Born Yusuf Khan in Peshawar, now Pakistan, in 1922, Kumar was given his stage name by the noted Hindi novelist Baghwati Chari Varma. Kumar’s first taste of what the world would eventually know as the ‘Bollywood’ film industry can in 1947 with Jugnu, a musical drama featuring Pakistani diva Noor Jehan and released, coincidentally, at the time of Partition. Eschewing the cinema of his homeland, Kumar, still only in his mid-20s, remained in India and gained a reputation as a naturalistic actor. His growing reputation was further established in S.U. Sunny’s Babul (1950) and especially in Mehboob Khan’s inspirational Aan (1952).
The public increasingly recognised in Kumar a versatile actor who could tackle any role.
His greatest performance as tragedian par excellence came courtesy of Devdas – a blistering and affecting adaptation of Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay’s classic tale of lost romance that would transform him from jobbing actor to the darling of 1950s Indian cinema.
Kumar continued to dominate the Indian box office during the 1960s, and, in the 1970s, he married Saira Bano, his frequent co-star on a succession of films including Gopi (1970) and Bairaag (1976).
Whether playing obsessed lovers, impoverished writers, timid peasants or noirish criminals, Kumar’s fearlessness and versatility as actor, writer and producer is evident in more than 60 films spread over almost 60 years. Kumar was the first recipient of India’s Film Fare Award for Daag (1953) and went on to win on seven other occasions – the last time for Ramesh Sippy’s Shakti in 1982 – 29 years later.
Now 93, Dilip Kumar is a living legend in Hindi cinema and resides in the Parli Hill suburb of Mumbai, India with his wife, Saira Bano.
Here’s wishing Dilip Kumar a Happy 93rd Birthday!