In 1976, Dilip Kumar took a five-year break from film performances and returned with a character role in the film Kranti (1981) and continued his career playing leading roles in films such as Shakti (1982), Karma (1986) and Saudagar (1991). His last film was Qila (1998).
Kumar was born Mohammad Yusuf Khan in a Hindko-speaking Awan family of twelve children on 11 December 1922 at his house in the Qissa Khawani Bazaar area of Peshawar, in what is now Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan. His father, Lala Ghulam Sarwar, was a landlord and fruit merchant who owned orchards in Peshawar and Deolali (in Nashik, Maharashtra, India). Dilip Kumar was schooled at Barnes School, Deolali, Nashik. He grew up in the same neighbourhood as Raj Kapoor, his childhood friend. In the late 1930s, his family relocated to Chembur Mumbai.
In 1940, while still in his teens and after an altercation with his father, Dilip Kumar left home for Poona (Pune). With the help of an Persian cafe owner and an elderly Anglo-Indian couple, Kumar met a canteen contractor. Without letting on his family antecedents, he got the job on the merit of his knowledge of good written and spoken English. He managed to set up a sandwich stall at the army club and when the contract ended, he headed home to Mumbai having saved Rs. 5000. In 1942, anxious to start some venture to help out his father with household finances, he met Dr. Masani at Churchgate Station, who asked him to accompany him to Bombay Talkies, in Malad. Here he met actress Devika Rani, owner of Bombay Talkies, who asked him to sign up with the company on a pay of Rs. 1250 per month. Here he met actor Ashok Kumar who was to influence his acting style telling him to act "natural". He also met Sashadhar Mukherjee, and both these people became very close to Kumar over the years. Initially, Kumar helped out in the story-writing and scripting department because of his proficiency in Urdu language. Devika Rani requested him to change his name from Yousuf to Dilip Kumar, and later cast him in a lead role for the film Jwar Bhata (1944), which marked Dilip Kumar's entry into the Hindi film industry.
Dilip Kumar's first film was Jwar Bhata in 1944, which went unnoticed. After a few more unsuccessful films, it was Jugnu (1947), in which he starred alongside Noor Jehan, that became his first major hit at the box office.. His next major hits were the 1948 films Shaheed and Mela. He got his breakthrough role in 1949 with Mehboob Khan's Andaz, in which he starred alongside Raj Kapoor and Nargis. Shabnam also released that year was another box office hit
Kumar went on to have success in the 1950s playing leading roles in romantic films such as Jogan (1950), Babul (1950), Tarana (1951), Hulchul, (1951) Deedar (1951), Daag (1952), Uran Khatola (1955), Devdas (1955), Yahudi (1958) and Madhumati (1958). These films established his screen image as the "Tragedy King". He also starred in many social drama films such as Footpath (1953), Naya Daur (1957), Musafir (1957) and Paigham (1959). He was the first actor to win the Filmfare Best Actor Award (for Daag) and went on to win it a further seven times in his career. He formed popular on-screen pairings with many of the top actresses at the time including Madhubala, Vyjayanthimala, Nargis, Nimmi, Meena Kumari and Kamini Kaushal. He also played lighthearted roles in an attempt to shed his "tragedy king" image upon his psychiatrist's suggestion. In Mehboob Khan's musical Aan (1952), he played a swashbuckling peasant in what marked his first film in technicolor. He had further success with lighter roles as a thief in the comedy Azaad (1955), and as a royal prince in the romantic musical Kohinoor (1960)
In 1960, he portrayed Prince Salim in K. Asif's big-budget epic historical film Mughal-e-Azam, which was the highest-grossing film in Indian film history for 15 years until it was surpassed by 1975's Sholay. If adjusted for inflation, Mughal-e-Azam was the highest-grossing Indian film through to the early 2010s, equivalent to over ₹1000 crore in 2011.
The film told the story of Prince Salim, who revolts against his father Akbar (played by Prithviraj Kapoor), and falls in love with a courtesan (played by Madhubala). The film was mostly shot in black and white, with only some scenes in the latter half of the film shot in colour. 44 years after its original release, it was fully colourised and re-released in 2004.
In 1961, Kumar produced and starred in Ganga Jamuna opposite his frequent leading lady Vyjayanthimala and his brother Nasir Khan, this was the only film he produced. In 1962 British director David Lean offered him the role of "Sherif Ali" in his film Lawrence of Arabia (1962), but Dilip Kumar declined to perform in the movie. The role eventually went to Omar Sharif, the Egyptian actor. Dilip Kumar comments in his much later released autobiography, "he thought Omar Sharif had played the role far better than he himself could have". His next film Leader (1964) was a below average grosser at the box office. He was the co-director alongside Abdul Rashid Kardar of his next release Dil Diya Dard Liya in 1966, but was uncredited as director. The critics were of the opinion that the film was slow-paced and the whole film was a letdown. In 1967, Kumar played a dual role of twins separated at birth in the hit film Ram Aur Shyam. In 1968, he starred alongside Manoj Kumar and Waheeda Rehman in Aadmi. That same year he starred in Sangharsh with Sanjeev Kumar.
