Yusuf [Dilip Kumar] found a job in the army canteen at Poona (now Pune) with the help of a family friend on a monthly salary of Rs 36. As assistant manager, his job was to run the store, keep accounts and interact with customers... Yusuf was delighted, but the joy was short-lived. With the advent of the Field Rationing Scheme, the canteen was shut down.
Even as he kept wondering what next?, something imponderable happened! On a trip to Nainital to buy fruits for his fathers business, he ran into Devika Rani, who had just taken over the reins of Bombay Talkies following the sudden death of her husband Himanshu Rai. She was there with Amiya Chakrabarty, the director of her companys next film, Jwar Bhata (1944), looking for locations. Yusuf had no clue who she was, but she saw a potential star in the bright-eyed youngster. Would he like to work in films, she asked. He nodded and she asked him to see her in her office at Bombay Talkies in Malad, a suburb of Bombay. As Yusuf recalled, his first encounter with Devika Rani in Bombay didnt raise any great hopes in him. So he got busy with what hed been contemplating for a while: of setting up classy mobile tea-stalls all over Bombay. Then came the crucial call from Devika Ranis office. In a matter of two hours I had signed a contract. Bombay Talkies had hired me as an actor on a monthly salary of Rs 500 with a raise of Rs 200 every year!
A conservative Ghulam Sarwar Khan [Dilip Kumars father] had a very poor opinion of nautankiwalas, which included film actors. He called them kanjars, implying pimps. He was never tired of taunting his close buddy Dewan Basheshwarnath Kapoor for letting his handsome son Prithviraj become a film actor. Shammi Kapoor once revealed, Yusufs father would call my grandfather kanjar da pyo. Yusuf knew his father would never let him become an actor...
Recalls Shammi, One day my grandfather saw a photograph of Yusufs in a magazine and barged into Ghulam Sarwars shop with it, demanding, Ab bol, kanjar da pyo koun hai? It took a long time for Ghulam Sarwar to get over the humiliation his son had subjected him to.
By the turn of the 50s, the shy, reticent Dilip Kumar, who had blushed at the thought of taking the heroine in his arms, had become the countrys foremost romantic hero, who made female hearts flutter with his intense, eloquent glances and the sweet nothings he mumbled! As he candidly confessed, it had taken the lonely heart a long time to break the shackles of self-doubt and free himself from the shell he had lived in. The first flush of love had done it for him!
I am desperately in love, he wrote. The vacuum I had been living in, without knowing the meaning of life, is now filled with warmth and exhilarating happiness... A friendly hand reaches out to me... leads me out of the jungle of doubt, fear and ignorance towards bright sunshine... and confidence... It is the richest episode in my troubled existence. Life had never been so beautiful. He wouldnt identify the friendly hand. But those in the know, like Sitara Devi, the legendary Kathak queen who was once married to K. Asif, revealed years later that Uma [Kamini Kaushal] was the only woman Yusuf truly loved and that he was completely shattered when circumstances separated them...
They were the hot pair of the time. All the four films they had romanced in — Nadiya Ke Paar, Shaheed, Shabnam and Arzoo — had been hits, and the sizzling on-screen chemistry between the two had naturally spilled on to real life.
Uma Kashyap, a beauty pageant winner from Mussoorie, had made her debut as Kamini Kaushal in Chetan Anands Neecha Nagar (1946), the first ever Indian film to win an international award (at the Cannes Film Festival). An emerging star, she had met Yusuf on the sets of Nadiya Ke Paar and the two had hit it off like a house on fire. The only hitch was that she had just married her brother-in-law, an officer in Bombay Port Trust, following the premature death of his first wife, who happened to be her elder sister, in the best interests of his two little kids by her sister! Kamini had to eventually turn away from Dilip under pressure from her family, especially a brother of hers, a hot-headed Army officer, who had threatened her with bloody consequences.
Dilip was smarting under the painful break-up when Madhubala literally barged into his life. The two had met on the set of Tarana (1951). With her impish exuberance, she had charmed Dilip instantly. Legend has it that Madhubala had dramatically sent a red rose to Dilip through her hairdresser with a note in Urdu asking him to accept it only if he loved her!
Though taken aback, Dilip had accepted the rose gracefully! Around the same time, Madhubala had been flirting with actor Prem Nath, her co-star of Badal (1951). When he came to know that she was playing for his friend Dilip, Prem Nath was said to have moved on.
The growing Dilip-Madhubala relationship, however, began giving sleepless nights to Madhubalas father Ataullah Khan, who began seeing disconcerting visions of the huge familys sole bread-winner deserting him. Madhubala had 11 siblings... It was his insecurity that made Khan irrationally refuse to let Madhubala go with Dilip to Budni (near Bhopal) for an outdoor shoot of B.R. Chopras Naya Daur (1957). The resulting wrangle led to her being replaced by Vyjayanthimala in the film and the matter being dragged to court.
Contrary to the sentimental expectations of Madhubala, Dilip stood by reason and testified for Chopra, all the while asserting from the witness box that he loved Madhubala and would continue to love her to the last day of his life. The imbroglio marked the end of one of the most talked-about love stories in Bollywood forever! Its a great tribute to the professionalism of the two actors that they shot some of the most memorable love scenes for Mughal-e-Azam (1960)… when they were not on talking terms!
After the two traumatic experiences in love, Dilip Kumar, sometime in the mid-60s, was said to have seriously contemplated settling with Waheeda Rehman, whose mature, cultured bearing had appealed to him. Waheeda had replaced Vyjayanthimala in Ram Aur Shyam (1967) after the latter chose to do Raj Kapoors Sangam (1964). However, even before he could propose to her, the Saira Banu tsunami had hit him, turning his plans on their head. Its no secret that Sairas mother Naseem Banu had pulled off the Dilip-Saira marriage like a coup with great skill.