Bollywood ‘king of tragedy’ Dilip Kumar dies at 98

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Bollywood icon Dilip Kumar, hailed as the “king of tragedy” and one of the greatest actors in Hindi cinema, died Wednesday in a Mumbai hospital after a long illness. He was 98 years old.

The title “Tragedy King” came from Kumar’s many serious roles. In several, his character died as a frustrated lover and a drunkard. He was also known as the only actor in the Bollywood Method for his expressive performances identifying a character’s emotions.

Kumar was hospitalized twice last month after complaining of shortness of breath, and his family tweeted “with heavy hearts and deep sorrow” the news of his death.

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Veteran 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)
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Veteran 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 endowed with an unprecedented brilliance, thanks to which audiences of all generations were captivated. His passing is a loss to our cultural world,” said the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a tweet which offered his condolences to Kumar’s family and admirers.

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

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

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

Kumar was also very popular among moviegoers in Pakistan.

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

Khan also recalled Kumar’s generosity in helping to raise funds in Pakistan and London for a trust to establish cancer hospitals in memory of his mother.

It changed its name when it made its debut in Bollywood, the Hindi film industry centered in Mumbai, with “Jwar Bhata” or “Sea Tides” in 1944.

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 starred alongside Noor Jehan, and the 1948 film “Shaheed” or “Martyr”.

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

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

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

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

In 1966, Dilip Kumar married Saira Banu, who was 22 years younger than him, and the couple starred in “Gopi”, “Sagina Mahato” and “Bairaag”. They did not have children.

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

He took a hiatus in the late 1970s but returned with a character role in the hit movie “Kranti” or “Revolution” in 1981. He went on to play key roles in films such as “Shakti” , “Karma” and “Saudagar”. His last film was “Qila” (“Fort”) in 1998.

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In 1994 he received the “Dadasaheb Phalke” award, the highest honor for contributions to Indian cinema. He also served in the upper house of the Indian Parliament after being appointed for a six-year term.

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