Mumbai: Tragedy king and India’s enduring film legends across decades, Dilip Kumar breathed his last on Wednesday after a prolonged age-related illness. He was 98. The veteran actor was laid to rest with full state honors at Juhu cemetery in Mumbai.
As the country mourns his death, it is noteworthy to look at how angry political crowds and fundamentalists once made demeaned his life and made his household restless for his strong political stances. Mohammed Yusuf Khan, aka Bollywood’s favorite Dilip Kumar—a secular icon, who called out fascists, fundamentalists and homophobes alike remained unflustered then.
Pakistan award row
In 1998, Dilip Kumar, the pre-Partition Peshawar-born Dilip Kumar was honored with Pakistan’s highest civilian award, the Nishan-e-Imtiaz (Symbol of distinguished service). Reports said that he had consulted the then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, considering the strained relations with Pakistan, before accepting the award.
Sunil Dutt accompanied Kumar in the acceptance ceremony in Pakistan.
However, Shiv Sena architect Bal Thackeray chose to take a hardcore Hindutva stance to the whole Pakistan award deal. He had not only opposed the actor’s decision to accept the award but had even posed vile threats at him.
Dilip Kumar was later pressurized to return the honor during the 1999 Kargil war by the coalition government of Shiv Sena in Maharashtra.
He had thought that the protests outside his house would die down soon, but when they didn’t, he met Vajpayee, who intervened.
“There’s no doubt about Dilip’s patriotism and commitment to the nation. He has proved that time and again during his film career. He has received the award at an individual level. It’s his will to keep it or return it. No one can pressurize him,” Vajpayee had said.
‘Smack of Fascism’
Dilip Kumar had not responded to the matter until 2000. In an interview with NDTV, Kumar had called Shiv Sena’s threats to be ‘hurtful’.
“It is only the Shiv Sena and their leader who said that I should return the award, and if I don’t return the award then I should leave this country, get back to Pakistan and live there,” Dilip Kumar said in the interview.
“I think it is an abominable pronouncement by an irresponsible person. It has no legal validity. It is hurtful. It offends one’s sense of personal dignity and one feels wronged…,” he had said.
He went on to say: “Such demands are made at a smack of fascism. These are the fascist ways of a fascist administration. It is not a good sign..it is unfortunate to have such people in administration in a large democracy.”
Needless to say, Dilip Kumar gracefully waded through the right-wing backlash and stood by his decision. A Padma Bhushan awardee already (1991), Kumar received the Padma Vibhushan in 2015.