Dilip Kumar: The actor who livened up the dull decade of 80s

Written by Sampada Sharma | New Delhi | Published: December 11, 2017 6:00 am Dilip Kumar’s craft earned him the place of the first superstar of Indian cinema.

In the history of Hindi cinema, there have been certain flag-bearers whose name is more than sufficient to establish the era of movies. Shah Rukh Khan will always be associated with the title of King Khan and defining romance on the silver screen in the 90s but much before the likes of Shah Rukh Khan and Akshay Kumar arrived in this world, there was a man who set benchmarks for generations of men and women who desire to achieve success in the arts. This man was Dilip Kumar.

Dilip Kumar’s craft earned him the place of the first superstar of Indian cinema. His nuanced approach, controlled body language that came across as effortless and his charm on the silver screen was Indian audience’s first introduction to a ‘star’. Before Dilip Kumar, no one knew the kind of craze and fan following that could be commanded by someone who works in the entertainment industry. With every film of his, he wrote a new chapter in the masterclass of acting.

While he enjoyed great success in the early phase of his career, it is actually his work in the later years that proved that he doesn’t really need to be play the ‘hero’ to make an impact. This was the Dilip Kumar of the 1980s.

It’s no secret that 80s was probably the worst decade in terms of Hindi movies. The rise of piracy, involvement of the underworld and lack of great content led this to be the decade that is still spoofed. But trust Dilip Kumar to save the day and so he did!

Most of his work in the 1980s had him playing the character who was riding against establishment. He was the upholder of righteousness, even if it required him to take the wrong path. For a man of his stature, he had no qualms about appearing in ensemble cast films. His appearances in multi star-cast films gave a chance to actors like Anil Kapoor to share screen space with the legend.

dilip kumar in mashaal Dilip Kumar in a still from Mashaal.

With a film like Mashaal (1984), Dilip Kumar delivered a performance that can never be matched. The iconic scene where he is pleading on the streets for help to save his wife (played by Waheeda Rehman) could be watched a million times over and even that wouldn’t be enough. His character in the film starts off as an honest, upright man who gradually crosses over to the evil side. When the system fails him, he decides to take control of the situation even if it means compromising on his moral code. Dilip Kumar’s portrayal of this character evoked sympathy while maintaining a fine balance where the viewer is completely aware of his wrongdoings.

A commercial film like Vidhaata (1982) that boasted of a star cast like Shammi Kapoor, Sanjeev Kumar along with Dilip Kumar had some great performances with a plot that could be termed as melodrama in today’s times. Vidhaata had Dilip Kumar playing a man who wants to avenge his family and will stop at nothing to save his grandson from facing the same fate. While Vidhaata is quite an entertaining film, it is the politics between the characters and their motives for making decisions that keeps the viewers glued.

shakti starring dilip kumar and amitabh bachchan Dilip Kumar and Amitabh Bachchan in a still from Shakti.

Shakti (1982) saw the coming together of two icons of Hindi cinema as Amitabh Bachchan joined this cast with Dilip Kumar. It would not be an understatement to call Shakti one of the best films in the history of Indian movies and much of that credit goes to the performances of its two lead actors along with some brilliant writing by Salim-Javed. Here, Dilip Kumar plays the role of a man who holds up the law, even if it means sacrificing his own son in the process. The dilemma of choosing between one of them, tears him up and this constant contradiction that drives his life is emotionally captured in his performance.

Manoj Kumar’s patriotic drama Kranti (1981) had Dilip Kumar playing the leader of a gang of revolutionaries who plan to drive out the British. And in Karma (1986), Dilip Kumar played a man who gathers a bunch of convicts to extract revenge from Dr Dang.

Dilip Kumar in a still from Kranti.

Dilip Kumar is still regarded as the legend whose work is like a foundation stone for Hindi cinema. His film legacy and some incredible performances through the decades will be looked back decades from now and will always serve as the benchmark for those who dream of achieving just a tiny bit of what Dilip Kumar achieved. A marathon of Dilip Kumar film would be a great idea for today and there is no way one could be disappointed.

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