Brief history of Indian Cinema and
the five greatest artistes of all time-II


Continued from Saturday

By Jagath C. Savanadasa

The Indian film industry did well to capitalize on such realities and produced films to a set formula. They combined elements like music, songs, fights, scenes of love, opulent sets depicting lives of the wealthy and their homes and of course the film stars above every thing else. People idolized stars. Indian films especially those of the earlier period were melodramatic. They were full of coincidences. Such films were largely unrealistic but they were what the masses desired.

The expansion of the middle class and the arrival of the information age brought about a contrast between the earlier film and the latter day film in India. Demand patterns too changed radically and with economic growth and the rise in per capita. Indians had more and expanding avenues to relax and entertain themselves especially in the major cities. The television also contributed to transform life. The archetypal Indian film of the earlier age has given way to new products but only to an extent. Most Indian films even today are social drama but in contrast to the past the more expensive films today incorporate exotic locations in big cities of the West.

However throughout Cinema history Indians have also produced excellent films both of a commercial and non-conventional or new-wave genre. The latter has been pioneered by the charismatic Satyajit Ray. His films have won worldwide acclaim. Ray did not shy away from reality especially poverty and went onto depict scenes that strongly portrayed the truth in rural India. Ray’s films were rare works of art that had lyrical appeal. Of course Ray did also did reflect on city life and the travails of urban poverty. "Mahanagar" was one such film that gave exposure to the drudgery of urban life.

The golden years of Indian Cinema

were from about the later 1940s to the late 1970s. Despite the formula and commercially attractive melodrama characterized by the long and flexible arm of coincidence dominating most of the films, this period also witnessed the emergence of several films of quality with a difference. It also saw the breakaway from featuring history and mythology which have always found a niche with the Indian filmgoer. Enterprising and more venturesome film makers dared to question social class and caste issues which they- shunned earlier and also portray other interesting problems of a predominantly agrarian society of that earlier period. Indian industrialization has had an impact and themes relating to labour have been featured in films.

Trinity of male stars

There was a trinity of leading male stars who dominated the scene of the Indian film for a quarter of a century from the late 1940s to the late 1970s. They were Dilip Kumar, Raj Kapoor and Dev Anand. These three were admired by millions of Indians besides a vast number of other Asian filmgoers.

Among the females, stars like Nargis, Madhubala Vythanthimala, Nutan Meen Kumari and a host of others too achieved immense popularity during the earlier period.

Each of the male leads like Dilip, Raj and Dev had their own distinctive style of acting with their own stamp of personality.

Dilip Kumar — the greatest

Of the three main male actors mentioned there is universal and undivided acceptance that the best was Dilip Kumar whose original name was Yusuf Khan. Dilip’s talents and abilities were so rare that many film critics in India or far that matter Asia say that they are unlikely to see an actor of his calibre, again.

Though the Indian film industry has produced many other excellent stars like Amitabh Bachchan, Shah Rukh Khan and Aamir Khan they themselves feel that Dilip is above them in terms of sheer ability as an actor. In a crux he has had no peer as a thespian and is rightly called the last Emperor of Indian Cinema.

There are four books exclusively on Dilip Kumar in the writer’s library. Yet another book named ‘Hero the silent Era to Dilip Kumar’ by Ashok Raj is largely based on him. The most incisive and analytical of these is the one titled "Nehru’s Hero-Dilip Kumar in the life of India" by Lord Megnad Desai Emeritus Professor of Economics at the London School of Economics.

According to Lord Desai, the impact that Dilip Kumar has had on Indian life and culture during the Nehru years has been profound. His roles and screen mannerism have had a mesmerizing effect on millions of young men and women of that era.

Another writer Hanudeen Mohamed writing to the "National Herald" (February 1991) called Dilip Kumar a `Monolithic Obselisk,’ with its pinnacle in heaven and the bottom been deep down under the earth. Lord David Punam in referring to Dilip Kumar’s astonishing range of talent says that only a few actors anywhere in the world could match him. Yet another book by award winning journalist Sanjit Nawakar on Dilip’s contribution to Indian Cinema. says that Dilip was one of the three Indian artistes who were destined rule the Hindi film industry for 25 years and give a new dimension to the industry.

Three milestones of Hindi cinema

Dilip Kumar has acted in several of the most outstanding films produced in India. Three of them could be considered milestones of Indian Cinema.

The first Milestone

Andaz - 1949

The first was Andaz released in 1949 and is listed among the finest of all Indian films. It starred Dilip Kumar. Raj Kapoor and Nargis, three of India’s greatest stars for the first and the last time together. It is in this film that the sobriquet "Tragedy King," was attached to Dilip Kumar and remained with him forever.

The Second Milestone

Devdas- 1956

"Devdas" was based on Sarat Chandra Chaterjee’s classic novel of the same name written in 1917, a love story immortalized in India over the decades. Bimal Roy produced and directed it. Yet another film of outstanding quality "Film India "in describing the picture hailed it as an ‘epitome of artistic grace and great appeal’ enhanced by Dilip Kumar’s perfect delineation of the complex role of Devdas". Many consider Dilip Kumar’s acting in this gem of a film as the greatest ever by an Indian Star.

