Dilip Kumar is to Hindi cinema what Mahatma Gandhi was to India’s Freedom movement. He defines the very core of the art to which he subscribed bringing into his performances a method and naturalness far ahead of his times. To pick the 10 finest performances of the perfectionist of a performer is not easy. We can only try.
1. Ganga Jumna (1960): The story of two brothers played by Dilip Kumar and his real-life sibling Nasir Khan warring in the Chambal Valley from opposite sides of the law contained what many consider Dilip Kumar’s best to date. As the outlaw on the run Dilip Kumar’s delivery of the Awadhi dialogues was exhilarating enough to earn this film a place among the biggest trendsetters of all times. Though officially credited to Nitin Bose for direction the entire film was ghost-directed by Dilip Saab. Yash Chopra’s Deewaar was most directly inspired Ganga Jumna.
2. Devdas (1955): The ultimate saga of the loser- hero made monumentally memorable by Dilip Kumar’s internalized performance as Saratchandra’s defeatist self-destructive hero. Regarded by many as the finest performance by a male actor in Indian cinema. Shah Rukh in Sanjay Bhansali’s Devdas tried.
3. Andaz (1949): Dilip Kumar played a man who mistakes a woman’s friendship for something more. A past-master at playing dark tormented characters Dilip Saab’s portrayal of the male ego was so tangible it was as if we were watching a man in conversation with his conscience.
4. Deedar (1951): Notable for Dilip Kumar’s portrayal of a blind man Dilip Kumar was so real it seemed the actor had actually shut out all light to feel his character’s pain. Years later Naseeruddin Shah achieved the same level blind realism in Sparsh.
5. Mughal-e-Azam (1960): Dilip Kumar’s Prince Salim was the epitome and acme of royal arrogance and dignity. Love never seemed more unattainable, probably because Anarkali was played by Madhubala the woman Dilip Saab loved and lost in real life. Though he made a fabulous pair with several leading ladies Madhubala was the ultimate romantic foil to Dilip Kumar.
6. Amar (1954): Dilip Kumar dared to play a rapist in this film about the dark shadows in the human heart where lurks forbidden emotions. Drawing a fine line between love and lust Dilip Saab’s character-study was replete with deep layers that went far beyond the plot.
7. Madhumati (1958): After doing a series of dark complex characters Dilip Kumar decided to unwind for the sake of sanity with Madhumati (and several other light hearted film like Kohinoor, Azad, Leader and Ram Aur Shyam) which was Bimal Roy’s most light-hearted film about reincarnation with a music score by Salil Chowdhary that Dilip Kumar thoroughly enjoyed putting on screen with one of his favourite co-stars Vyjanthimala.
8. Ram Aur Shyam (1967): A year ahead of Dilip Saab’s angst-laden performance in Dil Diya Dard Liya and just a year behind three outstanding performance (in Sungharsh, Aadmi and the Bengali Sagina Mahato) in Ram Aur Shyam Dilip Saab played a double role of the timid and the tempestuous twins with so much relish it seemed the cinematic double role had been invented specially for this actor.
9. Sagina (1970): Tapas Sinha’s Hindi remake of his Bengali film Sagina Mahato which too starred Dilip Kumar. Though a bit too old to play the firebrand the Thespian was in his element in wife Saira Banu’s company. This is the only film where Kishore Kumar got to sing for Dilip Kumar in Sala main toh sahib ban gaya and that incredibly sweet duet ‘Tumhre Sang Toh Rain Beetayi’ with Lata Mangeshkar.
10. Shakti (1982): Dilip Saab’s one last great performance as a cop divided between duty and family obligations. Amitabh Bachchan, a self-proclaimed fan happily allowed the Thespian to take centre stage. The rest was his terrain.