Bollywood’s ‘tragedy king’ Dilip Kumar dies at 98

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Bollywood star Dilip Kumar smiles after receiving a lifetime achievement award from India’s President Pratibha Patil (unseen) during the 54th national film awards ceremony in New Delhi September 2, 2008. REUTERS/B Mathur (INDIA)/File Photo

MUMBAI (Reuters) -Dilip Kumar, who won worldwide fame playing tragic heroes in Bollywood films, died on Wednesday aged 98 and was cremated with state honours in India.

Fans crowded outside the crematorium in suburban Mumbai where the actor’s body was taken, hoping to catch one last glimpse of the star of “Devdas” and “Mughal-E-Azam”, whose family had moved from what is now Pakistan when he was a child.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Pakistani counterpart Imran Khan both expressed condolences, a rare meeting of minds from countries that have been bitter rivals since the partition of then British-ruled India in 1947.

Modi said Kumar was “blessed with unparalleled brilliance” while Khan said “For my generation Dilip Kumar was the greatest and most versatile actor”.

Kumar had been ailing for some time, one of the doctors treating him said. “He had breathing difficulties…We tried very hard. We had hoped he would reach 100,” Jalil Parkar told reporters.

Fans use their mobile phones to take pictures of an ambulance carrying the body of Bollywood actor Dilip Kumar for his funeral in Mumbai, India, July 7, 2021. REUTERS/Niharika Kulkarni

His body was wrapped in the Indian tricolour and a police contingent marched alongside a route lined with fans.

Born Mohammed Yusuf Khan in 1922 in Peshawar, now in Pakistan, he changed his Muslim name to the Hindi Dilip Kumar for the screen after a suggestion from actress Devika Rani, whose studio, Bombay Talkies, produced his first film.

He is survived by his wife, Saira Banu, a top Bollywood leading lady in the 1960s and 1970s.

At his residence in Mumbai, Bollywood stars thronged to pay their respects, among them actor Shah Rukh Khan, producer Karan Johar and actress Vidya Balan.

Authorities in Peshawar in the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa said they were planning to restore the actor’s ancestral home in a narrow lane of the city.

“We are now working on its conservation,” said Dr Abdus Samad, director general of archaeology department.

TRAGEDY KING

After moving from Peshawar to Pune, in India, Kumar did his first film, “Jwar Bhata” in 1944, which tanked. His breakthrough role came in 1949, with “Andaz”, where he played a jilted lover caught in a triangle between the woman he loves and her husband.

That role catapulted him to stardom, and was the beginning of a decade where he made a career of playing tragic roles.

Bimal Roy’s adaptation of Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay’s seminal novel “Devdas” was the turning point in an already successful career, catapulting Kumar to super-stardom.

His role as the doomed lover earned him the epithet of “tragedy king” – the man who embodied melancholy on screen.

“An institution has gone .. whenever the history of Indian Cinema will be written , it shall always be ‘before Dilip Kumar, and after Dilip Kumar”, actor Amitabh Bachchan said on Twitter.

Kumar said he felt weighed down after years of playing tragic roles. In the late 1950’s, he made a conscious attempt to play more upbeat roles, acting in romantic films like “Madhumati”, “Aan” and “Naya Daur”.

Another big career milestone was K Asif’s “Mughal-E-Azam”, in which Kumar played the Prince Salim, son of the Mughal emperor Akbar.

A magnum opus that told the story of the prince’s doomed affair with a dancer girl, the 1960 film was one of the most expensive productions of the time, but went on to become the highest-grossing film of the year, wowing audiences with opulent sets and a gorgeous musical score.

In his later years, although the hits were harder to come by, Kumar retained his stature as India’s first marquee star, whose face on a poster ensured tickets sold out.

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