From Yousuf Khan to Dilip Kumar

8 July, 2021 12:00 AM printer

From Yousuf Khan to Dilip Kumar

(Dec 11, 1922 – July 7, 2021)

The legend, thespian, Bollywood  Tragedy King, Dilip Kumar was given several monikers in his illustrious career but how he acquired his screen name is a story unto itself.

He was born Mohammed Yousuf Khan but Devika Rani, who was head of the Bombay Talkies where he joined as an actor, wasn’t too happy with the name. Dilip Kumar, she thought, would be in tune with his ‘romantic image’ which he was bound to acquire and would also have a ‘secular appeal’. And so Dilip Kumar it was, report agencies.

Dilip Kumar narrates in detail how he went from being Yousuf Khan to Dilip Kumr in his autobiography ‘The Substance and the Shadow’.

“One morning, as I entered the studio I was given the message that Devika Rani wanted to see me in her office. I wondered what it could be. I was certain it couldn’t be for expressing any displeasure because she was always courteous and pleasant whenever she met me and enquired how I was doing. So what could it be?" Kumar writes.

When he walked into Rani's office, she was seated at her desk, smiled warmly and asked him to sit down.

Devika Rani began the conversation with the usual courtesy of asking him whether he would care for some tea made especially for her from leaves she had purchased from an English store in the city, he recounts in great detail.

According to the autobiography, she soon came to the point and said quite matter-of-factly, “Yousuf, I was thinking about your launch soon as an actor and I felt it would not be a bad idea if you adopted a screen name”.

“You know, a name you would be known by and which will be very appropriate for your audience to relate to and one that will be in tune with the romantic image you are bound to acquire through your screen presence. I thought Dilip Kumar was a nice name,” she is quoted as saying.

 “How does it sound to you?” she asked.

“I was speechless for a moment, being totally unprepared for the new identity she was proposing to me. I said it sounded nice but asked her whether it was really necessary,” Kumar says in the book.

“She gave her sweet smile and told me that it would be prudent to do so. She added that it was after considerable thought that she came to the conclusion of giving me a screen name.”

Rani told Kumar that she foresaw a long and successful career for him in films and it made good sense to have a screen identity that would "stand up by itself and have a secular appeal".

Kumar was quick to appreciate her concern, but added that he needed to think about it a bit.

She responded, "Fine... come back to me with your thoughts.

"We are now ready to begin preparations for your debut. So we must hurry up."

After lunch, when work started on the shooting stage, Mukherjee, second in command at Bombay Talkies, asked him if there was something disturbing him and if he could share with him.

“I told S. Mukherjee Sahab about the suggestion that had come from Devika Rani. He reflected for a second and, looking me straight in the eye, said: 'I think she has a point. It will be in your interest to take the name she has suggested for the screen. It is a very nice name, though I will always know you by the name Yousuf like all your brothers and sisters and your parents,” says Kumar in the autobiography.

The rest as they say is history. Dilip Kumar went on to debut with 'Jwar Bhata' in 1944, becoming one of the biggest names in Indian cinema history.