Article Hindi

Milan (1946): The film that introduced Dilip Kumar to method acting

Released on 9 August 1946, the Bombay Talkies film was based on Tagore’s famous story, Noukadubi

Sukhpreet Kahlon

Dilip Kumar, actor par excellence, will always be remembered for his ability to absorb the character’s personality and bring it alive on screen. His acting prowess, together with his captivating dialogue delivery, enabled him to play different characters with finesse and sophistication.

However, in his early days in the film industry, Dilip Kumar was still understanding the nuances of acting and absorbing lessons from stalwarts in the field. Although he had started watching films diligently to observe the acting styles of renowned performers, he also realized that he had to find his own style.

Nitin Bose’s Milan (1946) was a pivotal film for the actor who wrote in his autobiography, The Substance and the Shadow, “I understood very early on, while I was at Bombay Talkies itself, following such films as Milan (1946), that I had to be my own inspiration and teacher and it was imperative to evolve with the passage of time.”

The film marked the first collaboration between Bose and Dilip Kumar. Bose had moved from the famous New Theatres in Calcutta to Bombay Talkies and the latter had become a hub for talent across all departments. With Anil Biswas’s music, Radhu Karmakar’s cinematography and Rabindranath Tagore’s powerful story, the film had a powerhouse of talent.

Based on Tagore’s well-known novel Noukadubi, the adaptation is signified by the opening credits which are featured in the book whose pages are being turned. Although set in 1905, the film informs us that the themes of the story are very relevant at the time it was being made.

Ramesh (Dilip Kumar) is a law student who is in love with the neighbour’s daughter, Hemnalini (Ranjana). However, Ramesh's father (KP Mukherjee) has arranged his son’s match with a poor widow's daughter, Sushila. Ramesh tries to convince his father about his feelings for Hemnalini, but his protestations fall on deaf ears as the father has given the girl’s mother his word.

Ramesh gets married and refuses to even look at his bride, to show his annoyance. The wedding party is headed back to their village by boat, but in a twist of fate, there is a storm and the boat capsizes. 

Ramesh's father dies and the new groom saves a woman thinking her to be his bride. The two are rescued, but he realizes that the woman is not Sushila but someone else named Kamala (Meera Misra). Caring and respectful towards Kamala’s fate, he does not inform her about the mistaken identity to save her from any embarrassment — and tries to search for her husband. However, the presence of a woman in his house raises questions and creates problems with Hemnalini’s family.

Torn between his love for his beloved and his duty towards his father, Ramesh has a pivotal role in the film. Although he isn’t portrayed as a strong-willed character, he is a decent, respectful man who does not take advantage of any of the women he becomes entangled with. This was very much in keeping with the progressive social films being made by Bombay Talkies and was reflected in the general attitude towards women in the film as well.

In one scene, Ramesh’s father scoffs at the suggestion that Sushila is not a very good-looking woman and retorts that a woman is known by the qualities she possesses and isn’t a butterfly or a flower whose looks should matter. In another instance, Ramesh insists that Kamala gets herself an education and sends her to boarding school for this purpose. Kamala sees herself as bringing ill-luck upon those who come close to her. However, the film dispels that notion as well, especially towards the end, when she is reunited with her actual husband.

In his autobiography, Dilip Kumar remarked about the tremendous influence both Bose and Devika Rani had on him as his early teachers. The star wrote, “While working with Nitin Bose during the making of Milan (1946), I understood how vital it is for an actor to get so close to the character that the thin line between the actor’s own personality and the imagined personality of the character gets ruthlessly rubbed off for the time when you are involved in the shooting.”

Bose asked Dilip Kumar to imagine the state of mind of the character and write about the feelings of the character for a particular scene, which enabled him to go beyond the lines in the script and into the psyche of the character. This process was a revelation for the young actor and marked the beginning of the character exploration that Dilip Kumar internalized and adopted, finding tremendous success on the screen.

“That was how Nitin-da groomed me," he recalled in his autobiography. "He explained that a good script always helped an actor to perform effectively, but there were areas beyond what was given to him in the script that were waiting to be explored by one who wished to rise above the given areas in his performance.”

Devika Rani, too, created the foundation for his acting methodology, advising him about the level of satisfaction that an actor needed to feel with a shot, “Devika Rani had advised me and all the actors she employed at Bombay Talkies that it was important to rehearse till a level of competence to perform was achieved. In the early years, it was a necessity for me to rehearse, but, even in the later years, her advice stayed with me when I had to match a benchmark I had mentally set for myself,” Dilip Kumar revealed.

In Milan, the actor portrayed effectively the anguish of a man caught in extraordinary circumstances. Although he finds himself between a rock and a hard place, he keeps his quandary to himself, mindful not to hurt the sentiments of anyone till all the facts become known, but as the audience we are privy to his state of turmoil. The lessons learnt at Bombay Talkies proved foundational for the actor who will remain immortal through his several memorable films in Hindi cinema.

Although Milan was not a great success at the box office, it was remade in Bengali as Noukadubi the following year. The director and actor went on to collaborate on other films like Deedar (1951) and the blockbuster hit Gunga Jumna (1961). Check out a clip from the film below. Click here to watch the full movie.