Dilip Kumar and his leading ladies

Since 1944, the thespian has acted opposite almost all of Hindi cinema’s finest actresses. We celebrate his 94th birthday by looking back at the actresses with whom he created magic onscreen.

Sonal Pandya

With his debut in Amiya Chakrabarty’s Jwar Bhata (1944) to his last film in 1998, Qila, actor Dilip Kumar has appeared in a few comedies, been especially lauded for his dramatic work and essayed characters which actors till today hold as the high standard in industry. Througout his career, he has also been fortunate to act opposite the best actresses of the industry from Kamini Kaushal to Nutan. The five actresses listed below – Nargis, Vyjayanthimala, Madhubala, Meena Kumari and Saira Banu – were all part of some of Kumar’s best pairings onscreen.

1. Dilip Kumar and Nargis

While Nargis is more well-known for her star pairing with Raj Kapoor, she acted with Dilip Kumar in seven films from Anokha Pyar (1948) to Deedar (1951). Of course, Andaz (1949), a love triangle with Nargis, Kumar and Raj Kapoor stands out for its casting coup. Kumar plays Dilip, a young man who falls in love with Nargis’s forward-thinking Neena, only to find out that she is already engaged to another man, Rajan (Kapoor). The misunderstanding in their relationships causes grievous harm to all involved.

In his autobiography, Dilip Kumar: The Substance and the Shadow, Kumar wrote, “Nargis was no doubt a very capable actress who was getting better with every film. I could see that she had improved vastly when we were cast in Mehboob Khan’s Andaz (1949).” The two also acted together in Kidar Sharma’s Jogan (1950) in which Kumar played by a sceptic who falls for a jogan played by Nargis. In 1951, the multi-starrer Deedar with Kumar, Nargis, Ashok Kumar and Nimmi was yet another tragic tale where Kumar is the recipient of unrequited love.

2. Dilip Kumar and Vyjayanthimala

Like Nargis, Dilip Kumar acted with Vyjayanthimala in seven films - Devdas (1955), Naya Daur (1957), Madhumati (1958), Paigham (1959), Gunga Jumna (1961), Leader (1964), and Sunghursh (1968). But unlike his films with Nargis, his pairing with Vyjayanthimala was more well-known. He and Vyjayanthimala played Devdas-Chandramukhi, Anand-Madhumati and Gungaram-Dhanno in the more significant films of Kumar’s career.

Their onscreen chemistry was evident to all who view these films but the two firmly denied any rumours of an affair offscreen. The two last appeared with each other in Sunghursh (1968) and had a falling out during the making. They reportedly didn’t speak to one another for years even though they were on friendly terms with each other’s spouses.

3. Dilip Kumar and Madhubala

A long-time bachelor until he married Saira Banu in 1966 at age 44, Dilip Kumar was linked up with many of his co-stars in the industry including Madhubala. The two were reportedly close to getting married but when Madhubala backed out of the shooting of Naya Daur (1957) leading to a court case where Kumar spoke in defence of the producer, it caused a rift that took ages to heal. During the filming of K Asif’s Mughal-E-Azam (1960), they did not speak to each other off set. Onscreen, they created one of the most romantic scenes in Hindi cinema when Salim caresses Anarkali with a feather.

Of their early films (they acted together in only four films), Kumar said in his book, “I was able to attain that ease with Madhubala in Tarana (1951), which has remained, for many reasons, one of the films I would count among the memorable ones I have done in the early years of my career. She was a vivacious artiste and was so instantaneous in her responses that the scenes became riveting even when they were being filmed.”

4. Dilip Kumar and Meena Kumari

Dilip Kumar and Meena Kumari were both known for their for their tragic, melodramatic films and were unofficially known as the ‘Tragedy King’ and ‘Tragedy Queen’ of Indian cinema. In Azaad (1955) and Kohinoor (1960), the two appeared in relatively cheerful roles. Kumar himself admitted in his book, “I enjoyed the making of Kohinoor also for the camaraderie that grew between me and Meena Kumari after Azaad as we, who were known for our forte with emotional drama and tragedy, came together for another light-hearted film.” They also acted together in Foot Path (1953) and Yahudi (1958).

5. Dilip Kumar and Saira Banu

When Dilip Kumar finally settled down with Saira Banu, the couple had an age difference of 22 years. All his films with Saira, Gopi (1970), Sagina (1974) and Bairaag (1976), were filmed after their marriage. In fact, Kumar called the experience of shooting Gopi “an extended honeymoon” for the couple.

Kumar said of his young wife, “She co-starred with me in three films and I saw her tenacity and determination to get the nuances and emotional curves of the performance right. In the two other films we did together, she had to bring to life characters that bore no resemblance to her real self or anyone she knew.”

Watch a video here of Kumar and his leading ladies here:

Video edited by Ankit Tripathi