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Dilip Kumar

From fruit seller to Bollywood’s Brando

Dinodia Photos/Getty Images

Dilip Kumar was Bollywood’s Marlon Brando, says Baradwaj Rangan in The New York Times. The actor, who died this week aged 98, was known as the “Tragedy King” and, like Brando, was a committed Method actor. Before one death scene, he sprinted around the studio so he could enter the set exhausted. For another, he stayed up all night to look haggard and stubbly. Eventually the strategy took its toll – Kumar became depressed. His psychiatrist suggested that he do comedies instead.

His career was an accident, says the Telegraph. He was born Muhammad Yusuf Khan, the son of a fruit seller and the shy fourth child of 12. “According to one story, he was in Nainital, northern India, buying produce for his father’s business when the celebrated actress Devika Rani spotted him. She wondered if he would consider acting. Kumar had only ever seen one film – a war documentary – so was hesitant. But the money swayed him. He picked a Hindu name to hide his Muslim background and became Dilip Kumar.

His influence in India was enormous, says The Times. His 60 films include the romantic drama Mughal-E-Azam, the highest-grossing film in Bollywood history. In the 1950s, the parliament in Delhi complained that his “luxuriant hairstyle” and “playboy looks” were “corrupting the nation’s morality”. After Kumar played a heartbroken man who dies of tuberculosis, “healthy young men prayed to get TB”, wrote the Bollywood screenwriter Kamlesh Pandey. “Dilip Kumar made unrequited love and sacrifice fashionable for an entire generation.”