The 'Method Actor', decades ahead of his time, preceded America's 'Method Acting School'
Edit December 18, 2012 02:27:08 AM |
By V Gangadhar
Edit December 18, 2012 02:27:08 AM |
By V Gangadhar
Dilip Kumar, the legend lives
He was the first Indian actor to adopt what came to be known as ‘method acting’. In the years to come some of the finest exponents of this kind of acting were Marlon Brando, Montgomery Clift and James Dean, who had studied acting under experts, but the thespian, without any such assets, was pitchforked straightway before the arc lights.
Strange but true, our greatest actor, Dilip Kumar(91), had not seen a film till he was 14. Coming from the rugged hills of Peshawar, the twists and turns of life brought him to Bombay, Pune and Deolali and it was one such twist which brought him face to face with one of the immortals of our cinema, Devika Rani. She found something special in this shy young man and introduced him to films after providing him with a new name, Dilip Kumar. ‘Jwar Bhata’ was the film and it flopped to be followed by another flop. But some of the producers were prepared to take chances with the young actor and finally his ‘Milan’ clicked in a big way.
Serious and sensitive, young Dilip Kumar was keen to find out why his earlier films failed. He read the scripts and watched the films again and again. He became a regular at theatres screening Hollywood films where James Stewart and Ingrid Bergman were his early favourites. Of course, Hindi cinema was different in content and presentation but the young actor arrived at the conclusion there was a niche for the kind of acting he wanted to do and was capable of doing it.
Dilip Kumar was the first Indian actor to adopt what came to be known as ‘method acting’. In the years to come some of the finest exponents of this kind of acting were Marlon Brando, Montgomery Clift and James Dean. They had studied acting under experts and also appeared on theatre. But Dilip Kumar, without any such assets, was pitchforked straightway before the arc lights. Ashok Kumar was the most famous young actor, Raj Kapoor and Dev Anand were yet to arrive. The Dilip Kumar style of acting began to attract attention. Cinema was no doubt entertainment but then life had its share of tragedy. Millions of people lost out in their struggles in love, making money and human relationships and Dilip Kumar excelled in portraying such characters. In a way, he was Hindi cinema’s version of the Greek tragic hero or those created by Shakespeare in his great tragedies. ‘Taqdeer’ (destiny) played a major role in shaping his movie roles.
His was the brooding presence. He seldom spoke aloud but with greet intensity. In role after role in films like ‘Andaz’, ‘Jogan’, ‘Mela’, ‘Arzoo’, ‘Shikast’, ‘Shaheed’, ‘Tarana’, ‘Daag’ and ‘Deedar’, Dilip Kumar enacted gut-wrenching roles, always losing his beloved or mother or other close ones. He was exploited, took to drinks or suffered physical disabilities. Many of these roles resulted in inspired performances by Dilip Kumar. The drunken Shankar in ‘Daag’ mourning his dead mother, the frustrated romance with a widow in ‘Shikast’, the cruel memories of a past which separated him from a childhood sweetheart in ‘Deedar’ .the blind lover haunted by the presence of a dangerously insane wife in ‘Sangdil” (adapted from Jane Eyre) broke new paths in Hindi cinema.
In the newly-independent India, many of these films had a special social significance. Even Raj Kapoor with a flair for comedy and imitation of Charlie Chaplin understood the theme of his age and with the help of writers like K A Abbas made socially relevant films like ‘Awara’, ‘Shri 420′, ‘Boot Polish’ and ‘Jish Desh Mein Ganga Behti Hain’. Unlike Dilp Kumar., Raj Kapoor successfully clowned his way into the hearts of fans even while conveying the fims’ message. But the Dilip Kumar films were more personal. ‘Footpath’ in 1953 was such a brooding, dark film on the evils of black marketeering that many people found it difficult to sit through it. Shot entirely in the slums, it had a bold scene showing heroine Meena Kumari bathing under a public tap. This was unusual realism for the early 1950s though Meena Kumari was fully covered. Gemini films’ S S Vasan elicited an outstanding performance from Dilip Kumar in his ‘Paigam’ which dealt with trade unionism. Years later, Dilip Kumar played another role on the same subject in ‘Mazdoor’ but it had more melodrama.
Even today, automation was a touchy issue in India because of its unemployment problem. B R Chopra’s 1957 film ‘Naya Daur’ pitted man against machine, with Dilip Kumar playing a tongawala pitted against a mean machine, the bus. The kind of patriotism shown in the film was a bit exaggerated but the message was brilliantly delivered. After the release of Bimal Roy’s ‘Devdas’ dealing with the immortal, drunken lover, Dilip Kumar was mentally devastated that he reportedly turned down the plum role of the poet-hero in ‘Pyassa’. It was time to flaunt his versatility and flair for comedy in films like ‘Azad’, ‘Kohinoor’ and ‘Ram Aur Shyam’. They became huge hits and helped to build up the legend that was Dilip Kumar.
Very often, the media focused mainly on the later films of Dilip Kumar where he was forced to play characters who were a bit loud (‘Gopi’, “Aadmi’, ‘Bairaag’, ”Sagina’ and even Manoj Kumar’s ‘Kranti’ where noise emerged stronger than patriotism). By that time, Dilip Kumar had become ‘Dilip Saab’ and produced his own film, ‘Ganga Jumna’, the tale of a dacoit, pitting him against his own brother, a police officer, played by his real life brother Nasir Khan. The film, along with Bimal Roy’s ‘Madhumati’ was a huge hit and confirmed that Dilip saab was the unchallenged number one in the world of Hindi cinema. Ramesh Sippy brought together Dilip Saab and Amitabh Bachchan and one need not mention who was the winner.
In many ways Dilip Saab was more than an actor. He was an intelligent spokesman of his age, utterly secular and not afraid of petty tyrants like Balasaheb Thackeray who faulted him for accepting an award from Pakistan. Dilip Saab was a believer in international brotherhood, like Jawaharlal Nehru, he was a citizen of the world. I interviewed him three or four times, once in the company of his good friend J K Kapur, producer of ‘Sagina’. We had lunch, biriyani and salad, Dilip Saab was the perfect host and later brilliantly expounding on the dangers of communal propaganda during elections. Fond of sports, he played football and badminton and started the football club ‘Bombay Dynamos’ along with fellow actor Pran.
Dilip Saab was a true representative of his age, as an actor and a human being. Never interested in rat race, he acted only in about 60 films, but these were enough to stamp his greatness. Here is belated birthday greetings for the one and only genuine ‘Saab’ of Hindi cinema.