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When Dilip Kumar starred as the businessman turned vigilante, Azaad

Before Bruce Wayne, there was Khan Sahib. Back in 1955, Dilip Kumar took on the mantle of a self-appointed defender who protects his town from criminals.

Sonal Pandya

Before the West ever brought the iconic character of Batman to life onscreen, director S.M.S. Naidu's Azaad (1955) starring Dilip Kumar and Meena Kumari, featured a crime-fighting hero who also masqueraded as a businessman. The film was a remake of his own Malai Kallan (1954), a Tamil feature, from Pakshiraja Studio with M.G. Ramachandran as the lead. Kumar played the philanthropist Khan Sahib Abdul Rahim turned vigilante Azaad à la Bruce Wayne's Batman. By day, he is the respectable Muslim businessman, Khan Sahib, but by night, he sets out to protect the small town against thieves and murderers.

Dilip Kumar as Khan Sahib

Along with a dual identity, Dilip Kumar's Azaad has a Robin Hood complex, he steals from the rich to give to the poor. The winsome Dilip Kumar seems to be having a gala time in the film as he changes garbs and characters. His romantic interest Shobha, unlike many women of her time, doesn't want to meekly marry any man. She makes it very clear that she will chose her own husband. And her handsome rescuer does have many redeeming qualities.

Dilip Kumar as Azaad

This early crime fighter has a secret hideout is in the caves, but unlike Gotham's masked avenger, he's not a loner. He has help from various quarters and an understanding relationship with Raj Mehra's Police Inspector, kind of like Commissioner Jim Gordon, whom he consults several times during the film. His rival is Chander, an actual thief, who is aiding Sunder, a disreputable man played by Pran, wanting to marry Shobha. And as  befitting a Hindi film finale, Azaad's origins are rearranged to make him worthy of the hand of Shobha as once again there is a lost and found element to this story by the noted Tamil poet Namakkal.

Meena Kumari and Dilip Kumar

The spry Azaad has a penchant for never entering through the front door and he seems to be in several places at once. Exhaustingly, there is a musical number every few minutes. Despite high drama, the lead pair has time to sing and dance along the way. This was the second time that Dilip Kumar and Meena Kumari were paired together after Foot Path (1953), a precursor to the lighthearted Kohinoor (1960) that was to follow.

Azaad has successful compositions by C Ramachandra, who took on the assignment when Naushad turn director SMS Naidu wanted the songs finished in a month. C Ramachandra scored ten songs within 30 days including hits like 'Aplam chaplam' picturised on actors-dancers Sayee and Subbulakshmi and many hit solos such as 'Radha na bole na bole re' picturised on a radiant, smiling Meena Kumari.

Kumar is known for many of dramatic characters from Devdas to Prince Salim, but there were a few films like Azaad (1955), Kohinoor (1960) and Ram Aur Shyam (1967) where he allowed his lighter side to shine.