A few years ago, Bollywood director Mahesh Bhatt met Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif at his Raiwind residence and told him that he loved him. Behind this interesting confession is a story featuring none other than the legendary actor Dilip Kumar.
Narrating to Mahesh Bhatt, Dilip Kumar recalled when he visited Pakistan during an earlier reign of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to receive the highest civilian award, Nishan-e-Imtiaz, for his contribution to the betterment of India, Pakistan understanding.
“We stars are used to being revered by all kinds of people, but what happened in Pakistan when I went to receive the award is something that you have to hear Mahesh,” Dilip Kumar told Bhatt in 2004.
After arriving in Pakistan to receive the award, Dilip saab, as Bhatt respectfully calls him, was supposed to meet the premier and as is customary, contacted the PM’s office to inquire what time he should arrive. He was then informed that the prime minister would be coming to meet him instead.
“What I was then told humbled me. Imagine my surprise when I was informed by his office that it was not me who was to come to the PM’s office, but that the PM was coming to meet me!” the thespian related.
Nawaz Sharif then arrived to meet Dilip Kumar with his entourage, and sat down for over an hour, with the “humility and childlike eagerness” of a true fan.
Having heard this story, Bhatt was left in awe of Pakistan’s premier. “By honouring this great actor who has been the reference point for the Hindi film industry for the last sixty years, Nawaz Sharif had come closer to those millions of people who have cried, laughed and applauded this great actor in the darkness of auditoriums all over the world,” Bhatt wrote.
When Bhatt himself met Nawaz in Raiwind a few years ago as part of a peace delegation, he could not stop himself from expressing his admiration for the leader.
“Sir, I love you for loving my hero,” Bhatt told Nawaz who was not in power then.
Nawaz in his turn extended Bhatt an invitation along with Dilip Kumar to spend a month in Pakistan. “Why don’t you bring Dilip saab here and you too join us and spend at least a month with us and enjoy our hospitality,” Nawaz replied warmly.
“It is his love for his icon that made Nawaz Sharif declare Dilip saab’s house in Qissa Khwani Bazaar, Peshawar, where he was born, a national heritage property. This was indeed the highest tribute that any actor could have received from the head of State of a country that is so much a part of our shared heritage and yet looked upon with animosity by those who propagate the politics of hate,” Bhatt wrote of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leader.
However, receiving the coveted honour in Pakistan did not sit well with Hindu extremist party Shiv Sena, who questioned Dilip saab’s patriotism. The legendary actor decided to keep the award and was supported in his decision by none other than ex-prime minister of India Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
On that historic event when Dilip saab was awarded Nishan-e-Imtiaz, Bhatt recalls that his wife, Sairaji, had said with tears of joy in her eyes, “It would be wonderful if our government too would acknowledge his contribution”.
According to Bhatt, the Indian government is now rectifying its oversight by awarding the legend his much-deserved Padma Vibhushan Award.
This article originally appeared on Mumbai Mirror.