Though he never went to any film institute, Dilip Kumar became the living institution of acting in India; from Rajendra Kumar, Manoj Kumar and Dharmendra to Amitabh Bachchan and Shah Rukh Khan, each has tried to emulate him in some way or the other,

With the passing away of the legendary actor Dilip Kumar (the screen name he chose on nudging from Devika Rani , the producer of his debut film Jwar Bhata, in 1944), the last deity of Hindi filmdom’s irreplaceable trinity comprising Raj Kapoor, Dilp Kumar and Dev Anand  has fallen. All the three were born before Independence in that part of British India which is now in Pakistan; Dilip and Raj in Peshawar, and Dev in Shakargarh. Thanks to many death scenes Dilip Kumar so convincingly enacted on the film screen, he was hailed as the Tragedy King. In his early films noir, Raj  Kapoor reflected Nehruvian idealism with Charlie Chaplin mannerism. And suave and urbane Dev was seen by many of his female fans as Gregory Peck of  India.
Though he never went to any film institute, Dilip Kumar became the living Institution of acting; from Rajendra  Kumar,  Manoj Kumar and Dharmendra to Amitabh Bachchan and Shah Rukh  Khan, each has  tried to emulate him in some scenes of their films.
Like the Hollywood icon Marlon Brando, he belonged to the school of method acting. He would painstakingly work on each nuance, each gesture, each tilt, his overall gait and modulation of his voice to the extent that when the scene rolled out on the screen he looked effortless. Like Brando, he was an intense actor but the intensity of his performance was conveyed through the gaze of his eyes, the variation of his voice, his hand gesture his whole demenoeur.
In his films, A Streetcar Named Desire, Mutiny on the Bounty and One Eyed Jacks, Brando comes out as an intense, brooding character smoldering inside. In the cult film, The Godfather, he barely mumbles few dialogues; most of his talking is done by gestures. His whispers are barely audible. Dilip gave meaning to his pauses; at times, they spoke louder than words.
Both Brando and  Dilip were choosy about their role. If we compare their performances, Dilip  Kumar will emerge ahead of Brando. He immortalised  Sharat Babu’s story by living and expressing the pain,  anguish, despondency, loneliness, utter helplessness and sense of loss of  Devdas who could never forget Paro. A whole generation of college and university going students became Devdas of sorts. In Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s  Devdas, Shahrukh Khan put in a brouhaha of performance but even Yashraj Chopra is believed to have commented that in expressing  kaleidoscopic emotions of Devdas, Dilip Kumar was much more convincing. Marlon Brando never did any such moving tragic role.
Bollywood calls Shahrukh Khan the King of Romance. In fact, Dilip Kumar was the ultimate Romantic hero. What could be a greater Romance than a Crown Prince of the Mughal Empire picking up sword against his father, the Emperor, for the sake of his lady love as in Mughal-E-Azam?  Without an embrace or a kiss or even a peck on the cheeks and without any display of flesh, Dilip and Madhubala enacted the most romantic scene of Hindi Cinema ever. Two are lying under the starry sky, white flowers falling on them, thumri of Bade Ghulam Ali rising from the background soothingly, Prince Salim removing flowers from the beautiful face of Anarkali with a feather, it’s the purest romance captured in a moment. And both were not even on speaking terms at that time. Brando never did a historic, romantic film like this. Those who want to get enveloped in the warmth of romantic love should watch Dilip – Madhubala in Tarana.
Ganga Jamuna , inspired by Mehboob Khan’s Mother India offered Dilip the role of  a life time . A good hearted village folk, who are forced to pick up gun on account of atrocities and injustices inflicted on him, won’t surrender in spite of the pleading of his younger brother, the Police officer; he turns a live inferno when Dhanno is killed. His saga of lifelong trials and tribulations end with the bullet of his brother .In this film, Dilip Kumar displays his whole range of emotions with awe-inspiring conviction. Deewar of Amitabh was an urban & updated version of Ganga Jamuna.
Dilip was arguably the most versatile actor of his generation. His versatility can be judged by the fact that he was shooting for Mughal e Azam and Ganga Jamuna during the same period; two characters were as different as chalk and cheese. Starting with Shaheed he played so many roles befitting Greek tragedies. But his Roles in films like Azad, Leader, Ram and Shyam and Sagina showed that he was capable of carrying off lighter roles as well.
He acted with all the leading ladies of his time such as Nargis, Meena Kumari, Madhubala Nalini Jaywant, Nimmi, Kamini Kaushal, Vyjayantimala , Waheeda Rehman ,& Saira Banu. In fact, his two films: Jugnu & Mela with Noor Jehan were big hits before she migrated to Pakistan.
Out of 57 films which featured Dilip as the lead hero,30 were big hits that makes him the most successful film star of India of all times. Though he shared screen with Ashok Kumar (Deedar), Dev Anand (Insaniyat), Raaj Kumar (Paigham), his pairing with Raj Kapoor and Nargis in Mehboob Khan’s Andaz made it  an intense classic love triangle.
In 1960, the renowned Hollywood Director David Lean had offered the role of Sherif Ali in his famous film: Lawrence of Arabia to Dilip Kumar but he declined. The role was eventually done by the Egyptian actor Omar Sharif. Rest is history.
It was Manoj Kumar who introduced Dilip in a character role of a revolutionary in his Kranti(1981). In Subhash Ghai’s multi-starrers ; Vidhata, Karma & Saudagar, Dilip remained the lead actor. Though his role in Vidhata was somewhat negative, the film was a super hit.
It was left to Ramesh Sippi to bring the two best actors of two generations adored by their fans for their larger than life roles, Dilip Kumar and Amitabh Bachchan, together in Shakti. Though as a brooding young man who bears an indelible angst against his father Bachchan put in a superb performance, it was the thespian, Dilip, who walked away with honours for his outstanding performance as a police officer torn between the call of his duty and his love for his son.
Apart from the Life time achievement award and Dada Saheb Phalke award, Dilip was honoured with the Padma Vibhushan, the second highest Civilian award of the govt of India.
Though his Ganga Jamuna failed to win a Fimfare award, it was a super hit; it got critical appreciation at Karlovy Vary and Boston film festivals. Sagina both in Bengali & Hindi in which Dilip was the lead actor won him several awards.
Dilip was immensely popular not only in South Asia but in the whole of Middle East and the Gulf region. In Jan1995, during my call on the Libyan Foreign Minister, Mustapha Muntasser, he requested me if I could get him a video cassette of Mughla e Azam with Arabic subtitles. They weren’t available in India then, so I got him one from Lebanon.
His films offered hundreds of hummable songs. Who can forget: Yeh mera diwaanapan hai, ya mohabbet ka sharoor, mujhe dunia walo sharabi na smajho, mai pita nahi hoon…
He was a nominated Member of Rajya Sabha from 2000-06. He was deeply pained when some Shiv Sainiks publicly asked him to return the award of Nishan e Imtiaz, Pakistan’s highest civilian Award bestowed upon him  or leave for Pakistan. He is still remembered fondly in Pakistan. Recently the govt of Pakistan has decided to convert the ancestral homes of Raj Kapoor and Dilip Kumar in to museums.
Artists are the unofficial cultural ambassadors who build bridges of friendship understanding and goodwill. Dilip Kumar was the cultural ambassador of India par excellence for more than six decades.

Surendra Kumar is a former ambassador of India