Birthday Special: Romance icon Dilip Kumar’s most famous on-screen pairings

by | December 11, 2020, 15:29 IST

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Birthday Special: Romance icon Dilip Kumar’s most famous on-screen pairings

The doomed lover was the dream man of a million women. Always losing in love, he went on to besiege a million hearts. Eyes brimming with the tumult of his soul. The dark lashes in sync with the shadows within. Marinated in melancholia, his soft voice betrayed the weight of his heart. “Had Shakespeare met Dilip Kumar, he would have added one more character to the already well-defined ones he had created,” said filmmaker V Shantaram establishing the actor’s affinity with the characters the bard created. The two, though separated by centuries and continents, shared an inexplicable connect. 

   Despair and loss was never more elegiacally expressed than through Dilip Kumar. He lent poetry to the prose of cinema, refining the syntax of sensuality. His screen heroines revelled in being wooed by him, it serenading them into the hall of fame. Those who couldn’t, including Asha Parekh and Mala Sinha, still lament the slipping of that prospect. Even his silver romances with Raakhee (Shakti) and Nutan (Karma) later were replete with rare nuances. As the thespian celebrates his 98th birthday this December, we visit the summer of his life to relive his memorable onscreen pairings, the tears they evoked and sometimes also the laughter they brought…

Dilip Kumar & Nargis

She may have formed an iconic pair with Raj Kapoor but Nargis acted in seven films with Dilip Kumar – from Anokha Pyar (1948) to Deedar (1951). Her fire matched his fervour in film after film. In Mela (1948), they played childhood sweethearts, separated by circumstances. Mehboob Khan’s Andaz (1949), a love triangle with Nargis-Dilip-Raj was an ode to unrequited love. Babul (1950) was another melodrama of misunderstandings and misfortune, while Kidar Sharma’s Jogan (1950) had Dilip play an atheist, who falls for jogan Nargis. The chasm created between them by faith or the lack of it, reiterated that love is the most sublime. In most scenes, they don’t even share a glance but the pining was palpable. Deedar (1951), which also starred Nimmi along with Nargis, was another tale of one-sided love.  Naturally, when he was offered Mother India (1957) opposite Nargis, Dilip declined it. “The role that Mehboob saab (Khan) offered me was that of Nargis’ son… it would have been an incongruous casting after all the romancing she and I had done in earlier films,” he was quoted saying in his autobiography Dilip Kumar: The Substance and the Shadow (penned by Uday Tara Nayar). Their songs Mat ja jogi (Jogan), Tu kahe agar (Andaz), Bachpan ke din  bhoolana na dena (Deedar), Chhod babul ka ghar (Babul), Gham ka fasana (Babul)… remain classics from the golden era.

Kidar Sharma’s Jogan had Dilip play an atheist, who falls for jogan Nargis.  in most scenes, They don’t even share a glance but the pining was palpable

Dilip Kumar

Dilip Kumar & Madhubala

The Pathan pair was made of dreams and doom. Madhubala met Dilip Kumar on the set of Tarana (1951). They later worked in Sangdil (1952), Amar (1954) and Mughal-E-Azam (1960). Of their early interaction, the method actor says in his memoir, “She was a vivacious artiste and was so instantaneous in her responses that the scenes became riveting even when they were being filmed.” The two fell in love when Madhubala apparently sent him a rose. Madhubala’s father Ataullah Khan, insists Dilip in his book, wasn’t against their match. In fact, he had plans to launch a studio where he could make movies toplined by the hit pair. Dilip didn’t approve of this apparent commercialisation of his art. Madhubala’s father, writes the actor, interpreted his attitude as ‘rude and presumptuous’. Later, Madhubala backed out of the shooting of Naya Daur (1957) leading to a legal case where Dilip spoke in defence of the producer, B.R.Chopra, even as he proclaimed his undying love for her in the packed courtroom. But the rift was too deep to be bridged. During the filming of K Asif’s Mughal-E-Azam (1960), the estranged lovers continued working as professionals. Madhubala’s heart ailment had worsened but nothing could stagger her portrayal of the doomed Anarkali. “The classic scene with the feather coming between our lips, which set a million imaginations on fire, was shot when we had completely stopped even greeting each other,” writes Dilip in his account. The film was an obituary to their tragic love. Yeh hawa yeh raat (Sangdil), Tere sadke balam (Amar), Seene mein sulagte hai armaan (Tarana) and Pyar Kiya toh darna kya (Mughal-E-Azam)... continue to evoke nostalgia about Hindi cinema’s most loved couple.

Dilip Kumar

Dilip Kumar & Saira Banu

The beautiful Saira Banu had only two dreams. One to be an actor. The other to marry Dilip Kumar. And she achieved both. Initially, Dilip refused to pair with her dismissing her to be too young. But when he saw Saira on August 23, 1966, on her birthday, he fell in love with her. “I can still recall… Saira standing in the foyer of her house looking breathtakingly beautiful in a brocade sari… She had indeed grown to full womanhood and was in reality more beautiful than I thought she was,” he recounts in his book. Saira was 22 and Dilip 44, when they got married the same year. They went on to do Gopi (1970), Sagina (1974) and Bairaag (1976) after marriage. Their easy chemistry was a result of the growing bonhomie of a couple discovering each other, of a young actor thawing in the presence of a thespian. “I saw her tenacity to get the nuances and emotional curves of the performance right,” 

Dilip praises his co-star wife 

in his book.

The fairy-tale marriage has survived turbulence. Dilip’s second marriage to Hyderabad-based Asma Rehman in 1981 had left Saira devastated. “My love - a junoon (obsession) and ibadat (worship) couldn’t accept it. It went against my self-respect,” she said in an interview. Her mother, actor Naseem Banu, urged her to hold on. “My mother said, ‘When you were ill, he looked after you. A lot happens in life. But Yusuf loves you’,” recalled Saira on how she let the past slip away. Saira also shared she feels cherished when Dilip today confesses to her, “The care you have given me, not even my mother was able to.” She summed up their bond saying, “I live to love him.” The autumnal glow falling softly on this real-life couple… theirs is a story to behold and be retold.n

Dilip Kumar

Dilip Kumar & Waheeda Rehman

She was the yin to his yang. The grace to his glamour. Waheeda Rehman and Dilip gave memorable films like Aadmi, Dil Diya Dard Liya and Ram Aur Shyam, during the ’60s. While Ram Aur Shyam was an all-out entertainer, Aadmi and Dil Diya Dard Liya dwelled on the dark recesses of a lover’s heart. “Waheeda Rehman was wonderfully sprightly in Ram Aur Shyam and equally intense in Dil Diya Dard Liya,” thus described Dilip his co-star in his book. Dil Diya Dard Liya, based on Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, hinged on hurt and hate, aided by Naushad’s soulful tunes like Phir teri kahani yaad aayee, Koi sagar dil ko behlata nahin.  The Dostoyevskian intricacy of Aadmi had a wheelchair bound Dilip, suspecting his wife of having feelings for his best friend (Manoj Kumar). Waheeda matched his edginess with decorous restraint. Aaj purani rahon se and Kaisi haseen aaj baharon ki raat hai composed by Naushad remain memorable. Though there were rumours of the two dating then, nothing concrete came out of it. Decades later the two featured in Mashaal (1984) in which Dilip restated his prowess as a man capable of deep love. The film is treasured for the ‘Aye bhai!’ scene where a helpless Dilip begs for help on a deserted street as his beloved wife Sudha, played by Waheeda, breathes her last. 

