This week, history is being re-created. And I hope Indian cinema’s thespian would be there to witness the event.
Forty-four years ago Dilip Kumar couldn’t attend the premiere of K. Asif’s Mughal-e-Azam. This is his opportunity to make up for lost time. This week when Mughal-e-Azam opens all over the country, everyone hopes to see the mighty Dilip Kumar at the premiere.
At 81, Dilip Kumar remains an institution beyond all institutions. If you’ve had the privilege of interacting with him, as I have, you’d be completely mesmerized by his soft gentle and persuasive eloquence.
Yusaf Saab (as he’s known among his close friends and just Saab by his utterly lovely wife) never received any formal education. Yet his regal bearing, his softspoken, sophisticated personality and his ability to hold an audience spellbound with his magical web of words, remains unique and miraculous.
I remember my voice trembling when I first spoke to him on the phone. It was the holy period of Ramzan. I was speaking to the lovely Saira Banu. Saab was undergoing the holy fast for Ramzan. At his age, that’s tough.
I conveyed my regards to his wife when she— gracious as ever— turned around to ask, “Would you like to say hello to him?”
My first impulse was to refuse. One doesn’t say hello to a super-institution! It’s like eating pizza inside the Taj Mahal. Before I could stammer my excuse she called him over. I remember I gushed and gushed for a good three to four minutes. He heard me out patiently. This was a man who was used to being bombarded with encomiums. He knew how to deal with gush.
At the end of my torrent of compliments he quietly said, “No, there might be many better actors than me. I’ll tell you, I had no training and I wouldn’t have dared to venture into films were it not for my family’s financial conditions. God bless you. Please come and see me when you are in Mumbai.”
That’s exactly what I did. Coincidentally it was the period of Ramzan again. And Saab was doing his prayers when I arrived at their neatly kept bungalow in Pali Hill. I had to wait. But I didn’t mind. Good things always come to the patient.
And Yusuf Saab did finally walk in. I think my jaw fell to the ground, and came back in place only to savour the goodies that Sairaji had laid out on the table for me. The aura that Yusuf Saab radiates is beyond anything that I can describe. It’s that healthy shiny glow of a man who has kept the child within alive.
That October evening I sat with this legend beyond legends. As he narrated anecdote after anecdote, I realized one of the prerequisites of superstardom is the gift of effortless communication.
We spoke about Yusuf Saab's heroines- Meena Kumari, Nargis and of course Madhubala, his Anarkali in Mughal-e-Azam. The two were supposed to be passionately in love. In fact every leading lady who matters, wanted to marry the mighty Dilip Kumar. He chose the beauteous Saira Banu with whom he worked in a string of films like Gopi, Sagina and Bairaag.
After marriage Yusuf Saab moved into Saira Banu’s bungalow where he was pampered silly by her grandmom, mom and of course Sairaji herself. Yusuf Saab blossomed under all the attention.
Watching him radiate so much positive energy I couldn’t but wonder about the ways of destiny. Here was this robust Pathan from a migrant family of fruit sellers with no experience in acting. How did he become the most powerful actor of India?
Said the indomitable legend, “I was always very business minded. I loved the family business. But it was a very tough life. The entire process from plucking fruits to their despatch was very cumbersome. Bahut mushqil tha. I had to get another job with a decent salary. That’s where acting came in handy. The Second World war was extremely hard on the horticulture business. My father would grow apricots, grapes, pomegrenates, apples and peaches. He would get those fruits tinned. He would proudly show me the size of the fruits and say, ‘This is what I want you to grow, Yusuf. Because you’re my most intelligent son.’ He wanted me to be educated so I could enhance the family business.”
At first Yusuf Saab’s father was against his son getting into acting. “He was very annoyed when I got into films. But then he heard other people whom he respected relishing the idea. Once Maulana Azad whom everyone revered, heard my father commenting caustically on one of his sons drifting into films, and what to do? Maulana Saab intervened on my behalf and said there’s no telling what the future holds for anyone. He also told my father to be proud of his son’s achievements and implored him to be patient with my aspirations.”
After the carnage of the Muslims that followed in Gujarat, Yusuf Saab became immensely pained by the divisive politics of the nation. “We had great leaders Pandit Nehru, Mahatma Gandhi, Maulana Azad and Gaffar Khan Saab who helped us form what we called the India ethos."
"Then we had their phoney followers who wore their clothes and spoke the language of hatred. Surprisingly even I understand the Hindu ethos rather well. I’ve read the Hindu scriptures. Nowhere do they preach the language of hostility and dissension.”
But Dilip Saab is ever-hopeful. “We must thank the electronic media for exposing the shallowness of our national leaders. During the fight for independence we thought of our politicians as the architects of our future. Now when they stand naked before us, as the dance of barbarism goes on all around, we know the politicians indulge in only lip service."
"The leaders who actually mean to do good are hidden from view. Time or the public will pull these people out of the shadows. I’m convinced that there are more good than bad people waiting to lead the nation.”
The views expressed in the article are the author's and not of Sify.com.