Rediff Logo News Rediff Book Shop Find/Feedback/Site Index
July 14, 1999


Search Rediff

E-Mail this interview to a friend

The Rediff Interview/ Dilip Kumar

'Those who are hurt by my not returning the Nishan-e-Imtiaz, I feel sorry for them'

Legendary actor Yusuf Khan alias Dilip Kumar has aged a lot in the past fortnight. Tension lines are still etched on his forehead. The 77-year-old matinee idol of yesteryear has been under attack from Shiv Sena leader Bal Thackeray for not returning the Nishan-e-Imtiaz, Pakistan's highest civilian award. Thackeray, a friend of the thespian, had advised him to return the award after Pakistan's Kargil misadventure.

If Dilip Kumar was worried, his wife Saira Banu was more perturbed. "Why can't people come out strongly against this kind of terrorism? You people must write strongly against such arm-twisting tactics," she pleads with scribes who go to interview the grand old man of the Indian film industry.

Dilip Kumar says the battle of wits is not over as yet. "I will know what the attitude of the people is once I get back to Bombay. Here in Delhi things have settled down pretty well. Prime Minister Vajpayee is an understanding man and he knows what is just and what is not."

Right at the outset he made it clear that he would not answer questions that were difficult and tricky, and laughs, "I am only joking," before asking Onkar Singh to shoot.

Former Test cricketer Salim Durrani said during the Kargil crisis that the country comes first, everything else comes later. What do you have to say about it?

Of course, the country comes first. Where is the question of any doubts on that score? I fully endorse Durrani's statement.

What does India mean to you?

India means everything to me. It is my homeland. India is my country. It is here that I have got love and affection as a film-star from millions and millions of my fans over the last five decades.

What have you got from India and the Indian people?

I am indebted to both. This is a debt which I can never ever hope to repay. During my film career I have received love and affection from Indian cinegoers. I have received unconditional love from them. Unstinted love (at this point he chokes on his words). They gave me the feeling of being one of them and being loved and adored by them. They made me feel wanted. The Indian masses gave me their support and trust on which I thrived and sustained myself. It is more than what I can put into words.

If there is this kind of rapport between you and the people of India, then why this disillusionment in some quarters over the Nishan-e-Imtiaz?

There is no disillusionment about India as far as I am concerned. There could never come a time when I would get disillusioned with my own country. Why others are disillusioned with me, is their business. I try very hard not to hurt others. Those who are hurt by my not returning the Nishan-e-Imtiaz, I feel sorry for them.

As a stalwart of Indian cinema, you had an excellent relationship with Bal Thackeray. Suddenly he turns around and calls you names. Why?

I think I better leave that subject out. What can I say about him? Mr Bal Thackeray is Mr Bal Thackeray. And he spells in everything and everybody. His alphabets are his own. So you cannot say much about that.

Are you planning to shift to Delhi because of Bal Thackeray?

No. I have a piece of land in Delhi but I have never had enough money to support dual establishments. I always thought of owning a house in Delhi as well. When you go to London or Switzerland you dream of having a house even there. But you cannot have everything. I have a plot in Delhi, so I think I should have a house here as well.

You left the decision on returning the award to Prime Minister Vajpayee. Are you relaxed after your meeting with him?

In a manner of speaking, I am relaxed most of the time. Prime Minister Vajpayee is an extremely courteous person and I have been meeting him off and on earlier as well. I was sort of partially relaxed when I went to see him. He told me I could keep my award and there was no need to return it. I was more relaxed after the meeting.

How did your meeting with the President go?

The President of India is a very affectionate man. He had a full grasp of what the problem was. He may have limitations of office so far as forthright expression is concerned. Because they are in certain positions, people like him are not able to express their feelings freely. But whatever he said was enough for my purpose.

Don't you think you would have led the country from the front had you taken a similar stand like Kapil Dev did after the Kargil crisis?

Kapil Dev's stand is his own stand, let him lead the country from the front. He is a nice person and he was a good captain. I think he would do a very efficient job.

Aren't you, in a sense, the unofficial captain of Indian cinema?

No, I am not the unofficial or official captain of the Indian film industry.

Did you face similar problems in Calcutta at any stage of your career, with people calling you a spy?

No, nobody called me a spy at any stage of my film career. Yes, there was some problem in Calcutta when a handful of Naxalites landed up at the place where I was shooting. It turned out that they had come to see me, and later on we became friends. They even undertook to protect the route to the studio till I was shooting in Calcutta.

Would you say that the storm has blown over, or do you still anticipate problems?

For the time being everything seems to have settled. But I will know whether it is over and behind me only when I reach Bombay. The issue of retaining the Nishan-e-Imtiaz has been peacefully resolved in Delhi. And I feel comfortable now.

The Rediff Interviews

Tell us what you think of this interview