If everything had gone according to plan, Dilip Kumar’s Aag Ka Dariya would have been a part of his vast filmography.

Completed in 1991, SV Rajendra Singh Babu’s Hindi-language drama starred Dilip Kumar as Air Marshal Arjun on a crusade again corrupt capitalists hemorrhaging the Indian Air Force. Rekha played his wife, Ramola, and Padmini Kolhapure his daughter, Pinky. The character of Arjun was another iteration of the angry old man Dilip Kumar played with perfection in the 1980s in films such as Mashaal, Kranti, Vidhaata, Mazdoor and Karma.

Aag Ka Dariya would have also been the biggest Hindi film in Babu’s career. The 70-year-old filmmaker’s Kannada productions include the National Film Award winners Bandhana, Muthina Haara and Mungarina Minchu.

For over 30 years, Babu has been pushing for a theatrical release for Aag Ka Dariya. The film has a censor certificate but cannot be released until one of the project’s financiers is paid the three-four crore rupees that he is owed, Babu told Scroll.in ahead of Dilip Kumar’s birth centenary.

When Dilip Kumar played an Indian Air Force officer

“Those days, I was in Bombay, making quite a few Hindi films – Meri Awaz Suno, Sharara, Ek Se Bhale Do. My producer from Chennai, Venkat Raman, wanted to make Aag Ka Dariya with Dilip Kumar saab in 1984. We went to Dilip saab’s house and narrated the story. He heard it in the morning and said okay by the evening. He was kind enough to accept our advance [fee] and asked us to go ahead. We soon had the muhurat.

We sat down with the writers, Sachin Bhowmick, some others, and Rajendra Krishan, who was close to Dilip saab. Rekha was paired opposite Dilip saab, that’s a big combination. Amrish Puri was the villain. Unfortunately, our producer passed away. Dilip saab took the initiative to find funds and finish the shoot.

The story of Aag Ka Dariya has Dilip saab playing an Indian Air Force officer. He is made an inquiry commissioner into faulty parts being supplied to military aircraft manufactures. Big businesspeople are supplying these defective parts and sabotaging local manufacturers. They offer a bribe to Dilip Saab to go easy on the investigation, which he rejects. Then they conspire to break his family and destroy his life.

SV Rajendra Singh Babu, Dilip Kumar and Rekha.

They kidnap his daughter, played by Padmini Kolhapure, and sell her to a brothel in Calcutta. Rekha, playing his wife, leaves Dilip saab. Rekha’s mother is a newspaper magnate who writes nonsense about Dilip saab accepting a bribe. The rest of the film is about him searching for his daughter, reuniting with his family and fighting those who ruined his life.

It is not necessary for me to say how his performance was. There is this scene in which Dilip saab’s character mimics the enemy country’s planes attacking the Indian border and how the Indian Air Force tackles it with dogfighting. Arjun used to do this when his daughter was young. Later, when she is in the brothel and has lost all memory, Dilip saab does that mimicry again to bring back her memory.

SV Rajendra Singh Babu, Rekha, Dilip Kumar and Padmini Kolhapure.

Dilip saab worked heard on that scene for seven months. He would keep enacting it in his makeup room, show it to whoever walked in, and see our faces to check our reactions. He was never satisfied with it. He finally brought a mimicry expert from Delhi as a coach. Finally, when he performed that scene, everyone clapped.

Dilip saab was a fantastic person. He would reach our set in Ooty by eight am and go over the scenes with the writers. Whenever we visited his home, he and his wife, Saira ji, offered tea, coffee and snacks. He was cordial and nice to everyone and didn’t treat his cook, servant or driver any differently. He always travelled with his personal cook, who was from Kashmir. On set, he would first serve his food to us and then sit down to eat.

In all those years, he would worry only about his scenes. He told me to give Rekha good scenes. We had some good husband-wife moments.

There was this love scene between the two. Dilip saab discussed it extensively with Rekha before performing. He ensured that Amrish Puri and Padmini Kolhapure had good scenes.

In one scene, he had to slap Amrish Puri. He slapped him thrice but we were not happy. He said sorry, the shot is not happening, but Amrish Puri assured him that they would continue till the scene was perfect.

The major reason for Dilip saab’s longevity was that he dared to think differently. After Vidhaata and Shakti [in the 1980s], he completely changed his style and still managed to reach people’s hearts. He had his own style alongside Amitabh Bachchan in Shakti, which worked with the public. He was not repeating what he did with, say, Ganga Jumna. He changed according to the times.

Aag Ka Dariya.

All I wish for is that people in the industry come forward and help release the film. It’s a matter of three to four crores. If released, this will be Dilip Kumar’s final film.

I had met him at the wedding of Hema Malini’s daughter [Esha Deol]. He had assured me that the film would be released. Now that he’s gone, there’s nobody to look after the film.

The negative’s rights were with him. If the big names of the industry – Shah Rukh Khan, Aamir Khan, Salman Khan, Amitabh Bachchan – help us with just a small amount, we can release the film.”

(As told to Devarsi Ghosh)

Also read:

‘My professional name is Dilip Kumar’: Encounters with one of India’s greatest actors

Being rather than doing: Why Dilip Kumar is one of the greatest actors in Indian cinema

Dilip Kumar on playing Devdas in Bimal Roy’s classic and finding the ‘appropriate discretion’