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Bollywood Icon, Dilip Kumar, Dies at 98


One of Bollywood’s most accomplished movie stars, Dilip Kumar, has died at the age of 98.

According to AFP, his death early on Wednesday has prompted tributes from across Indian and Pakistani cinema, politics, sport and even animal rights.

Alongside Dev Anand and Raj Kapoor, Kumar was one of three big names who dominated the golden age of Indian cinema from the 1940s to the 1960s, enjoying a career spanning more than 50 years and nearly 60 films.

Nicknamed “The Tragedy King” with brooding good looks, tousled hair, and a deep voice, he played the lead in some of the Indian film industry’s most commercially successful films of the period.

But he missed out on international fame after famously turning down the chance to play Sherif Ali in David Lean’s 1962 classic “Lawrence of Arabia”. The part went to then little known Egyptian actor Omar Sharif.

Kumar was born Mohammed Yusuf Khan on December 11, 1922, in Peshawar, Pakistan, then part of British-ruled India. His father was a fruit merchant who took his family to India’s entertainment capital in the 1930s.

Actress Devika Rani spotted him on his father’s fruit stall in then Bombay, leading to a part in his first film, “Jwar Bhata”, in 1944.

Rani persuaded him to change his name, so he chose Dilip Kumar, allowing him to hide what he was doing from his disapproving father.

Although “Jwar Bhata” flopped and leading film magazines criticised his performance, Kumar was undeterred and broke through with the 1946 film “Milan”.

Among his most remembered roles was the lavish historical romance “Mughal-e-Azam”, based on the life of a great Mughal prince. It became one of Bollywood’s biggest-grossing films of all time.

Kumar, who cited Hollywood greats Marlon Brando, Gary Cooper and Spencer Tracy as influences, later won acclaim in 1964 for the nationalistic “Leader”, screened against a backdrop of recent wars against China and Pakistan.

The 1970s saw fewer roles, as younger actors like Amitabh Bachchan, now the biggest star in India’s hugely prolific Hindi-language cinema industry, took centre stage.

Kumar even took a five-year break after a string of flops, returning in 1981 with the hit “Kranti” (Revolution) and a part alongside Bachchan in “Shakti” (Strength) the following year, plus a string of character roles.

Later Kumar took up a more active role in politics in 1998 and worked to end the feuding between India and Pakistan.

The same year saw him receive the highest civilian honour in Pakistan, angering Hindu nationalists. Two years later he became a lawmaker for the Congress party.

Kumar credited his successful career to his early days in Peshawar’s fabled Qissa Khwani (“Storytellers”) Bazaar where travellers would share tales of their adventures.

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan on Wednesday joined the tributes, thanking Kumar for help raising funds for a cancer charity and saying he was “the greatest and most versatile actor” for his generation.



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