By Harsh Thakor*
On his 99th birthday, there is reason to recall how legendary Dilip Kumar portrayed what today are qualified as neo-Marxist themes, or rebellion against injustice. Possibly even in this respect, none surpassed his talent.
An often forgotten movie was ‘Footpath’ which was a classic in it’s own right in conveying realism and championing Marxist spirit. Such films are relevant even in this day and age, with people becoming a slave of the environment, and lured by corruption. I rank it personally as the most progressive or realistic film of Dilip Kumars, projecting a Socialist theme. Poignancy was taken to regions rarely explored. I really admire the direct style of the projection of the theme, with sparse element of melodrama.
However entertaining or artistic Raj Kapoor films like ‘Awaara’ and ‘Shri 420’ have a considerable element of melodrama and lack the subtlety of movies like footpath in portraying social reality. It keeps a spectator detached and not get carried away. The film blended all the different elements in total package, like colours in a rainbow. The movie projected the dichotomy between crass materialism and idealism and how society literally makes a man sell his soul. It was also living proof that capitalism could not kill the rebellious spirit in man.
Dilip Kumar as Noshua convincingly portrays a young and idealistic man who diverges from his path, but still does not at the cost of morality. Even though Noshu indulges in black marketing, the journalist in him does not extinguish, and that is why he is determined to expose the grain hoarders and black marketeers by rebuilding them adopting a pen name. The movie portrays the various colours of Noshua and the manner he is transformed from a simple journalist into a millionaire with guilt written all over him. The dialogues, relevant even in today’s era, and their piercing delivery by Dilip Kumar make the movie a remarkable watch.
In film ‘Footpath’ Dilip Kumar portrayed the ebb and flow or flux in fortunes in a man’s life and how circumstances transform him in the very thick of the skin of the character .Most natural acting projecting human psychology in the mist of troubled times. The sheer movement of his eyes would tell the story. His range of expressions remind one of different works of a sculptor ,blending anger ,frustration ,despair, grief and joy.Dilip Saab proved he was master in enacting a character role in a social film. I doubt any Indian actor resembled Marlin Brando as much.
I wish a modified form of this movie could be reproduced today in accordance with the times. It could touch the core of the soul of the masses in days when globalization has patronized narcasm and materialism at an unprecedented height. Compassion has literally been thrown into a dustbin. Today it is routine to witness youth trapped in lure for wealth and totally abandon spirit of serving society. Manipulation is the order of the day. In the various movements like naxalbari or JP movement of the 1970’s, spirit of youth was channelized towards idealism.
Other progressive movies of Dilip Kumar
Even in ‘Mashaal’ and ’Mazdoor’ later in his career, Dilip Kumar took intensity of morality to magnified proportions Even if emotional he never lost touch with the essence of the character. Hard to visualize any star of that period emote as intensely or artistically. His burning intensity rekindled memories of his heydays. Above all he proved his mastery in projecting realism in a most detached manner.
In ‘Mashaal’ directed by Yash Chopra, it has Dilip Kumar as an angry old man who, troubled by the corrupt system, first starts a newspaper that targets corruption and is later forced by circumstances to take up arms. Anil Kapoor stars as his protégé. Dilip Kumar who was in his 60s at the time portrayed anguish in magnitude of rare proportions and portrayed how anger was channelized into a weapon to confront injustice. Most artistically he portrays how circumstances transform the life of a man.
In ‘Mazdoor’, directed by Ravi Chopra, Dilip Kumar was a commerce union chief who fought in opposition to Suresh Oberoi’s insurance policies. The son of Mr. Sinha) changes everything in order to maximize profits. This brings him into conflict with his employees including Dinanath Saxena.,enacted by Dilip Kumar.When Dinanath openly confronts Hiralal in a public meeting, Hiralal wants him to tender a written apology, but Dinanath instead resigns and decides to open his very own mill with the help of a struggling Engineer, Ashok Mathur. They do eventually succeed, go into production, hire employees, and soon earn a good reputation. Dinanath gets his daughter, Meena, married to Ashok, who becomes a housewife, much to the chagrin of Smita, the daughter of multi-millionaire Kundanlal Batra, who had expected Ashok to marry her. She soon concocts a scheme to bring discord in the Mathur family, and also ensure Ashok’s ruin. Rarely have I witnessed an actor expressing conviction in as volcanic proportions or project capitalist oppression as Dilip Kumar when replying to his employer, addressing workers or his final speech in the film. Even in intensity or agnony he is as natural as the flow in water, in the very thick of the skin of the character.
It is ironic that one of Dilip Saab’s most progressive portrayals in film ‘Sagina’ was hardly respected. Based on Bengali writer-activist Gour Kishore Ghosh’s account of another activist colleague, Sagina is the Hindi remake of the Bengali film Sagina Mahato (1971). Both films had the same lead pair, Dilip and Saira Banu. The star was in his fifth decade when the film was released but he remained as lively or melodious as ever. His portrayal of a free-spirited man dictated by fortune to become the leader of the oppressed remains one of his best performances.“Sagina”, which took four years in the making, and remaking, thanks to the thespian, turned out to be not a patch on the original. It also seemed to be a mellowed version of the Bengali “Sagina Mahato” (1970) by the same set of producers . Quoting “The Hindu”, “We do get to see vintage Dilip Kumar in four or five scenes: the telephone sequence; while addressing the workers from the hillock; when he pleads with police to release the associate who killed the rapist at his provocation; when he calls for a strike; when he confronts the mill owner; the scene with Aparna Sen when the two talk about their families and childhood, and the short climax. Otherwise, we see the thespian at his loudest, though the subject demanded a sober enactment of the role of a factory worker manipulated by the owners into becoming a labour leader.”
Critique of Dilip Kumar
However classical many of Dilip Kumar’s films projected seeking justice within the social order itself, unlike the best films of Raj Kapoor. Afterall Dilip Saab championed Nehruvian socialism. I regret Dilip did not project a movie challenging the repressive social order itself, to the extent of Balraj Sahni. Even if his intensity or sensitivity may have transcended regions unexplored both ‘Naya Daur’ and ‘Ganga Jamuna’ did not script an essay of rebellion against the system. I differ with analysts who classify films like ‘Naya Daur’, ‘Leader’ or ‘Azaad ‘ as those with Neo-Marxist themes. Even if expressing shades of realism and being progressive, the themes do not portray rebellion against feudalism.
Probing into the period when Dilip Saab’s career had a setback in the early 1970s, one finds that he resurrected like a phoenix from the ashes. Film ‘Kranti’ paved the path for his comeback. It was living proof that he was morally head and shoulders above everyone.
The saddest blot on Dilip Kumar’s career was his supporting the 1975 emergency unlike Dev Anand. I give some credence to Naseerudin Shah’s view that he later danced to the tune of the times and did not back a radical art form. I regret that Dilip Saab could not champion art films like Naseerudin Shah or Om Puri in his later career. Arguably he was apologetic and not vocal about the ethical degeneration of stars and movies in Bollywood and did not raise his voice on issues like globalization. Iraq war, etc.Ofcourse I greatly appreciate the moral solidarity he gave to the Muslim minority after Babri Masjid demolition and his boldness in expressing disgust.