Monday, February 07, 2011

The Last Emperor

DILIP Kumar has acted in just 60 films but he is arguably the greatest Indian actor of any generation. His method acting skills added a whole new dimension to the craft.

Dilip Kumar's life, like his performances, is equally fascinating.

Sanjit Narwekar's biography of this actor par excellence, is aptly titled, "Dilip Kumar - The Last Emperor." A still of the actor from Mughal-e-Azam adorns the cover of the book. So much for the first impression!

The author knows his subject well for Narwekar has written and lectured on Indian cinema since 1970. He introduces Dilip Kumar through his films. The book is neatly organised on the basis of major milestones in the life of the actor.

Narwekar has beautifully captured the essence of Peshawar in the growing up years of a young Yusuf Khan, all in just six pages.

Born on the 11th of December, 1922 in Peshawar, Yusuf was the third son and fifth child of fruit merchant Sarwar Khan and Ayesha Begum. Theirs was a deeply relious family. The author tells us about the violence in the city during Khan's growing up years. This may have provided the element of authenticity to the intense roles he would go on to play.

A tragedy at home brought the family to Bombay. It was at the Wilson College of the city that his future started taking shape. He became a voracious reader and watched mostly Hollywood films. Football was one sports he excelled in. He was also an extremely shy lad.

Yusuf Khan had to drop out of college owing to a collapse in his father's business, and a sharp decline in the fortunes of the family as an outcome. He worked as an assistant manager with a military contractor in Poona for a while before joining his father in fruit trading.

It was during one of his usual business trips to Nanital that he was introduced to Devika Rani. She was on the look out for a fresh face and Khan impressed her. She gave him a three-year contract and her studio writer gave him a screen name on her suggestion. And thus was born the legend of Dilip Kumar!

The book has numerous interesting stories about the actor, such as the one where he steals cigarattes for his mentor Ashok Kumar, and once how Maulana Azad intervened on his behalf.

From the savage criticism for his role in Jwar Bhata to getting the title of 'Tragedy King' for his performance in Andaz, Narwekar chronologically builds the story of Dilip Kumar - the actor who became a major star. The author also talks about the sensitive issue of some people questioning Yusuf Khan's patriotism and the controversy over his acceptance of Nishan-e-Imtiaz, Pakistan's highest civilian award. He briefly touches on the actor's social and charitable work. The author could have shed more light on this.

The Last Emperor is a sincere effort and Narwekar has done justice to the story. Although it looks more of a homage to Dilip Kumar but then his life and his films are nothing short of awe-inspiring.

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