How a Dilip Kumar fan almost met his icon and yet ended up not getting to meet him ever.
“Hello, sahab hain kya?” I asked, holding on to the telephone receiver as if my very life depended on the answer from the other end.
“Aap kaun bol rahen hain, sir?” The voice on the other end was that of an employee of Dilip Kumar and he wouldn’t hand over the phone to the great man himself unless he knew who I was.
This was June 1987. I had taken up a job in Mumbai just a few days back. When I landed in Mumbai, the only thing on my mind was that I had to meet and speak to Dilip Kumar. Come what may! I had been a huge fan of his since my school days and had always wished to see him in flesh and blood.
My work had brought me to the film capital of India many a time in the past, but on those occasions, it was all work and no play. This was the first time that I was actually staying in the city, had a lot of time to myself and was also alone as my wife had not joined me yet. Not that she would have stopped me from meeting the sahab, being herself a great fan of his, but she would certainly have made fun of my juvenile attempts to get in touch with my hero. And as an aside, let me confess, juvenile they certainly were.
The company I was working for had allotted me a flat right above the office and the office doors were open to me 24×7. From day one, I had started thinking of ways I could contact Dilip Kumar and the first thought that came to my mind was to ring him up. But I did not have his number so how would I be able to call him? Those days, we used to have a telephone directory that listed all the numbers of people who had phones. It was the era of the landline, cell phones had not even been thought of yet.
So one evening, my head churning with weird opening gambits, I came down to my office and opened the pages of the directory. Soon, I was searching for the name Yusuf Khan, but there was no number listed under that name. Now, I tried Saira Bano’s number but, again, found nothing.
A quitter that I never was, I recalled having heard that at times he would put up at his mother-in-law Naseem Bano’s place. I quickly looked for a number listed under that name and found the eureka moment grinning right at me. I immediately dialed the number and here I was, asking for sahab, as everybody in the industry addressed him.
“Main Yash Chopra Sahib ke yahan se bol raha hoon, wo baat karenge,” I blurted out, lying without blinking an eyelid. Mendacity and glib lying have never been my forte, but my love for the sahab had turned me into a poker-faced liar. Whenever I recall my brazen audacity on that day, I feel embarrassed.
“Theek hai, Sir, abhi bulata hoon sahab ko.” Those words made my heartbeat go berserk. I was about to talk directly with my hero, the man I worshipped. At the same time, I was also nervous about how I would explain the blatant lie. I didn’t have to wait long before I got to hear the all too familiar voice.
“Ji, farmayiye, Yash bol rahe ho kya?” I was dumbstruck but somehow managed to find my voice.
“Very, very sorry, sir, I had to lie to you. I am a great fan of yours, I wanted to desperately talk to you and this was the only way to get you to the phone,” I sheepishly explained, waiting for an angry retort. Instead, I heard a hearty laugh.
“Kamaal kar diya aap ne sahab, fans to bahut hain magar mujse baat karne ka yeh tareeka pehle kisi ne nahi apnaya. Maan gaye aapko.”
I was not surprised that he addressed me as sahab. I already knew that was his way of addressing others, similar to how everyone addressed him. Thrilled beyond imagination, I heaved a sigh of relief and awe.
“Kaise hain aap, sahab? Main aapse milne ke liye Kashmir se aaya hoon, bachpan se aapka fan hoon aur aapki har film dekhi hai,” I said as his approach had already made me comfortable.
“Meri khushkismati hai ki aap itni door se se aayen hain aur mujse baat karne ke liye itne khel khelne pade aapko.” I could detect a hint of fun in his voice.
“khair, kya kar sakta hoon aapke liye?” the great man asked. His politeness and humility floored me. I became an even bigger fan, if that was possible given how immeasurably big a fan I already was.
“Sahab, bahut samay se aapko dekha nahi, koi film nahi aayi aapki? Why do you make your fans wait so long?” I asked.
“Ab bahut ho gaya, sahib! Bahut kaam kar liya, ab aaram karne ke din hain,” he replied with total calmness and in a style that we see in his movies.
“Sir, vo film aapki, Aag Ka Dariya, abhi tak complete nahi hui. Won’t we be able to see it?” Aag Ka Dariya was his first film opposite Rekha and we had been waiting for its release for a long time.
“Woh to mukamal ho gayi, jaldi release hogi,” he said.
“Great news, sir! Looking forward to seeing that,” I said gleefully.
We talked for a couple of minutes more. He invited me to meet him but said that I should call him first. He said I should give my name to his secretary and next time when I called, I would not have to resort to lies.
That whole night I could not sleep. My dream had come true. I had spoken to the god of acting – my all-time favourite actor.
My mind went back to my school days when I first recognized his acting prowess, when my younger brother, took me along with him to see Gunga Jamuna. And that was that! Once I came out of the cinema hall, I could think of nothing else but the master’s performance. The dialogues kept ringing in my ears. From that day onwards, Dilip Kumar became a stowaway in my psyche, always lurking in some corner. The release of his movie became an event in my life. It was always the first day, the first show for all his movies.
Ram Aur Shyam was my next movie and I was blown away by another great performance. Then began the journey to discover Dilip Kumar. I started watching all his old movies and I doubt I have missed any of them, except, Jwar Bhata, his debut film. That too because the producers had lost the print
December 5, 2022 is his first birthday after his death and his memories come flooding back. He redefined the meaning of acting. If Gunga Jamuna was a superlative performance, Sagina was not far behind. I wonder why some critics don’t rate Sagina as one of his best, but I certainly do. Anyway, I was his fan, am his fan, and will always remain one. I still watch his movies again and again and, each time, I find something new, some aspect to gush over, some point to discuss. One of the scenes from Sagina which I found totally mesmerizing is his swaggering gait and expressions in the song saala mai to sahib bann gaya. I have watched that scene countless times, much to the chagrin of family members.
Back to my conversation with the sahab when he said that I could have a meeting with him. I was as thrilled and excited as a teenager going on the first date.
It was impossible for me to wait for long but my job kept me busy. One day, I decided to make that important call. The same man answered the phone. I gave him my name and he immediately asked: “I know. Sahab told me you would call. When can you come?”
I can come tomorrow, I replied instantly.
“Well, he is not in Mumbai; he will be back on the 25th. Will it be possible for you to come on the 26th at 5 in the evening?” he enquired.
“Of course!” I said with cheerful readiness.
I had no idea that destiny had made up its mind that my meeting with my idol would never take place. On the 20th, I received a call from the head office asking me to take over the Pune office immediately. And that was the end of my glorious dream. I left for Pune, was refused a leave of any kind.
Not meeting my sahab – our sahab – remains the greatest regret of my life – a regret that I’d take to my grave.
(Lalit Magazine is a cricket and theatre enthusiast. His theatre group Navankur has staged several plays. He loves music and is in the middle of writing two English novels.)