December 11, 2001, sees Yusuf Khan, known as Dilip Kumar, enter his 80th year.
Almost three-fourths of this long period has been spent enriching Hindi cinema with a variety of roles -- a romantic, Mogul emperor Salim, a thief, a don, a tycoon, a village tangawala, freedom fighter, idealistic cop, singer, an urban man-on-the make and farmer.
From Jwar Bhata way back in 1944 to the dual role Qila in 1998 and the forthcoming Asar - The Impact, Dilip Kumar has done it all.
Romancing heroines from Mumtaz, Noorjahan, Nargis, Nimmi, Nadira and Kamini Kaushal to Rekha and Raakhee, he has proved that good artistes do not fade away, they just mature into stellar characters artistes.
His directors spanned from Mehboob Khan to Subhash Ghai, Ramesh Sippy, Umesh Mehra and Kuku Kohli. And the songs (with Naushad leading a bevy of composers and Mohammad Rafi, the singers) ranged from patriotic calls and romance to bhangra and -- for a Muslim -- some of Hindi cinema's finest bhajans.
It is very simple to understand how and why Dilip Kumar became a megastar.
Known along with Dev Anand and Raj Kapoor as one of the trinity of Hindi cinema, Dilip Kumar also became, for aspiring as well as established actors, a role model. Heroes like Manoj Kumar and Rajendra Kumar unabashedly imitated him.
The first title bestowed on Dilip Kumar was that of Tragedy King. Mela (1948) saw him break new ground in Hindi cinema as a young man reflecting the aspirations of neo-Independent youth. Here was a hero, barely six films old, with a face that mirrored frustration and romance, rebellion and submission, joy and tragedy.
It was a welcome change from the mature heroes. His distinct hairstyle, modulated voice and agile face made the camera convey the emotional voltage through his expressions alone.
In the same year, Dilip Kumar became the martyr to the cause of freedom in Ramesh Saigal's Shaheed, and reached new heights of romance and fatalism in Andaz (1949), Babul, Jogan (1950) and Deedar (1951).
Even while doing up to five films a year, Dilip Kumar was no lightweight actor. His reputation as 'The Great Mumbler' (as one scribe termed him) was built on the foundation of conscious performances where every physical and vocal nuance was pre-meditated as per the needs of the script.
Even as Raj Kapoor built up his image as the lovable tramp and Dev as the urban sophisticate, Dilip thrived on histrionics, doing villainy (Footpath) with the same zest as the cheerful Shabnam.
Gradually, his success as the loser in love began to take a toll on the actor's psyche, thanks to his intense concentration on his roles. He had to seek psychiatric counselling. The therapy was simple, stern and strict -- stay away from tragedy on celluloid as if it was the plague.
For Dilip, this was exactly what was needed to achieve lasting immortality as a thespian par excellence. He did the musical entertainer Aan, and essayed the reborn lover of Madhumati.
Quite naturally, he did tragedy again in Devdas (1955). In the same year, he wowed audiences with Azaad, Uran Khatola and Insaniyat and Naya Daur in 1957.
The phase from 1955 to 1967 was marked by great versatility. Besides, films like Paigham, Yahudi, Madhumati, Kohinoor, he had two major flops in Leader and Dil Diya Dard Liya, and three of his biggest hits in Mughal-e-Azam (1960), his home production Ganga Jamuna (1961) and Ram Aur Shyam (1967).
During this time, much happened on the personal front too. His affair with Madhubala ended in a court case by the actress' father that compelled BR Chopra to replace her with Vyjayanthimala Bali in Naya Daur.
He turned down a V Shantaram film, spent eight years working exclusively with Vyjayanthimala and Waheeda Rehman. But he ended up cutting ties with Vyjayanthimala as she allegedly latched on to Raj Kapoor in Sangam.
Finally, at 44, Dilip took the matrimonial plunge in 1966 marrying actress Saira Banu, half his age.
After Ram Aur Shyam, except for the Madras potboiler Gopi (1970) with costar Saira Banu and Mahendra Kapoor as main singer, no other film clicked at the box office.
Dilip reduced work to one or two films at a time, being attracted to various other interests like literature, theatre and comparative religions. In 1976, he did Bairaag, in which he had a triple role. During this time, Dilip had a shortlived second marriage with Asma.
Every upcoming filmmaker and star wanted to do at least one film with the Dadasaheb Phalke award laureate, despite the intimidating reputation of Dilip becoming the ghostwriter and director of his films -- which was one of the main reasons for the decline in his films.
Diehard Dilip fans Manoj Kumar and Ramesh Sippy set his career back on track with their homage to him -- Kranti (1981) and Shakti. In fact, Subhash Ghai gave him his biggest trilogy of blockbusters -- Vidhaata, Karma and Saudagar.
Dilip soon realised that a good script and non-interference were the keys to success. For a while, he became the angry old man out for revenge in typical 1980s ventures like Duniya, Mashaal, Karma and K Bapaiah's Izzatdaar.
Even today, scripts are being thought of with Dilip Kumar in the key role. Even though his directorial debut Kalinga lies in the doldrums, the actor dons the greasepaint again with Kuku Kohli's Asar -- The Impact.
And its young leading lady Priyanka Chopra says, "I am glad that the film took off so late. Now, I have been signed and I have the chance to work with Dilipsaab this early in my career."
That is the asar Dilip Kumar has on every generation.