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India mourns Dilip Kumar, the ‘tragedy king’ of Bollywood

Actor Dilip Kumar with his wife actress Saira Banu in 2011. Image via Wikipedia by Bollywood Hungama.

Actor Dilip Kumar with his wife actress Saira Banu in 2011. Image via Wikipedia by Bollywood Hungama. CC BY 3.0

Many in India are saddened by the death of one of Bollywood’s most popular actors — and former member of parliament — Dilip Kumar, who passed away on July 7 at the age of 98 due to health problems. He was among a cadre of legendary actors and producers of India's cinema industry, having worked on more than 60 films over the course of six decades, from 1944 to 1999. His extraordinary acting has left an everlasting impression on movie fans’ hearts.

Another Bollywood legend, Amitabh Bacchan, paid tribute on Twitter:

Dilip Kumar, whose real name was Mohammed Yusuf Khan, was born in 1921 in Peshawar city, in present-day Pakistan. He and his family migrated to Mumbai, India in 1930. He made his cinema debut in 1944 in ‘Jwar Bhatta’ (‘High and Low Tides’), created by the famous Bombay Talkies production house. Its producer, Devika Rani, persuaded him to change his Muslim-sounding name to the one that made him famous, appealing to Bollywood's majority Hindu Indian audience.

In 1947, Kumar stepped into the limelight with the hit film ‘Jugnu‘ (‘Firefly’), which received favourable critical reviews. As its popularity grew, so did Kumar's reputation. He never looked back, becoming one of India's top-paid actors during the 1950s. By the time he appeared in the 1960 epic historical film ‘Mughal-E-Azam‘ (‘The Great Mughal’), Kumar was a full-fledged star, and the film went on to become one of the highest-grossing in the Indian movie industry.

Actress Sophie Choudry remembered:

Kumar's impeccable acting has been widely acknowledged. In 1954, he won Filmfare magazine’s Best Actor award for the movie ‘Daag‘ (‘The Stain’). He would go on to claim this award seven more times over the course of his career.

Filmfare remembered him by posting a collage of his popular on-screen pairings:

‘Tragedy King’

Kumar earned his nickname because of his performance in several heart-wrenching love stories during the 1940s and 1950s, in which his character ended up either tragically losing his love interests or dead.

A politician from the Bharatiya Janata Party, Amitava Chakravorty, tweeted:

Kumar's popularity, however, was by no means limited to his on-screen work; he also played a pivotal role in matters of civic duty. In the 1950s, for example, when India was experiencing major upheaval, including tense Hindu-Muslim relations, Kumar inspired a sense of togetherness in post-independent India, helping citizens to see past barriers of religious identity.

He was also at the helm of many social and welfare initiatives, advocated for national integrity and spearheaded fundraising initiatives for the Indian Armed forces. Perhaps most famously, prior to India's independence in 1947, the acting legend — a staunch supporter of India’s freedom struggle — spent a night in jail for speaking out against the British authorities for misusing their power.

It was no surprise, then, that Kumar eventually ventured into politics. In 2000, he was nominated to the Rajya Sabha (The Council of States) as a member of parliament by the Indian National Congress. During his six-year tenure, he spent a lot of his time on the construction and improvement of the Bandstand Promenade in Mumbai's Bandra area.

Remembering the legend

Both at home and around the world, social media users paid tribute to Dilip Kumar. Renowned Indian actress Shabana Azmi tweeted:

Chicago-based Melanie Greenberg, who runs a YouTube channel that reviews Indian movies, tweeted:

The former prime minister of Nepal, Baburam Bhattarai, remembered how much Kumar's movies were a part of his youth:

Given where he was born, Kumar was — quite fittingly — also popular in Pakistan, where movie fans mourned his death. In 1998, Dilip Kumar became the first and only Indian to receive Nishan-e-Imtiaz, Pakistan's highest civilian award.

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