Dilip Kumar was born on 11th December, 1922 to a Hindko speaking Awan family in the Qissa Khawani Bazaar area of Peshawar, a city in North- West Frontier Province, British India (Present day – Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan). His father, Lala Ghulam Sarwar, the fruit merchant and mother Ayesha Begum had twelve children and two including Dilip Kumar were into acting. They owned two farms in Peshawar and Devlali near Mumbai. Raj Kapoor and Dilip Kumar were neighbours in their childhood days and grew up together in Peshawar. The house of Dilip Kumar in Peshawar, Pakistan, was declared as a Pakistani National Heritage monument in 2014 by the then Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
His birth name was Mohammed Yusuf Khan and when he entered the film industry his name was changed to Dilip Kumar by Devika Rani, veteran actor and owner of Bombay talkies. Devika Rani launched Dilip Kumar on the Silver screen as a Hero, she wanted his name to be changed so that it could remain in the minds of people for a long time. Dilip Kumar was a name that popped in her mind while thinking of a suitable one. In an interview in 1970’s he also revealed that his father did not like the acting field and never appreciated Raj Kapoor doing films, so to hide his career path he had to change his name.
In the 1940’s, Dilip Kumar moved to Pune and started his own canteen business and supply of dry fruits. Devika Rani noticed Dilip Kumar in Pune and gave him an opportunity to act in the film produced by their company. This way Dilip Kumar entered the film industry with a new name and his first film was Jwar Bhata which released in 1944 but went unnoticed. This film did not receive much audience but remained as Dilip Kumar’s debut film. After that he made two films which were a box office flop. It was only in 1947 his film Jugnu that was a massive hit at the box office. After that he was unstoppable from 1951 – 1960 with his massive hits in the box office though there were a few movies that did not go well. He too had a lot of ups and downs in his career but managed to keep the name high in the air with roles he chose. Qila was his last appearance in the films in the year 1998 which was a box office flop. During his era he was known for some of his best films and characters played on the screen.
Dilip Kumar was called the “Tragedy King” for the kinds of characters he played on screen. He was also known as the “The First Khan of Bollywood”. He was the first amongst Dev Anand, Raj Kapoor and Himself to be the first superstar in Bollywood. He has worked alongside many heroines like Kamini Kaushal, Nargis, Madhubala, Nimmi, Nalini Jaywant, Meena Kumari, Bina Rai, Vyjanthimala, and Suchithra Sen. The kind of roles he played with the ladies on screen was so appealing that the audience would believe it to be so also in the real life. He has played various roles on screen and was never confined to a single genre. In his entire career as an actor he has been a part of 60 and more films amongst which most of them were blockbusters. As an actor he was known for his natural acting, good looks, deep voice and fine accent.
Dilip Kumar was a member of the Rajya Sabha from 2000 to 2006. He was nominated by the Indian National Congress to represent Maharashtra. He utilized a significant portion of his MLA Local Area Development Scheme fund to construct and improve the Bandstand Promenade and the gardens at Bandra Fort at Lands’ End in Bandra.
Taking a note on Dilip Kumar’s personal life, not much controversy was attached to his name. During a peak in his career he was in a relationship with Madhubala, one of his co-actors but they had to end their relationship due to family pressures. In 1950’s he was linked with Vyjayanthimala one of his co-actors, but many reports say it to be a false rumour. Later in 1966 he married Saira Banu and was 22 years older to her. He also married Asma Sahiba in 1981 accepting her as his second wife but that marriage did not last for a long time. It was called off in 1983. Saira Banu and Dilip Kumar lived in Mumbai and were together till his last breath. They had no children but in an interview he revealed that Saira was Pregnant 1972 but due to some complications the child could not survive. After that they did not try for another child. It is also said that Dilip Kumar always adored Shah Rukh Khan, an Indian actor as his son.
He was a fluent speaker in Urdu, Hindi, Pashto, Punjabi, Marathi, English, Bengali, Gujarati, Hindko, Persian, Awadhi and Bhojpuri. He has keen interest in music and has also learnt how to play Sitar for a film. He also liked cricket and played often with his friends and colleagues.
Just not the films over the years but Dilip Kumar has also won a lot of awards for the kinds of roles and the choice of films he has done.
List of awards:
- 8 Filmfare Awards for Best Actor with 19 nominations
- Filmfare Lifetime Achievement Award in 1993.
- Special Recognition Filmfare Award at the 50th Filmfare Awards
- Padma Bhushan in 1991 by the Government of India
- Dadasaheb Phalke Award in 1994
- Padma Vibhushan in 2015
- NTR National Award in 1997 by the Government of Andhra Pradesh
- CNN – IBN’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2009
- Nishan-e-Imtiaz Award by the Pakistan Government (the highest civilian award)
- National Film Award for the best second feature film in Hindi
- The Paul Revere Silver Bowl at the Boston International Film Festival
- The Special Honour Diploma from the Czechoslovak Academy of Arts in Prague
- Special Prize at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival.
He was not just an actor, but a script writer, producer and a director. The younger generation actors consider him as their inspiration for establishing their careers in the Hindi Film Industry. He took his last breath at the age of 98. He was suffering from Prostate Cancer and died in Hinduja Hospital in Mumbai on 7th July, 2021. His burial was approved by the Government of Maharashtra to be with the state honours at Juhu Muslim Cemetery.