Just Like That | The lives, loves and legacies of Dilip Kumar, Raj Kapoor, and Dev Anand - Hindustan Times
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Just Like That | The lives, loves and legacies of Dilip Kumar, Raj Kapoor, and Dev Anand

Apr 21, 2024 01:47 PM IST

How the iconic trio who dominated Indian cinema in the 50s and 60s left an indelible mark on Bollywood.

If the three Khans — Shahrukh, Aamir and Salman — are considered the reigning kings of Bollywood today, there was another generation where a triumvirate was the unchallenged supremos: Dilip Kumar, Raj Kapoor and Dev Anand. While there are challengers to the Khans today — Ranbir Kapoor, Ranveer Singh and Akshay Kumar — in the 1950s and 60s, and even until the mid-70s, there was no actor, except perhaps Rajesh Khanna, who could unseat the golden trio.

(From L to R) Dev Anand, Raj Kapoor and Dilip Kumar (HT File) PREMIUM
(From L to R) Dev Anand, Raj Kapoor and Dilip Kumar (HT File)

Much has been written about who was the most popular or the most successful. Everyone seems to have a favourite. It is, indeed, a difficult choice to make, but the best way to remember them is not by comparison, but by what they were in terms of their style, acting methodology, and looks.

It is quite a coincidence that all three were born around the same time: Dilip Kumar in 1922, Dev Anand in 1923 and Raj Kapoor in 1924. All three hailed from what was then undivided Punjab. Anand was born in the Gurdaspur district but in the part which is now across the border. Kumar and Kapoor both came from Peshawar and even knew each other as children.

From struggle to stardom

Each of them had their trajectories of struggle before they attained stardom. When Dilip Kumar moved from Pakistan to India in 1932, he ran a non-descript dry fruit store and canteen in Pune for many years, entering films only in the late 40s. The road wasn’t easy for Anand either. His first job in Mumbai was for 66 in the military censor’s office. Kapoor was luckier. His father, Prithviraj, was already well-established in films and enjoyed the benefits of being a legatee.

Their acting styles were quite distinct. Dilip Kumar was labelled the “tragedy king”, although I have never really understood why. He has acted in lighter roles as well, including romantic and comedy films such as Kohinoor (1960) with Meena Kumari, Mughal-e-Azam (1960), the epic historical drama, and Ram aur Shyam (1967), which was an outright — and very successful — comedy. Raj Kapoor was called the “greatest showman of Indian cinema” for his grand productions and larger-than-life character. He was also called the “Charlie Chaplin of Bollywood”, for it is true that he consciously tried to copy that style. Dev Anand was compared with the American actor Gregory Peck due to his good looks. His smile and charisma had few equals, and generations tried to copy his acting mannerisms — the nodding head, floppy arms, and dialogue delivery.

All three acted in hundreds of films, most of which were commercial successes. Dilip Kumar’s early films like Andaz (1949) and Naya Daur (1957) created records at the box office. Dev Anand’s career took off with the crime thriller Baazi (1951). Raj Kapoor hit real stardom with Barsaat (1949). I know it is an unfair question to ask — given the multiplicity of choices — but which one film of each is your ultimate favourite? For me, it would be Mughal-e-Azam (1960) for Dilip Kumar, Teesri Kasam (1966) for Raj Kapoor, and Guide (1965) for Dev Anand.

Starstruck romance

In 1951, Dilip Kumar fell in love with Madhubala, whose original name was Mumtaz Dehalvi. It was an affair that lasted for quite some time but never fructified due to the unrelenting opposition of Madhubala’s family. He married Saira Banu in 1966, which became one of the most sensational events of that year.

Meanwhile, Dev Anand was in a serious romantic relationship with Suraiya since 1948, with whom he was paired in several films. They were deeply in love and were ready to elope, but ultimately Suraiya succumbed to the pressure of her maternal aunt and uncle, who were dead set against the union. In 1956, he married co-star Kalpana Kartik, but never really recovered from his failed love affair with Suraiya.

Raj Kapoor’s affairs were legendary and he was rumoured to be involved with Nargis Dutt and Vyjayanthimala even after his marriage. But he never left his wife, Krishna.

Enduring legacies of Bollywood greats

The legacy of each of these greats continues. Dilip Kumar’s acting methodology has inspired generations of actors. However, unlike the other two, Kumar never ventured into film production, and it is said that he never took on more than one film a year. Raj Kapoor started his own production house, RK Films, where he not only produced but directed several films. His children, Randhir and Rishi, brothers, Shammi and Shashi, and granddaughters, Karishma and Kareena Kapoor, have continued the Kapoor clan’s cinematic lineage. Dev Anand, also became a producer-director under his banner, Navketan Films, in which his brothers, Chetan and Vijay — both talented directors — played an important role. However, his sons — although he did try to launch his elder son, Suneil — failed in films. Dilip Kumar never had any children.

Raj Kapoor died young in 1988 at the age of 63. Dev Anand lived till 88, passing away in London in 2011. Dilip Kumar died at the ripe age of 98 in 2021. The best part is that even though competitors, they remained the closest of friends.

Pavan K Varma is author, diplomat, and former Member of Parliament (Rajya Sabha). Just Like That is a weekly column where Varma shares nuggets from the world of history, culture, literature, and personal reminiscences with HT Premium readers. The views expressed are personal

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