He was born to be Dilip. He knew it from the moment he laid eyes on the Tragedy King in his debut film Jwar Bhata (1944). This was old Peshawar, where cinema was not a taboo and a ‘box office hit’ did not mean the cinema had been attacked with a grenade.
Now 73, Din Mohammad is better known as Dilip Kumar—only his family members use the moniker he was christened with. Din gained a new identity over the years as his obsession with the great actor imbued his gait, his style, even his hairdo in true method homage to a method actor.
“I used to imitate Dilip saheb’s style those days and all the people used to call me Dilip Kumar; it stuck,” explains Din Mohammad. And he has no regrets over giving up his name and gaining another’s. “Dilip was a son of Peshawar, we live in that Peshawar. It is a kind of expression of our love for one of the city’s sons,” he told The Express Tribune.
Even his business, a pakora shop in Nothia, is registered with the district government by the name of ‘Dilip Pakoray Wala’.While most shops boast their own signage to attract customers, Din Mohammad’s is embellished by a laminated poster of Dilip, a silent invitation for Dilip-lovers to gather around hot pakoras and talk the talkies. Unfortunately, now Din Mohammad is too old to run the store, selling the crisp bites. Nadeem Khan, his elder son, took over nine years ago.
Din Mohammad still remembers the golden days when Peshawar’s movie enthusiasts came from all walks of life and everyone knew the latest Bollywood gossip courtesy magazines like Filmfare.
The pakora master was about eight years old at the time of Partition and a mere toddler when Jwar Bhata was released but Din Mohammad was blessed to have lived through an era when Indian movies were still legit to screen across the border. In fact, it was not till the war of 1965 that Indian movies were banned in Pakistan. “Till 1965, I used to watch his films at the cinema,” says Din Mohammad, who is proud to say that he has not missed a single of his favourite actor’s films.“After the war, I watched them on the VCR.” Indeed, according to one cinema buff, after the war, hardcore enthusiasts would travel as far as Kabul to catch the grit and glitz of the Bombay Talkies productions on the big screen. Others would wait for the movies to be smuggled across borders so they could follow the onscreen loves and lives of the Bollywood greats.
A huge fan of Aan, Deedar, and the iconic Shakti, Din’s all-time favourite is the one featuring a love triangle between Dilip, Nargis and Raj Kapoor: Andaz (1949).
“Other actors used to copy Dilip saheb’s style, but he did not need to copy anyone,” said Din Mohammad. “His name and talent stand taller than that of any other actor. Dilip saheb developed a chemistry, got into the skin of every character he played.”
Lamenting the loss of ‘family cinema’, Din Mohammad had pride in his voice as he narrated the story of Dilip Kumar refusing to work in the movie Parchaiyan because the role required partial nudity. “You cannot watch today’s movies with your family; I have not watched any movie for the past 10 years,” he said.
Unhappy with the demise of the cinema culture which Pakistan was once lovingly cultivating, Din Mohammad, ever the purist, stated, “Movies are not meant to be watched on television, but on the big screen.” However, he has been happy to see Indian movies return to Pakistani screens of late.
“At least we, the old generation, can now revisit our past and relive memories almost lost,” he said, ending on a nostalgic note.
His son told The Express Tribune that his father was a firm believer in quality – from actors to food. His shop is the biggest pakora shop in Peshawar, according to the family. “Even Peshawarites living abroad place orders for Dilip pakoras. Our shop is the only one which prepares at least a dozen different types of pakoras.”
Dilip pakoras are sold in stamped brown envelopes. “We never use newspapers to pack our product,” his son proudly added.
“Dilip pakoras is our label and we are known by this name,” his son Nadeem Khan said, going so far as to claim that they are the “best pakoras in Pakistan.” He was of the view that the secret lay in using pure ingredients. And what more proof of their success than a constant stream of customers for 40 years?
Niaz Hussain, a customer, told The Express Tribune that he has known Din Mohammad for 20 years—but as Dilip; he doesn’t know his real name. And that is testament to true fandom.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 5th, 2014.
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