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Dilip Kumar, Bollywood’s great “Tragedy King”, dies at the age of 98

Bollywood icon Dilip Kumar, hailed as the “Tragedy King” and one of the greatest actors in Hindi cinema, died in a hospital in Mumbai on Wednesday after a prolonged illness. He was 98.

The title “Tragedy King” emerged from Kumar’s numerous serious roles. In several, his character died as a frustrated lover and drunkard. He was also known as Bollywood’s only method actor for his expressive performances that identified a character’s emotions.

Kumar was hospitalized twice last month after complaining of breathlessness and his family tweeted “with a heavy heart and deep sadness” the announcement of his death.


Seasoned Bollywood actor Dilip Kumar (right) receives a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 54th National Film Award ceremony in New Delhi, India on September 2, 2008.  (AP Photo / Gurinder Osan, file)

Seasoned Bollywood actor Dilip Kumar (right) receives a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 54th National Film Award ceremony in New Delhi, India on September 2, 2008. (AP Photo / Gurinder Osan, file)

“Dilip Kumar will be remembered as a film legend. He was blessed with an unprecedented brilliance that has delighted audiences for generations. His death is a loss to our cultural world, ”said Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a tweet, who also expressed condolences to Kumar’s family and admirers.

“An institution is gone,” tweeted Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan. “Whenever the history of Indian cinema is written, it should always be ‘before Dilip Kumar, and after Dilip Kumar’ ..”

“It’s the end of an era,” said filmmaker Madhur Bhandarkar.

He was born on December 11, 1922 as Muhammad Yusuf Khan, a Muslim. His Pathan family came from Peshawar, in what is now Pakistan, which became after the partition of Pakistan, and he visited his ancestral home in the late 1980s.

Kumar was also very popular with cinema lovers in Pakistan.

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan said he was sad to hear of Kumar’s death. “For my generation, Dilip Kumar was the greatest and most versatile actor,” he tweeted.

Khan also recalled Kumar’s generosity in raising funds in Pakistan and London for a foundation to build cancer hospitals in memory of his mother.

He changed his name when he made his debut in 1944 with “Jwar Bhata” or “Sea Tides” in Bollywood, the Hindi-language film industry centered in Mumbai.

His career spanned over six decades with over 60 films. His first big box office hits were “Jugnu” or “Firefly” in 1947, in which he played alongside Noor Jehan, and in 1948 the film “Shaheed” or “Martyr”.

He played a variety of characters – a romantic hero in “Andaz”, a daredevil in “Aan”, a dramatic drunkard in “Devdas”, a comical role in “Azaad”, a Muslim prince in the historical epic “Mughal-e- Azam “and a robber in the social movie” Ganga Jamuna “.


Mehboob Khan’s 1952 blockbuster “Aan” was his first Technicolor film and was one of a series of light-hearted roles he took on at the suggestion of his psychiatrist to shed his Tragedy King image.

He starred in many social drama films such as “Footpath”, “Naya Daur” (“New Era”), “Musafir” (“Traveler”) and “Paigham” (“Message”) in the 1950s.

His top female co-stars included Madhubala, Nargis, Nimmi, Meena Kumari, Kamini Kaushal, and Vyjanthimala.

In 1966 Dilip Kumar married Saira Banu, 22 years his junior, who appeared in “Gopi”, “Sagina Mahato” and “Bairaag”. They didn’t have children.

In 1961 he produced and played in “Ganga Jamuna” in which he and his brother Nasir Khan played the title roles. It was the only film he made. According to Indian media reports, he turned down the role of Sherif Ali in David Lean’s “Lawrence of Arabia” in 1962. The role went to the Egyptian actor Omar Sharif.

At the end of the 1970s he took a break, but returned in 1981 with a character role in the successful “Kranti” or “Revolution”. He continued to play key roles in such films as “Shakti”, “Karma” and “Saudagar”. His last film was “Qila” (“Fort”) in 1998.


In 1994 he received the “Dadasaheb Phalke” award, the highest honor for services to Indian cinema. He also served in the Upper House of India’s Parliament after being nominated for a six-year term.

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