By Jawed Naqvi
30 July, 2014
I WAS looking for material to explain Sania Mirza’s trauma with Hindutva’s ultra-nationalists when I remembered that Dilip Kumar had undergone similar experiences, of being called a Pakistan sympathiser, even a Pakistani agent. It is another matter that Muslim zealots in both countries have targeted India’s most emulated movie icon for adopting a Hindu screen name instead of sticking to Yousuf Khan, which came with his Peshawari Muslim identity. So I picked up the thespian’s autobiography, which was released recently.
What I found in it was frustrating, however. There’s too much Saira Banu the wife and too little Madhubala the love of his life and very little of his Nehruvian politics in the book, The substance and the shadow. The miscued emphasis nudged me to the conclusion Majaaz Lucknavi arrived at 60 years ago over a Mirza Ghalib verse. ‘Ghalib-I-Khasta Ke Baghair Kaun Se Kaam Band Hain; Roiye Zaar-Zaar Kya, Kijiye Haaye-Haaye Kyun’. (‘The world hasn’t stopped if Ghalib has grown decrepit; Don’t mourn for him, don’t lose your wit’.) “Ye To Ghalib Ki Biwi Ka Sher Maloom Hota Hai,” observed an impish Majaaz, relishing the thought that it was the poet’s wife who may have authored the damning verse.
There were a few Dilip Kumar biographies before the legendary movie actor decided to speak for himself in his own words, if that is what he really did at 91 this year. If the previous biographies leaned on the actor’s articulate siblings for resource, this one surely has the wife’s imprint. By contrast, Lord Meghnad Desai’s book on the actor focuses on his Fabian socialist ideals and is aptly called Nehru’s hero: Dilip Kumar in the life of India. Movie buff and close family friend Bunny Reuben earlier wrote a ‘definitive biography’ of the man who was a darling of teeming millions for well over four decades.
To stay with the Majaaz logic, from the flap on the opening page, to the very last page of the book, where the dust cover folds over the hardback edition, there is Saira Banu writ large. I won’t saddle the reader with more of the mushy references to a seemingly happy and long conjugality. The book is crammed with that abiding sentiment barring a bit of relief in a photo caption, which announces that the celebrity couple were, in fact, married by a cleric named Qazi Murghey!
Let me just pick out two or three important topics that matter. That Dilip Kumar was a diligent actor whose talent was rooted in the hard work and many rehearsals he put in before the final take should be a lesson to all Indian actors who have striven and are still trying hard to copy him albeit with a minor chance of success. Let me stay with what he has to say about the love of his life, his miraculously beautiful heroine and utterly talented actress, Madhubala.
Of the four films he did with Madhubala, Kumar ranks Tarana (1951) as “among the memorable ones I have done in the early years of my career”. Madhubala was “a vivacious artiste and was so instantaneous in her responses that the scenes became riveting even when they were being filmed”. The narrative quickly drifts to the actor’s problems with doing too many tragic roles and his search for psychiatric help, which he found in a British doctor, to address his morbid countenance. Madhubala figures again several pages later, but in guarded prose.
“As an answer to this oft-repeated question straight from the horse’s mouth, I must admit that I was attracted to her both as a fine co-star and as a person who had some of the attributes I hoped to find in a woman at that age and time.” Madhubala “could draw me out of my shyness and reticence effortlessly”.
The announcement of their pairing in the magnum opus Mughal-i-Azam made sensational news in the early 1950s, when things went wrong between the two. “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.” Unbelievable reasons that went into the break-up — her father’s ego against his — have been done to death in all the biographies, and this one doesn’t offer a new perspective.
Another telling view on Madhubala: “I was truly relieved when we parted because I had also begun to get an inkling that it was all very well to be working together as artistes but in marriage it is important for a woman to be ready to give more than receive.” And then he cites his mother as an example of an ideal woman.
Dilip Kumar’s politics has been clearly more engaging, even defiant, than everything he is willing to reveal of his loves and heartbreaks. In the 1960s, during the trouble he had with the release of his self-produced Ganga Jamuna, a big hit, there was more than a hint of communal and bureaucratic obstruction. His home was raided, as was that of two of his Hindu friends, where transmitters were planted. In 1998, he was accorded the Nishan-i- Imtiaz by Pakistan. The Shiv Sena kicked up a furious row against his visit to Islamabad and Bal Thackeray “cast aspersions on my integrity and patriotism, which were uncalled for and hurt me deeply”.
Sania Mirza will see that the times were a lot less suffocating then. Yousuf Khan turned to Prime Minister Vajpayee, who urged him to go to Pakistan. “You are an artiste and as such you are not restrained by political or geographical barriers. You have been chosen for the humanitarian work you have done and your efforts to improve the relations between the two countries is well known.” Such are the vagaries of time; Madhubala’s and Saira Banu’s Eid became inevitably different. As will be Sania Mirza’s this time.
Jawed Naqvi is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi.