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Dilip Kumar dead at 98, due to prostate cancer

Dilip Kumar, pictured with actress Meena Kumari in a scene from Yahudi. Image credit: Bimal Roy Productions, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons, 1958
Dilip Kumar, pictured with actress Meena Kumari in a scene from the film Yahudi. Image credit: Bimal Roy Productions, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons, 1958

Dilip Kumar, a renowned actor and producer and legend of Hiindi cinema, died on July 7th due to prostate cancer at the age of 98.

A legendary performer within Hindi cinema and considered one of Bollywood’s best, the passing of Dilip Kumar saw tributes pour in from the industry and the political sphere. Prime Minister Narendra Modi paid tribute to the actor, taking to Twitter to write “Dilip Kumar Ji will be remembered as a cinematic legend. He was blessed with unparalleled brilliance, due to which audiences across generations were enthralled. His passing away is a loss to our cultural world. Condolences to his family, friends and innumerable admirers. RIP.” 

Actress Saira Banu, Kumar’s wife, expressed gratitude towards Modi, writing “thank you..for your early morning gracious phone call and condolences” on Dilip Kumar’s official Twitter handle. 

Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan also paid tribute to Dilip Kumar, writing that he was “saddened to learn of Dilip Kumar’s passing. I can never forget his generosity in giving his time to help raise funds for SKMTH [Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital and Research Centre] when [the] project launched. This is the most difficult time – to raise [the] first ten percent of the funds & his appearance in [Pakistan] & London helped raise huge amounts.” 

As euglosied by Nirpal Dhaliwal for The Guardian, “the son of a fruit merchant, Kumar was sensitive to and respectful of the mores of a highly traditional public, making him loved across the social spectrum, including by my mother, who fell for his acting as a teenager in a Punjab village. Like most of Kumar’s audience, she eagerly took long bus rides to the nearest theatre to watch each new release. 

“His characters were full of “dhookh aur dhaardh” – “hurt and pain” – she recalls, often expressing the anguish of forbidden love. Indeed, his two most iconic roles, as the melancholic drunkard Devdas in the 1955 film of that name, and in 1960 as Prince Salim in Mughal-e-Azam (The Great Mughal), were both heartbroken men unable to be with the women they loved because of social convention…the affection in which he is held by a generation of Indians who came into independence, seeing their practical and emotional struggles shown on screen with such honesty and respect, cannot be underestimated. 

“The Muslim who played a Hindu, the seething romantic hero who doesn’t get the girl, Dilip Kumar epitomised the contradictions that newly independent Indians had to contend with as they sought to bring their ancient and traditional society into a modernity of their own. Rarely has any actor so pointedly yet subtly captured such a moment in a nation’s history.” 

Prior to his death, Dilip Kumar experienced advanced prostate cancer, which had metastasised to other organs. According to doctors at the Hinduja Hospital in Khar where he was treated, ‘he had water in pleural cavity and suffered kidney failure. He required blood transfusion multiple times. We carried out the last transfusion but it did not help.”

The actor’s passing draws awareness to prostate cancer, one of India’s leading cancers among men. The growing rise of cases of cancer in India translates to one in ten Indians being affected by the disease in their lifetime and one in fifteen losing their lives. Recent decades saw cancer in India emerge as the country’s second-largest killer – and the country’s cancer burden is only expected to grow.

“Prostate cancer is one among the top ten leading [cancers] in India,” notes Cytecare. “It usually affects men in the age group of 65+ years. However, recently there has been an increase in reports of cancer in younger men in the age group of 35-44 and 55-64 residing in metropolitan cities. 

“Old age, obesity, improper diet, and genetic alterations have been identified as some of the main contributing factors towards an increased cause of prostate cancer. A study conducted in Mumbai revealed that those patients who underwent prostate cancer treatment with surgery had a better survival rate (91 percent). These findings prove that while treatment may save a life or extend the number of survival years, awareness about and prevention of the disease has become crucial in today’s day and age.” 

Dilip Kumar was born Mohammad Yusuf Khan in the Peshwar, a city in North-West Frontier Province, British India (present-day Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan). He was buried with honours at a graveyard in Mumbai and is survived by his wife, Sara Bainu. 

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