On Friday evening, in a conversation with author and critic Saif Mahmood for Link Legal’s Beyond Law, Naseeruddin Shah took a trip down memory lane and shared a few anecdotes about the legendary Dilip Kumar. He also spoke about cinema, theatre, and art in current times.
Remembering Dilip Kumar
Even though he was more fascinated with cinema from the West growing up, Naseer recalled watching Dilip Kumar's movies, as he thought they were always a cut above the rest, especially his performances.
“My father was the Deputy Collector at Nainital when we were small, he was posted there. He never saw Hindi movies. He never allowed us to see Hindi movies, except for Mr Dilip Kumar’s movies. I think he had a secret, deep admiration for him. So, I remember seeing films like Uran Khatola, Azaad, Kohinoor, and Insaniyat when I was a child.”
Reminiscing the days when he had started as a young actor in then Bombay, he spoke about how he would sleep at a Zari factory at night and wander around in the day making rounds of the studios.
“I didn’t give a thought to what my parents were going through. I never wrote them a letter. They had no idea where I was. They didn’t even know if I was alive”, Naseer said.
"Finally, they got in touch with, as luck would have it, Mr Dilip Kumar, who my father happened to know through his eldest sister, Sakina Aapa, who used to come to Ajmer, where my father was the administrator of Dargah Garib Nawaz. They found me sitting on the pavement and packed me off home, but not before I spent a week or so at Mr Dilip Kumar's house”, he added.
The actor recalled approaching Dilip Kumar with trembling legs to tell him about his dreams only to be dismissed. “I think you should go back and study. People from good families should not try to become actors”, he was told.
“I didn’t ask him how he’d become an actor in that case”, Shah chuckled
“Dilip Saab was something else”, he answered on being asked if he ever bought it up with Dilip Kumar later. “I didn’t have the courage, I was too awed by him, like every other actor in India. He was above all”.
When Mr Shah finally got a chance to do a film (Karma) with him, he was terribly nervous.
“That's the only time I think I have been nervous while acting in my life. Most of the time, I was too terrified to even approach him, apart from greeting him in the mornings.”
Last week, on account of suspected pneumonia, Naseeruddin Shah was in the same hospital as Dilip Kumar. He expressed how touched he was when Saira Banu came to visit him.
“She put her hand on my head and blessed me and said — Sahab was asking about you. I was deeply moved. I wanted to meet him before I left. But unfortunately, the day I left, he also left.”
Naseeruddin Shah also spoke about cinema and theatre at length. He expressed how he has always had doubts about viewing films as art or a medium of change. He believes that they are a record of their times.
“It is the only medium that can capture life as it is, which is why I felt a responsibility to participate in films which try to present an accurate picture of their times. For the sake of posterity, it is important that we do that.”
“It will be a terrible tragedy if a hundred years from now, people wanted to know what the India of 2021 was like and they stumbled upon a popcorn confectionary kind of a film with 16 songs and 25 dances, and got an impression that this is what people in India did in 2021”, he added.
The actor also commented on cinema in India not being taken seriously by intellectuals as it still suffers from the influence of the past of imitation.
"The day will come, I think, though it may yet be far away when cinema will be in our country will be given the status it deserves — of being an important document of its times", he said.