Veteran actor Ashwini Kumar recollects memories from the time he spent with late legendary actor Dilip Kumar.

Since childhood I have been an ardent admirer of Dilip Kumar. His realistic and unforgettable performances plus the universal mass appeal and adulation, a rare combination which very few are able to achieve had left a mark on me. Why I was affected by and attracted to this great artist was actually the acting and singing bug that had bitten me. During my teenage I was convinced that I was cut out to be a performer and started nurturing a desire to take it up as a profession. But as the saying goes, ‘Man proposes and God disposes’. Probably God had other designs for me, eventually I switched tracks and went on to become a medical doctor by profession, but again as the saying goes, ‘the bug never stops biting.’ I continued with acting and singing as hobbies. I regularly participated in cultural activities through school/college and later joined professional theatre groups, AIR and Doordarshan. I have no qualms in admitting that like hundreds of other actors consciously or otherwise, I was constantly ‘guided’, ‘inspired’ and ‘influenced’ by ‘Dilip Kumar’, my mentor. He has been and will be ‘Dronacharya’ to many ‘Eklavyas’.
It was as early as mid-eighties, when I got a chance to meet Dilip Kumar for the first time, at a function held in Delhi. I was formally introduced to him. I felt an instant chord had struck that very moment. His reciprocity was very warm and friendly. I was elated to get an unspoken acceptance, which I guess was the beginning of a lifelong relationship. Subsquently our meetings became more regular. I would make it a point to meet him whenever he came to Delhi or when I went to Mumbai. Gradually, I also came to know the man who was Mohammad Yusuf Khan.
It was an amazing discovery for me. This man, in my perception, was an embodiment of two distinct personalities. One, Dilip Kumar—the star, the adored and admired method actor, an institution, overtly or covertly followed by juniors and colleagues alike. The second, Mohammad Yusuf Khan — very friendly, fun loving but elegant and poised, he could be very approachable and down to earth, with a great sense of humour, wit and intelligence. Out and out an extraordinary personality.
The most important lesson that I learnt from him was to become a good human being before attempting to become a good actor. According to him this quality enabled a person to communicate with purity and to create an everlasting impact on the audience. Also a good human being, according to him, commanded respect among the younger as well as the older generations. We, he believed, should conduct ourselves in a manner which sets an example for generations to come.
The childlike quality in Dilip Kumar, probably never faded. He was the ‘Shyam’ of Ram Aur Shyam, naughty to the core. Particularly when he was in small groups where he was in the company of people he liked being with. His subtle humour and one liners kept people in splits. Once, the two of us were waiting in a public area for the car, it was winter in Delhi, there were two people in conversation which was audible to us. It went this way; one wanted a 1 rupee coin to make a call from a telephone booth. The other said he had one by feeling it from the outside of the pocket; he dug his pocket and came out with a coin, but discovered that it was a 50 paise coin not 1 rupee. I still remember that pithy remark from Dilip Sahab which made me burst out laughing; he said “Itni thand to nahi pad rahi”.
I was in a habit of carrying a lot of stuff like books, notes a hamper of fruits, an icebox etc. daily in my car. The backseat used to be full of these things carelessly thrown in. He observed this a couple of times and remarked “Aap ka kuchh saaman ghar par bhi pada hai kya?” After a couple of days some belongings of mine was lying on the front seat also. He had another look at the car. That day his comment was: “Mamla goya ke prosperity pe hai; kal tak to pichli seat pe tha; mashallah aaj to agli seat pe bhi hai.’’ Before I could answer, he said, “I have no objection to this, but tell me how you manage to find what you want out of this chaos?’’
Once he started insisting that I carry my medical degrees along with me, as according to him people did not believe even ‘Dilip Kumar’ that I was a qualified doctor. “Quite often they have asked me whether I have ever checked your degrees, so kindly carry your degrees from next time.’’ To tell you frankly I had actually taken him seriously for a moment, going by his expression. Later, he had a hearty laugh.
A very emotional person that he was, responded generously to the love and affection he got from people around him. He had a keen eye that could distinguish between a genuine admirer/fan and a sycophant. The time he gave you was all yours. One felt that he was all ears for you, a remarkable quality. This reminds me of the times when my wife used to cook some food especially for him during his visits to Delhi. He used to be so profuse with praise and would say God bless you beti, bahut acha khana banati ho, you have reminded me of the food, cooked by Amaaji and Apaaji. His gratitude would make us feel great and even embarrassed at times.
I recall another incident, this was in Mumbai; it was his birthday get together. I felt that the quorum was complete but Dilip Sahab was still waiting for a particular guest… it was true, he really was… for none less than Pran Sahab… who, when arrived was greeted in such a manner by Dilip Sahab, took everyone by surprise, the love and camaraderie was so intense that it brought tears to the eyes of all.
He would hold your hand, a small gesture that showed your presence was ‘wanted’. His body language spoke more eloquently than words, conveying what he felt explicitly to the other person.
Once I asked: How did you start the preparation about the character you were portraying? On this he told me that he studied the character thoroughly. Sometimes observed similar real life characters for long duration, but while performing, moves and actions that he did, were spontaneous as those were not rehearsed. That was his USP, I guess. He used to say if your actions/reactions are predictable, the charm of acting is lost.
He also confessed that for certain characters, he did do a lot of homework and mental preparation, considering all possible dimensions and detailing. He candidly admitted that he could not reach that benchmark which he had set for himself, but with the that typical naughty twinkle in his eyes, he would say that the audience did not know what that benchmark was and were happy with what they received.
Dilip sahab never took things for granted. Though he was thorough with his choice of films and worked very hard on them, but success/failure never went to his head. In his own words:
Main apni awaam ka karzdaar hoon jinhon ne mujhe itni muhabat bakshi hai,adakaari ke zariye koshish karata hoon unka kuch karz utaar sakoon.
He never left his humility.’ I act for living, like people take up various other professions’. He used to put it as simple as that. Such matters of fact statements coming from him were very inspiring and certainly put people at ease.
On very rare occasions he spoke of things close to his heart. I was surprised when once he in a private conversation between us told me that while performing there was some kind of inspiration/power that descends on him which helps to bring out the best. He did not have words to explain this phenomenon, he said.
Teasingly, once I asked him about the leading ladies and their contribution to the super success of so many of his films. His judgement was so fair; he said 20-25 % (songs/dances) of the film was taken care of by an accomplished artist. “This is just 20-25%, what about the rest’’, I asked. “Arre Hum hain na,” was the reply.
A very commonly asked question was also repeated by me, “Which one of your roles do you like the best?” Pat came the reply, “The best is yet to come”. He said, the day he decided/ chose his best performance, he would stop being an actor, and the charm of it would go. Actors, like seekers have to go on, was his belief.
Not many people were aware that Dilip Sahab had a keen sense of music. He had sung a duet with Lata Mangeshkar under music direction of Salil Chowdhury in Hrishikesh Mukherjee debut film as director ‘Musafir’ (Laagi nahin chute rama chahe jiya jaye; a thumri based on Raag Piloo). He had a mellifluous voice and could catch a wrong note or misplaced lyrics immediately. This happened with me a couple of times when I tried to hum before him to my utter amazement.
I had the good fortune of personally knowing this great legend of our time; this makes me feel honoured. I will cherish the moments spent with him all my life.
The author is a veteran actor with a medical background who has participated in several television plays and films in Hindi, Urdu and Panjabi languages.