There can be no greater tragedy for Bollywood than the passing away of veteran actor Dilip Kumar at 7.30 o’clock this morning at Khar’s Hinduja Hospital. He was 98. And had been in and out of hospital frequently the last couple of years. More so in 2021. Especially last week. In the ICU one day, a private room the next, then back to the ICU again. Hooked onto all kinds of life support systems. His condition hovering between “critical” and “stable”. While outside the hospital gates, the OB vans of TV channels restlessly waited, their anchors and cameramen relaying news bulletins of his condition into our living rooms.
Just two days ago, on Monday, his wife of 55 years, the elegant yesteryear actress Saira Banu, tweeted from the hospital, “We are grateful for God’s infinite mercy on Dilip Sahib that his health is improving.” Sairaji requested the actor’s legion of fans in India, Pakistan and across the world to continue with their prayers and duas “so that Insha’Allah he is healthy and discharged soon”. He had beaten the odds before. He was a Pathan. He had the warrior blood of his fierce ancestors of the North West Frontier Province raging in him. And an indomitable spirit. But life was not the script of one of his successful Hindi films with a happy ending.
Bollywood called him the Tragedy King. Twenty-three years after Qila, his last film in 2008, he was still the yardstick of measure for tragic roles. But Yusuf Saab, as he was fondly known having been born Mohammed Yusuf Khan in Peshawar, suffered more than a fair share of tragedy in his last years. His age and frail health apart, in the grim season of death and disease in 2020 he was further laid low when his brothers Ahsan and Aslam passed away. Yet Yusuf Saab grittily held on to life. Allowing Sairaji a quiet celebration of his 98th birthday on December 11. Their Pali Hill bungalow spilling over with bouquets. The phones ringing off the hook.
For Sairaji, every day with Yusuf Saab was a celebration. On his birthday she kept the gates open for family, friends and fans to greet him. Till he became susceptible to infection. And his ageing body ravaged by time began suffering complications and reversals of conditions in hospital while the country held its breath. Sairaji regretted Yusuf Saab could no longer go in public. “The warmth of the clasp of the hand of strangers who tell him how much they liked his work is bigger than any reward for Yusuf Saab,” she revealed. He used to smile gently. “The kind of smile that, Mashallah, still sends hearts fluttering,” Sairaji said. Allah hafiz, Yusuf Saab.