The third milestone

Mughal-e-Azam — 1960

Produced and directed by K Asif (Dilip’s brother-in-law), it was the most expensive film produced in India during that period. A historical saga Dilip acted as Prince Salim, the son of the Emperor of India – Akbar who falls in love with Anarkali, a courtesan at the Court of the Emperor. In this film Dilip was pitted against the great Preethiviraj Kapoor, the father of Raj Kapoor. Kapoor acted as Emperor Akbar. The contest between the two was named the clash of the titans and aroused nationwide interest and admiration.

A Consummate Artiste

Dilip’s consummate artistry as an actor fascinated generations of film goers who especially remember some of the roles like the one in Mughal-e-Azam. In Indian film circles he is also known as the Actors Bible and the one man school for Actors in India. What were the factors that led him to achieve such a pre-eminent position’

Dilip Kumar according to film historian Asok Raj synthesized the oriental practice of melodramatic acting with the underplayed role which is a classic feature of Western Cinema.

This form of acting was known as the ‘method’ system and was pioneered by the great Russian theoretician in dramatic arts Konstantin Stanlislasvky (1863-1938).

Stanlislaysky defined a new basis in acting that went against theatrics which characterised his era and went on to project acting as an art based on a natural skill.

Dilip Kumar admired the Stanlislaysky method of acting and absorbed its finer points.

Yet another feature of his acting was his rare ability to empathise -with the audience through a sensitive and subtle form of interplay of silence and articulation which were unique to many of his roles.

Also according to Ashok Raj, Dilip thereby demonstrated the ‘Einsteinian emotive mechanism’ in which the actor is an instrument.

And finally to cap all this is a statement made by the Master of cinema Satyajit Ray acknowledging the universal belief that Dilip Kumar is the finest artiste of his time.

There is no evidence of an ancestry from which he could have inherited through the transfer of genes, the talent that he so amply demonstrated. On the other hand there is an ancestry of Poets and Persian scholars in his early family history. Dilip Kumar from his young days was dedicated student of cinema and acting, and took great pains to achieve perfection. For example he imbibed the naturalness of great stars like Paul Nurmi, Spencer Tracy and later of Marlon Brando. In fact Dilip admits that he learnt the technique of character delineation from Nurmi. Also early during his career he has the singularly good fortune to come under the influence of Nitin Bose, one of the great figures of early Indian cinema, who guided him. It was Nitin’s influence that further fine tuned Dilip’s histrionics. There is however no doubt that he was talented and gifted with uncommon ability. He also had classical good looks and the advantage of being tall, two essentials for a male actor. Dilip was well read, refined and a polished conversationalist especially in English. He was truly a towering figure in Indian Cinema.

His knowledge of Cinema was vast. Once British listners requested the BBC for a repeat of an interview with him on Cinema.

Film fare awards

The most recognized of all awards in respect of the film industry in India are the Film Fare Awards. It is an annual award scheme in which awards are offered in different areas like Direction, Production, Photography, Music, Songs and above all in acting both in respect of males and females. The film fare award is the Indian equivalent of the Oscar which is considered the most coveted film Awards in the world.

Dilip Kumar has won the Filmfare Best Actor’s award eight times which remains a record competing against the best stars in India over the last six decades. He thus remains supreme in the field. Dilip has also won the best actors awards at the Karlovy Vary film festival which was held in the now defunct Yugoslavia in 1962. Above all he was awarded the Nishan A Imitiaz, Pakistan’s highest Civilian Award.

Guru Dutt Pran and Meena Kumari

As opposed to the achievements of Dilip Kumar which simply outstrip that of any other actor in India the recognition and achievements of Guru Dutt and Pran, two of the three male actors selected as the greatest, pale into insignificance.

Guru Dutt did not make many screen appearances though in the few films he acted in especially Sahib Bibi, Aur Gulam and Chandani Ka Chanel, he gave excellent performances. But one swallow does not make a summer. Guru Dutt on the other hand was a courageous and innovative producer whose films were thought provoking and with bold social themes. In a different mould was Pran who largely played the role of the villain in almost all the Hindi films be acted in. It is doubtful whether a villain ever fits into the frame of the Best Artiste if not for other reasons purely on the basis that a villains role is secondary, similar to that of a supporting Actor.

As regards actresses I am of the view that Vyjanthimala had greater versatility than Meena Kumari and was indeed a better star. She also acted in many memorable Hindi films and won the best actress award –more times than Meena Kumari.

The Greatest five

Contrary to CNIN’s selection it is the following five stars who should rightfully he considered the greatest ever in the Indian film world- Dilip Kumar. Raj Kapoor, Amitabh Bachchan. Nargis and Vyjanthimala. In any case Hindi Films which form the most dominant component of the total Indian film industry, without Dilip Kumar will be like `Hamlet without the Prince of Denmark’ Hindi Cinema sans Dilip would also lose its raison-de etre.

Amitabh Bachchan


animated gif
Processing Request
Please Wait...