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Dilip Kumar and Vyjayanthimala in Madhumati
Dilip Kumar and Vyjayanthimala in Madhumati

Excerpt | Hero worship

An extract from a forthcoming book on the making of Bimal Roy's 'Madhumati', releasing in Dilip Kumar's 91st year

Every girl’s romantic deity, Dilip Kumar, was the quintessential romantic screen lover Anand. Before he enacted the easygoing Anand (in Madhumati), the actor had to erase his image as Indian screen’s tragedy king. Women loved Dilip Kumar’s screen persona of an intense, dark and brooding man.

She was only 14 when Razia Husain met her heartthrob shooting for Madhumati in Ghorakhal, near Nainital. Razia charmingly confesses: “After a shot Bimalda and Dilip Kumar came over. We were introduced to them, I remember my face burning and a feeling of awkwardness to see him so close and in person. In those days actors were not so visible. They were seen only on cinema posters and magazines and of course in the movie halls. Never in human form. And so my heart was going boom boodi boom. Remember I was only a shy teenager with a huge crush on Dilip sahab. He was the first love of my entire life of fourteen years!"

If one goes back to some of his celebrated titles from the 1950s, his pre-Devdas chapter, Dilip Kumar had repeatedly played the grief-stricken lover, film after film: in Mehboob Khan’s Andaaz (1949), Jogan (1950), Nitin Bose’s Deedar (1951), and Amiya Chakravarty’s Daag (1952).

In the buoyant, carefree Anand, treading through the ethereal landscape with a song in his heart, baba (the author’s father, Bimal Roy) presented an unusually relaxed Dilip Kumar. Lip-syncing Mukesh’s rendition “Suhana safar aur yeh mausam haseen", Anand’s introduction etches an iconic screen moment. With effortless ease Dilip Kumar breezes in translating the spirit of poet Shailendra’s lyrical words—a homage to the beauty of a journey.

Towards the end of the film, Anand’s character undergoes a dramatic personality change. The heroine Madhu’s tragic end makes Anand melancholic. In the latter part of the film, Anand behaves exactly as Devdas did. Like Devdas, Anand is unable to cope with his beloved’s death, embracing loneliness and grim self reproach. For Devdas, the bottle is his only companion. No other actor could portray the pain of a traumatized lover—a persona Dilip Kumar had perfected long before Devdas. The portrait of the carefree Anand was new for Dilip Kumar, but he excelled in playing both phases of Anand’s personality.

A tad tentatively, I once asked him: “What prompted you to accept Madhumati?" His reply was spontaneous: “If you ask me one motivation to accept Madhumati it was my eagerness to work again with Bimal Roy after the rich experience we shared during the making of Devdas. Bimalda and I shared a bond of mutual respect and affection. It began long before we came together for Devdas. Every role I played had its distinct merits and provocations. In Madhumati the incentive was the construction of the narrative and the layers of unpredictability in it."

Excerpted from Rinki Roy’s forthcoming book on Madhumati from Rupa Publications.

Rinki Roy is a Mumbai-based author and journalist.

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