The grand old man of Hindi cinema, Dilip Kumar turns 90 today. His last film, Qilla (1998), released 14 years ago and had he known that his swansong wouldn’t be the ideal parting gift, he would have worked in a few more films before calling it quits. His last film notwithstanding, a better part of Dilip Saheb’s life has been a dedication to cinema that features many great performances that simply outnumber the misfires.
2012 is a very fascinating year for Hindi cinema as some of its best-known faces crossed important milestones. If Dilip Kumar turned 90 this year, Yash Chopra, one who loved Hindi films the most, turned 80 just a few months before his untimely death, it’s biggest icon Amitabh Bachchan turned 70 and Rishi Kapoor, the last of the old school, turned 60. Is there something unique about these men that make them different from not just their contemporaries but also people half their age? It wasn’t like Dilip Saheb wasn’t offered films in the last two decades but he chose not to do anything that wouldn’t do justice to his stature and perhaps that was the reason that he practically retired by the time he turned 70, a few months shy of his second last release, Saudagar in 1991.
At 70 Bachchan is enjoying the busiest phase of his career and at 80 Yash Chopra was as passionate about Jab Tak Hai Jaan (2012) as he was when he directed his first film. If Dilip Saheb’s age were the flag post to measure an actor’s career, then one can easily look forward to not only Bachchan’s films in the next two decades but also Rishi Kapoor’s. One of the best things to have happened to Hindi cinema in the recent past is the promise Rishi Kapoor has shown in his new avtar. Hindi cinema’s eternal lover-boy, Kapoor’s transition from the hero to the supporting act hadn’t been a smooth one. It took a lot of false starts but once Kapoor found his groove he delivered one superlative performance after the others in Love Aaj Kal, Do Dooni Chaar, and Agneepath, where he played the villain. Like a better part of his career where Kapoor had to work hard to make his presence felt amongst stars like Rajesh Khanna, Amitabah Bachchan and then Jeetendra in the 1980s, Kapoor today has managed to fill a slot that is a tad too old for Bachchan or Dharmendra, too lost for Vinod Khanna or Shatrughan Sinha and too young for Anil Kapoor, Jackie Shorff and Sunny Deol. He is one of the few actors today who would be as comfortable to play the hero’s father as he would be in a mature romance and for the first time he’s free to play true character parts like Lallan Miyan, the affable paanwala in the Chasme Budoor remake.
It’s not just these three actors from different generations turning a corner in the same year that makes 2012 unique for Hindi cinema. The year, when the thespian turns 90, finds the entire present generation of Bollywood’s biggest stars at the halfway mark. At 47 Aamir, Salman, Shah Rukh already look tired and at 43 both Ajay Devgn and Akshay Kumar are fast running out of ideas. They may have been around for over two decades and find their hits getting bigger with each release but to think that they’d be making films for the next three to four decades isn’t as exciting a prospect as one would imagine. Out of the five, Aamir might somewhere still manage to make a transition but looking at films like Ghajini (2008) or 3 Idiots (2009) one is confused whether he refuses to acknowledge his age or is behaving like a candle that burns fervently for it burns the brightest before going out. With Wanted (2008), Dabangg (2010), Ready (2011) and Ek Tha Tiger (2012) Salman, today, is more of a genre than an actor and the thing with genres is that they might not last forever. And just how many deviations of Golmaal can Devng imagine before we’d have enough?
One look at what the present day stars have to offer and you know that the idea of replacing Dilip Kumar can’t even exist as a thought.
Dilip Kumar turned 90 on 11, December 2012
Born a cinephile and a close observer of society, the author is an award-winning documentary filmmaker/writer. He is a regular contributor to leading Indian publications and is currently working on his first book. Find out more about him here.
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