(When I showed this piece to Aunty beforehand  to see if it will pass muster, she was apprehensive if OS.ME was the right platform. I argued that we deal with life as a whole, and in life luminaries definitely find a space; no harm, even if the field happens to be films. So here I am. If she is right, kindly forgive me. If I am right, join me in the tribute.)

Yes, the doyen of Bollywood, Dilip Kumar, passes away. One of the finest actors. No amount of praise will be too much for him. Such was the grandiose of his talent.

I am a movie-buff of a sort right from my childhood. The only snag was that I could watch one only as and when I had pieced together the minimum required ticket-money from the small tips that my grandma gave me whenever she sent me on errands. My childhood movies were confined to Tamil mostly, and Malayalam to an extent, as Mollywood films were just surfacing. And my favourites? Sivaji, for his uninterrupted, charged long dialogue delivery; MGR for his swashbuckling antics, and Nageswara Rao for his suave performance.

Hindi movies were alien to me then. My first association was when my aunt and her husband, posted abroad, returned to the village on a holiday and brought along with them a gramophone recorder and HMV music-plates: Awara hoon; Yeh raat beegi beegi; Suhani raat hai dhal chukki, Saiyan dil mein aana re…  

Then how did I ever become a fan of Dilip Saheb? Well, this is how it happened. My senior friend in village had just got his Bachelor’s degree. To celebrate it, we prevailed upon him to give us a treat. He took us to one movie, Pattaliyin Sabatham, which he had already seen and wanted us also to see it. Though for free, none of us was willing to watch it for its very unattractive title and unknown artists. But he promised us that in the event we did not like it, he would take us all to another movie of our choice. Guess what was Pattaliyin Sabatham? It was Dilip Kumar’s Naya Daur dubbed in Tamil. No doubt, I became an ardent admirer of Dilip Kumar since then. I don’t particularly remember having missed any of his films thereafter, although some might have failed to make it to box office, like Sagina.

As a ‘multi linguist’ later in life with Tamil, Malayalam and Hindi…, I used to make it a point to see whenever some popular movie in one of these languages was remade (not dubbed) into another. Johnny Mera Naam was remade into Tamil; as was Amaradeepam of Tamil into Hindi. Film Sharada…the list is endless. In most of them I found the original version better – like, say, Drishyam in Malayalam. The only exceptions were where Dilip Kumar featured in the remake. There I found him invariably one up. Believe me, no hero worship. Just being objective.

Can you believe that he is the only actor whom I had seen in person at hand-shaking distance before watching him celluloid? And, I could have shaken hands if I wanted to, because the crowd was gathering around the Tamil hero with him. No more suspense. Yes, it was in my native town, Palghat. The final match of one of the well-known Kerala-based football tournaments was being played in the Fort Maidan ground. During the half-time, there was a sudden hullabaloo in the crowd. Yes, two film personalities had arrived to watch it from Coimbatore (30 miles away from Palghat) – Dilip Kumar and Tamil film actor Sri Ram (who unfortunately didn’t have a long innings in Tamil films).

And the irony is, rushing back home after the game, guess what I proudly announced to my friends in the village: “A lucky day today. I met actor Sri Ram.” Yes, as a 12-year old my horizon was confined to just Tamil and Malayalam culture, I had heard of Sri Ram, but not so much about Dilip Kumar. He had come to Paksheeraja Studios in Coimbatore for the shooting of Azaad movie, and the duo came down to watch the football match.

We read in newspaper today that some of the Western actors who inspired Dilip Kumar were Marlon Brando, Gary Cooper and Spencer Tracy. Can you guess the Indian actors whom Dilip Kumar admired? If my memory serves me right they were Ashok Kumar, Pahari Sanyal, Moti Lal, Balraj Sahni, Uttam Kumar, and Sivaji Ganesan.

At this juncture the best tribute we can pay to Dilip Kumar is to say Om Shanti, Shanti, Shanti.

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Sundaram Venkatesh

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