A sensitive actor known for his close involvement with the characters he portrayed, Dilip Kumar has expressed sadness at the flood calamity that has struck Chennai, the city in which he worked in films like Azad (1955), Paigam (1959), Ram Aur Shyaam (1967) and Aadmi (1968). Ironically, the tragedy that hit Chennai which he once considered making his second home, originated from the Chembarambakkam lake around which Dilip Saab used to take long evening walks in the sixties while mulling over the script, scenes and histrionics of the films he was involved in. No wonder Chennai’s flood of tears has shocked the thespian to the extent of scrapping celebrations on his birthday on December 11.
A lively break from the dark tragedies he was used to and against which his psychiatrist had recommended, came with Azad, made in Coimbatore and Chennai by noted studio owner and producer Sriramulu Naidu. Based on a novel written by the nationalist poet Ramalingam Pillai, Azad was special for Dilip Kumar not only because of its phenomenal success but also due to the producer’s accommodation in accepting all the ideas he suggested in generous measure. As the actor has reminisced, so enriching were his experiences at this phase of his career that he even found a latent flair for both Tamil and Telugu.
With Chennai’s own Bharatanatyam diva and celluloid star Vyjayanthimala figuring in hit after hit of Dilip Kumar starting with Devadas and including Madhumathi, Paigam, Naya Daur and Ganga Jumna, there was no shortage of gossip about a liaison between them. But perhaps what Dilip Kumar felt for Vyjayanthimala was more of appreciation and admiration for the way she worked hard under his guidance to graduate from being a beautiful dancer in films to a good actress. Vyjayanthimala has expressed in no uncertain terms her gratitude to Dilip Kumar in this matter.
But principally it was the movie moghul S. S. Vasan of Gemini Studio who made Dilip Kumar take a liking to Chennai and think of settling there. Dilip Kumar found Vasan genial and unassuming and bursting with delight at his involvement in their Paigam. Vasan and Dilip Kumar had become close friends and travelled over a great part of the state (Madras as it was called then).
The first trigger for Dilip Kumar thinking of settling in Madras came, self confessedly, when the producers in Bombay moved to restrict the independence of actors by forcing them to work only in one film at a time. Though Dilip Kumar agreed with the principle he viewed the move as encroaching on the rights of actors. His work for southern producer Nagi Reddy (Ram aur Shyam 1967) and producer-actor P. S. Veerappa (Aadmi 1968) required his presence in the city and so he said goodbye to Bombay for the time.
As the late writer Valampuri Somanathan, who was involved in Aadmi, related to me, Dilip Kumar was then put up in a rich Muslim gentleman’s bungalow in Valasarawakkam, then a quiet suburb adjacent to the Kodambakkam studios. He would take interest in the marriage of poor Muslim girls and fund their expenses. A few years hence, married to Saira Banu 20 years younger to him, Dilip Kumar starred in Gopi (1970) directed by Bhim Singh. He has related that it was a delightful experience for him and Saira, an extended honeymoon in which they were so romantically lodged by the producers in a sort of independent cottage in Kodambakkam. No wonder with so many wonderful memories of the city, Dilip Saab feels deeply shaken by the barrage that hit Chennai. The city needs the good wishes of many more like him.
(The writer is a historian of Tamil film music and has authored many works on Tamil cinema)