Dilip Kumar: India and its diaspora grieve the 'tragedy king'

Credit: AP/Press Association Images

Bollywood may have become a global box office success story in recent decades but many will tell you its golden age was long ago - from the 1940s to the 1960s.

And Dilip Kumar was amongst those who reigned supreme. He was the first person I remember my mother telling me she swooned over as a girl growing up in pre- and post-Independance India.

She insisted we watched his films - Andaz, where he acted alongside India's first true megastar golden couple Raj Kapoor and Nargis Dutt, and Devdas, remade decades later with one of modern Bollywood’s most successful stars Shah Rukh Khan. Khan later admitted no one could possibly have followed Kumar in that role.

Then there was Mughal-e-Azam, in 1960, which made headlines for its then huge budget - dwarfed by those of today - a historic love story, set in Mughal times in which he played the future Emperor Jahangir, a film that held the box office record for Indian cinema for years.

These remain amongst the most gorgeous films I’d ever seen. We’d have to get up in the early hours to watch the movies - this was pre Zee TV and the prevalence of Indian film channels we have - BBC 2 sometimes screened the films. It was an absolute godsend for the Asian diaspora.

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Dilip Kumar was simply a great actor, deservedly winning a record breaking number of awards. He chose his parts carefully, and was known for his impeccable delivery.

His was a rags to riches story. Born in what is now Pakistan, his real name was Muhammed Yusuf Khan. His arrival in film coincided with Indian independence, and together with the mighty Raj Kapoor, Dev Anand, Nargis, Madhubala and Meena Kumari, he would establish what we now call Bollywood - the world’s biggest film industry.

He would later marry Saira Banu, another film star - the picture of her grieving and being comforted by Shah Rukh Khan today is heartbreaking.

Saira Banu grieves her husband. Credit: AP

Kumar continued to act in the 70s and 80s - he shared the screen in Shakti with the then emerging Amitabh Bachchan, at a time when action, elaborate fight scenes and the image of the angry young man were the prevalent themes in many films.

Epic though those films often are, my mother and I are not alone in returning time and again to the gently dramatic films Dilip Kumar starred in.

It is little wonder that India is grieving today - it feels like an era has ended for those of us whose links with a mother country were often through films.

As Amitabh Bachchan put it himself on social media today…”whenever the history of Indian Cinema will be written , it shall always be 'before Dilip Kumar, and after Dilip Kumar'