In the period, 1969 to 1976, Dilip and Raj Kapoor did not enjoy as much success in films and their popularity decreased. Actors Ashok Kumar, Dev Anand, Pran and Rajendra Kumar continued to enjoy more success even in 1960's to 1980s in comparison to Dilip and Raj Kapoor. Kumar's career slumped in the 1970s with films like Dastaan (1972) and Bairaag (1976), the latter in which he played triple roles and failed at the box office. He starred alongside his real-life wife Saira Banu in Gopi (1970) which was success. They were paired again in his first and only Bengali film Sagina Mahato (1970). A Hindi remake Sagina was made in 1974 with the same cast. He played triple roles as a father and twin sons in Bairaag (1976) which failed to do well at the box office. He personally regarded M.G.Ramachandran's performance in Enga Veetu Pillai better than his role in Ram Aur Shyam. He regards his performance in Bairaag much higher than that of Ram Aur Shyam. Though his performance in Bairaag and Gopi were critically acclaimed, he lost many film offers to act in leading roles to actors Rajesh Khanna and Sanjeev Kumar, from 1968 to 1987. He took a five-year hiatus from films from 1976 to 1981.
In 1981, he returned to films as a character actor playing central roles in ensemble films. His comeback film was the multi-starrer Kranti which was the biggest hit of the year. Appearing alongside an ensemble cast including Manoj Kumar, Shashi Kapoor, Hema Malini and Shatrughan Sinha, he played the title role as a revolutionary fighting for India's independence from British rule. He then formed a successful collaboration with Subhash Ghai starting with Vidhaata (1982) in which he starred alongside Sanjay Dutt, Sanjeev Kumar and Shammi Kapoor. Later that year he starred alongside Amitabh Bachchan in Ramesh Sippy's Shakti which was critically acclaimed but not a success at the box office. In 1984 he starred in Yash Chopra's Mashaal opposite Anil Kapoor which failed at the box office but his performance were critically acclaimed.
His second collaboration with Subhash Ghai came with the 1986 action film Karma. In this film, Kumar played a jailor who hires three men (played by Naseeruddin Shah, Jackie Shroff and Anil Kapoor) to help him avenge his family's murder by escaped terrorist Doctor Dang (played by Anupam Kher). Karma was one of the highest grossers of the 1980s and was also the first film which paired him opposite veteran actress Nutan.
In 1991, Kumar starred alongside fellow veteran actor Raaj Kumar in Saudagar, his third and last film with director Subhash Ghai. This was his second film with Raaj Kumar after 1959's Paigham. Saudagar was Kumar's last box office success and would be his penultimate film. In 1993, he won the Filmfare Lifetime Achievement Award. In 1992, producer Sudhakar Bokade announced a film titled Kalinga which would be directed by and star Kumar in the leading role. After being delayed for several years, Kalinga was eventually left incomplete and shelved.
In 1998, he made his last film appearance in Qila, where he played dual roles as an evil landowner who is murdered and as his twin brother who tries to solve the mystery of his death. India Today in their review dismissed Kumar's dialogue delivery as out of sync.
In 2001 he was set to appear in a film titled Asar — The Impact alongside Ajay Devgan, which was shelved. His classic films Mughal-e-Azam and Naya Daur were fully colorised and re-released in cinemas in 2004 and 2008 respectively.
Kumar was nominated as a member of the Rajya Sabha, the upper house of the Parliament of India, by the Indian National Congress for the period 2000–2006.
Kumar launched his Twitter account and his first tweet was on his 89th birthday in 2011.
Dilip Kumar is married to actress Saira Banu, who was 22 years younger than him, in 1966. He married a second time in 1979 to Hyderabad socialite Asma Sahiba, but the marriage ended soon after. Dilip Kumar does not have any children.
Dilip Kumar is widely considered one of the greatest actors in the history of Hindi cinema. He holds the Guinness World Record for winning the maximum number of awards by an Indian actor. He has received many awards throughout his career, including 8 Filmfare Best Actor awards and 19 Filmfare nominations. He was honoured with the Filmfare Lifetime Achievement Award in 1993. Gunga Jumna (1961), which he wrote, produced, and starred in, also received the National Film Award for Second Best Feature Film in Hindi, the Paul Revere Silver Bowl at the Boston International Film Festival, the Special Honour Diploma from the Czechoslovak Academy of Arts in Prague, and the Special Prize at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival.
Kumar was appointed Sheriff of Mumbai (an honorary position) in 1980, the Government of India honoured Kumar with the Padma Bhushan in 1991, the Dadasaheb Phalke Award in 1994 and the Padma Vibhushan in 2015. The Government of Andhra Pradesh honoured Kumar with NTR National Award in 1997. The Government of Pakistan conferred Kumar with Nishan-e-Imtiaz, the highest civilian award in Pakistan, in 1998. The ruling political party of Shiv Sena in Maharashtra had objected to this award and questioned Kumar's patriotism. However, in 1999 in consultation with the then Prime Minister of India, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Kumar retained the award. He was honoured with CNN-IBN Lifetime Achievement Award in 2009.
The Government of India honoured him with the Padma Bhushan in 1991, the Dadasaheb Phalke Award in 1994 and India's second highest civilian award, the Padma Vibhushan, in 2015 for his contributions towards Indian cinema He was also elected to Rajya Sabha, the upper house of Indian Parliament for the term 2000-2006.
The Government of Pakistan honoured him with its highest civilian honour, the Nishan-e-Imtiaz, in 1997.
Films that garnered Dilip the most recognition or awards include: