Among the disciples of Dilip Kumar, Manoi Kumar (born on 24 July 1937) perhaps was the most faithful. A die-hard fan of the master since his college days in Delhi, Manoj Kumar entered the film world apparently through his strong family connections with the Congress Party and with the help of a distant uncle Mulkraj Bhakri. As soon as he reached Bombay in the mid 1950s, his first objective was to see Dilip Kumar in person. Bhakri took him to the shooting or Yahudi. With a pounding heart, Manoj saw Dilip Kumar perform in a long shot. He became extremely nervous and wanted to slip away – he didn’t want Dilip Kumar to see him! The experience was more terrifying than fulfilling.
Manoj Kumar made his debut with Fashion (1957), followed by a series of inconsequential films like Reshmi Rumal (1961), Banarasi Thug (1962) and Dr Vidhya (1962). He got his first major break with Vijay Bhatt’s Hariyali Aur Raasta (1962). on joining films, he gave up his real name, Harikrishan Goswami, and as a tribute to his master, he took the screen name after Dilip Kumar’s name (Manoj Kumar) in Shabnam (1949).
Manoj Kumar might have remained one among the many good-looking actors without a distinct image of his own. But he was much more than an actor, he was multifaceted. Another Shaheed (released in 1965), the biographical film on the intrepid freedom fighter Bhagat Singh, dramatically changed the course of his career. The success of this film not only helped Manoj Kumar to discover his screen persona, but also inspired him to work tor a new film genre. He became producer-director-writer and began an ambitious experiment on building nationalistic iconography within the framework of a formula film.
With Upkar (1967), Manoj Kumar launched himself as the idealist Indian Hero, naming himself Bharat, and projecting himself as the ultimate icon of nationalism. With the amazing success of his maiden venture, he soon produced, or acted in, a series of stridently nationalistic melodramas including Yaadgaar (1969),
Purab Aur Paschim (1970), Roti Kapda Aur Makaan (1974) and Kranti (1981). For most of his films, Manoj Kumar derived much of the inspiration from the contemporary political developments in the country. Upkar was the celebration on celluloid peasant – soldier solidarity, embodied by Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shashtri’s famous slogan Jai Jawan Jai Kisan in the wake of the Indo-Pakistan war of 1965.
The basis for Purab Aur Paschim can be attributed to the growing popularity of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and her completely anti-West stance reflected in the foreign policy of the country. He also highlighted the negative impact of the dominance of the West on the economic, cultural, and spiritual well-being of a developing society.
The basis for Purab Aur Paschim can be attributed to the growing popularity of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and her completely anti-West stance reflected in the foreign policy of the country. He also highlighted the negative impact of the dominance of the West on the economic, cultural, and spiritual well-being of a developing society. In Roti Kapda Aur Makaan, Manoj Kumar, evidently stimulated by Indira Gandhi’s clarion call – ‘Garibi Hatao’ (remove poverty) – brought to light on screen the anti-national activities of the trading class, black marketeers and hoarders. Initially, in the film, he believes in lofty ideals and high principles, but is soon forced into a life of crime in order to provide the essential items for the survival of his family. In some ways, Manoj Kumar prepared the idelological ground for the anti-hero model of Amitabh Bachchan, which was to sweep Indian cinema in the 1970s and 1980s. (Bachchan appears as Manoj Kumar’s brother in Roti Kapda Aur Makaan.)
On the basis of the stereotyped, hyperpatriotic protagonist, Manoj Kumar made a serious attempt towards proclaiming the status of the second-generation indigenous film hero, his model being Dilip Kumar’s image. He modified the image to fit into the socio-political context of the 1970s.(This decade was marked by war, a huge influx of refugees, shortage of essential commodities, soaring prices, political turmoil and the ‘quota raj’.) In spite of his dedicated efforts to incorporate the elements of the master’s style in his acting, Manoj Kumar could not quite match the original. In the two films in which Dilip Kumar and Manoj Kumar could not quite match the original. In the two films in which Dilip Kumar and Manoj Kumar worked together, Aadmi (1968) and Kranti, a self conscious ‘student’ faced his ‘teacher’. In these two movies, one could discern the master looking at his most-dedicated pupil with slight indifference. In fact, the shadow of the master eclipsed the screen persona of Manoj Kumar, so much so that the junior really could never discover his own acting potential independently.