Dilip Kumar

Dilip Kumar & Vyjayanthimala

Dilip Kumar acted with Vyjayanthimala in seven films - Devdas (1955), Naya Daur (1957), Madhumati (1958), Paigham (1959), Gunga Jumna (1961), Leader (1964) and Sunghursh (1968). Their pairing as Devdas-Chandramukhi (Devdas), Anand-Madhumati (Madhumati) and Gungaram-Dhanno (Gunga Jumna) was the stuff of epic romances.  “Kaun kambakht bardasht karne ke liye peeta hai,” tells a woebegone Devdas to soulmate Chandramukhi. Not only did Dilip’s dialogue become iconic but so did the Devdas-Chandramukhi equation, repeated in several films including Muqaddar Ka Sikandar. The pair’s onscreen chemistry led to rumours of an off-screen romance, denied by both. Soon there was a fallout between them due to Vyjayanthimala’s apparent proximity with Dilip’s contender Raj Kapoor. “The dates for Leader clashed with Sangam. Both wanted massive dates… It was a professional rivalry. I was caught in the crossfire,” wrote Vyjayanthi in her biography. In fact, their strained relations during Leader kept tabloids busy. Vyjayanthi, who had shot for Ram Aur Shyam (1967) for about eight days, was soon replaced by Waheeda Rehman. Their last film together was Sunghursh (1968). They reportedly didn’t speak to each other for years later. “These things happen. It’s good to forget the controversies. I just remember the wonderful times we had working together,” the actress said in a Filmfare interview. Songs like Maang ke saath tumhara (Naya Daur), Dil tadap tadap ke (Madhumati), Jise to qabool karle (Devdas)… are a hark back to a beautiful innings.

Dilip Kumar

Dilip Kumar & Meena Kumari

 Dilip Kumar and Meena Kumari were known as the ‘Tragedy King’ and ‘Tragedy Queen’ of Indian cinema respectively. But in Azaad (1955) and Kohinoor (1960), the two did a volte face and appeared in cheery roles. Given his obsession with sadness, Dilip, as therapy, was advised to do light-hearted fare. Dilip writes in his book, “I enjoyed the making of Kohinoor also for the camaraderie that grew between Meena Kumari and me after Azaad as we, who were known for our forte with emotional drama and tragedy, came together for another light-hearted film.” They also acted together in Foot Path (1953) and Yahudi (1958). Hit songs like Madhuban mein Radhika (Kohinoor), Kitna haseen hai mausam (Azad), Yeh mera deewaana pan (Yahudi) and Shaam-e-gham ki kasam (Footpath) comprise their repertoire.

Dilip Kumar


Dilip Kumar & Kamini Kaushal

Kamini Kaushal paired with a young Dilip Kumar in Shaheed (1947), Nadiya Ke Paar and Shabnam (both in 1948) and Arzoo (1950). Theirs was a chemistry of contrasts, his take being nuanced, her tenor being natural.  The two fell in love on the set of Shaheed. But Kamini already being married (she married brother-in-law BS Sood, chief engineer at the Bombay Port Trust, after older sister Usha, died in a car accident leaving behind two daughters), had to veer away from the relationship. Years later, Dilip mentioned that he was ‘shattered’ with the parting, Kamini being his first love. Kamini too revealed in a Filmfare interview, “We were both shattered. We were very happy with each other. Everyone falls in love… But I had taken on the girls. I wouldn’t be able to show my face to my sister. My husband, a fine human being, understood why it happened.” Songs like Aye dil mujhe aisi jagah (Arzoo), Badnaam na ho jaaye mohabbat (Shaheed), Tumhare liye hue badnam (Shabnam) that featured them remain popular even today.

Dilip Kumar

Nimmi on Dilip Kumar

Nimmi and Dilip Kumar did five films together in the ’50s - Aan, Amar, Deedar, Daag and Uran Khatola. She explained the magnetism of his personality in an interview with Filmfare saying, “God has blessed Dilip saab with a maqnatis (magnet). Everyone got pulled towards him. I was also pulled towards him. Mujhe bhi woh bahut pasand the. Unke aashiq hum bhi the. I was his fan too… Beautiful women – like Madhubala and others were in love with him. How could I ever be at par with them? I’d have been left heartbroken had I desired something unattainable.”

Saira shared in an interview that she feels cherished when Dilip today confesses to her, “The care you have given me, not even my mother was able to.” Saira summed up their bond saying, “I live to love him.”  The autumnal glow falling softly on this real-life couple… theirs is a story to behold and be retold

Dilip Kumar