After the extremely successful Bachchan: Back To The Beginning retrospective on Amitabh Bachchan turning 80 in October this year, the Film Heritage Foundation (FHF) returns with another landmark programme, Dilip Kumar: Hero Of Heroes. The four-film festival to be held on October 10th and 11th in 27 cities across India celebrates the birth centenary of arguably Indian cinema’s finest ever performer, Dilip Kumar, born Mohammed Yusuf Khan in Peshawar in undivided India on December 11, 1922. Joining the FHF in this endeavor are PVR Cinemas, Zee Bollywood, Contiloe Pictures and the National Film Archive Of India (NFAI).
The four films being screened as a nod to Kumar’s phenomenal talent are Mehboob Khan’s Aan (1952), Bimal Roy’s Devdas (1955), Tapi Chanakya’s Ram Aur Shyam (1967), and Ramesh Sippy’s Shakti (1982). For the last three films, Kumar won the Filmfare Award for Best Actor – he won an incredible 8 such awards in all! Speaking about the choice of films, FHF director Shivendra Singh Dungarpur lamented that there were many other films of the thespian that he would have liked to include as part of these celebrations, but unfortunately besides these four, it was impossible to trace out quality prints of Kumar’s remaining films. This highlights yet again the importance and the necessity of preserving India’s incredible cinematic heritage.
Aan remains one of the best swashbuckling films in Indian Cinema having an epic feel reminiscent of Hollywood films like Quo Vadis and Duel in the Sun. The film is shot handsomely by Faredoon A Irani and is one of India’s first successful experiments with colour cinematography as the film was shot in 16mm Gevacolour and blown up in Technicolor. With colour at his disposal, Mehboob follows a sweeping narrative style for this retelling of the otherwise standard taming of the shrew story. Highlights of the film include the lavish sets, the horse chases, breathtaking battle scenes and the spectacular finale with the sword fight between Dilip Kumar and Premnath in front of a burning pyre with heroine Nadira bound to the stake. In keeping with the extravagant nature of the film, Naushad used a 100-piece orchestra while recording the music of the film, something unheard of in those days. The film is also aided greatly by Dilip Kumar’s greatly entertaining performance. Though known more for his intense, tragic roles, he proves here that he could be equally adept while swinging on chandeliers, taming the haughty heroine and indulging in some flashy swordplay.
Bimal Roy’s Devdas is regarded as the definitive version of Sarat Chandra Chatterjee’s much filmed novel. The film sees Bengali star Suchitra Sen make her debut in Hindi cinema as Parvati with Vyjayanthimala shining in the role of courtesan Chandramukhi while Motilal makes a most effective Chunni Babu. But ultimately it is Dilip Kumar who towers above everyone and owns the film playing the titular character. His performance is a masterclass in screen acting and remains the best ever interpretation of Sarat Chandra’s tragic hero on the Indian screen.
Ram Aur Shyam
Kumar has a roaring time playing twin brothers who get separated at birth and grow up in totally different environments. While one (Ram) is timid, the other (Shyam) is full of bravado. A remake of the Telugu film, Ramudu Bheemudu (1964) starring NT Rama Rao in the dual role, the film had already been remade in Tamil as Enge Veetu Pillai (1965) starring the great MG Ramachandran (MGR) as the disparate twins. All three versions are directed by Tapi Chanakya. Kumar shows razor sharp comic timing in the film , which sees Waheeda Rehman and Mumtaz play the leading ladies opposite him. For the latter, it was a big breakthrough to be cast opposite a legend such as Kumar. Speaking about her experience of working with Kumar, Mumtaz recalled, “I still remember when I worked with Yusuf Saheb on Ram Aur Shyam, the first day of the shoot my first shot was with him and I had to hit him. I was so nervous, but he told me I should not worry and hit him hard as we were professionals and we must be absolutely natural.”
Shakti sees Kumar plays an upright police officer for whom duty comes before everything else while Amitabh Bachchan plays his estranged son, who has turned to crime. Though a fine film, Shakti co-starring Raakhee, Smita Patil and Anil Kapoor, failed to perform as well at the box-office. There is no faulting Kumar’s towering performance, which drew much praise from one of the film’s writers, Salim Khan. Khan remembered, “We were amazed that he has given a whole new dimension to the character we had written. It happens very rarely that you have a competent script and the film goes beyond what you imagined. Dilip Kumar understood the character and enhanced it his own way.” Bachchan, speaking of his own experience on working with the thespian reminisced, “Dilip Kumar was and is my idol. I am still to meet an actor who could match his faultless performance, his flawless diction and the intelligence and commitment he brought to his craft. His every spoken word was poetry and when he appeared on the screen, everything else was a blur. I had the privilege of sharing the screen with him just once and the experience was one I will cherish.”
The full schedule of the screenings is as follows: