedy King of the industry as what he most acted in were tragedy films. He started feeling over emotional and began experiencing tragedy feelings in real life.” He added, “His mental condition started getting affected, after films like Devdas, etc. So much so that Dilip Saab had to be taken to a psychiatrist who then advised him to stop working in tragedy genre films and work in films with lighter content.”

The thespian was often compared to Marlon Brando, who was also another adopter of the method acting technique. In his autobiography, The Substance and the Shadow, Dilip Saab said, “I learned the importance of studying the script and characters deeply and building upon my own gut observations and sensations about my own and other characters… The truth is that I am an actor who evolved a method.”

Among some of his ways to achieve the best, his preparation for his character portrayals is what made him a legend. Among some of the most famous instances is when he ran around the studio to the point of collapse to get his death scene in 1961 megahit, Gunga Jumna, right!

For a scene in the film Kohinoor (1960), he learned to play the sitar; for emotional scenes in Shakti (1982) and Mashaal (1984), he drew emotions from the time when his brother died. He would recall the pain on his father’s face.

India mourns the loss

The first Khan before the Khans had been suffering from prostate cancer and is survived by his wife Saira Bano, an iconic actor herself. Even though the country was aware of the actor’s ailment, his passing comes as a surprise as just a day back there were reports of him getting better. Since the news, social media has been flooded with tributes to the late actor. 

Taking to Twitter, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said, ‘Dilip Kumar Ji 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. Condolences to his family, friends and innumerable admirers. RIP. [sic]’.

Amitabh Bachchan, who worked with Yusuf Saab in Shakti and played his son in the movie, also expressed his grief on the micro-blogging site. In his tweet, he wrote, “An institution has gone .. whenever the history of Indian Cinema will be written , it shall always be 'before Dilip Kumar, and after Dilip Kumar' .. My duas for peace of his soul and the strength to the family to bear this loss .. Palms up togetherPalms up togetherPalms up together Deeply saddened .. [sic]”.

Actor Anil Kapoor also took to the social media platform to express the loss. Sharing a series of images on Instagram, the actor who has worked with the Legend quite a number of times, wrote, “Our world is a little less bright today because one of our brightest stars has left us for the heavens. Dilip Sahab was very close to my father and I had the tremendous honor of sharing screen-space with him in 3 of my most memorable films...He was and will always be the finest & greatest actor of our industry for me...he has inspired generations of artists. Rest in peace Dilip Sahab. You remain in our minds and hearts forever...”

Even though an Era has ended, his life’s work has inspired many others who are practising or trying to imbibe his craft in their work. He will be dearly missed.

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