They were “kings” during widely-separated eras of Bollywood history, but popular stars Dilip Kumar and Amitabh Bachchan are both among the most recent recipients of India’s second-highest civilian honor, the Padma Vibhushan.
The two actors, generally regarded as the No. 1 stars in Bombay during their respective stints as leading men of Hindi cinema, were among the nine recipients of the awards this year.
Also among the Padma Vibhushan conferees is long-time politician and often-controversial Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal, whose name is synonymous with Punjab’s post-Independence political history.
There probably aren’t too many people of South Asian origin around the world who are not familiar with Bachchan. Having first risen to the top of Bollywood as the swashbuckling hero of blockbuster movies such as Zanjeer, Kabhie Kabhie and Sholay, Bachchan has in recent years parlayed his Bollywood fame into a successful career as a politician and television personality.
In addition, he continues to make films as a character actor.
If Bachchan was a recent Bollywood “king’, Dilip Kumar was the top star during the 1950s and 60s.
Those were the years when Bollywood “conquered” the world, a hold which the Mumbai film industry hasn’t relinquished since.
Together with films starring Raj Kapoor and Dev Anand, Dilip’s movies, such as Naya Daur, Madhumati, Mughal-e-Azam and Leader, spread Bollywood’s magical “masala” far and wide.
The list of winners this year also includes former Bharatiya Janata Party leader L.K. Advani, and the head of the international Ismaili community, Prince Aga Khan.
The names of the award recipients were released on Jan. 25, the eve of India’s Republic Day.
In addition to the nine Padma Vibhushans, 20 people were honored with the Padma Bhushan and 75 with the Padma Shri. Seventeen of the awardees are women.
A number of architects of India’s space exploits, which include putting an orbiter around the planet Mars, were also honored. Space scientists S. Arunan – the project director for India’s Mars mission – and S.K. Shivkumar, director of the Indian Space Research Organisation Satellite Centre and who played a key role in building the deep space network (DSN) that was used in tracking the Chandrayaan and Mars Orbiter inter-planetary satellites, were awarded the Padma Shri.
Also among the Padma Vibhushan awardees is senior nuclear scientist M.R. Srinivasan, 84, who had negotiated on behalf of India with Russia for the supply of reactors for the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project (KNPP).
“I am happy to receive the award. It is the recognition for the people who worked with me,” said Srinivasan, who has nearly 60 years of experience in the Indian nuclear sector and has overseen the construction of most of the country’s atomic power plants.
Other notable awardees for the various Padma awards include Microsoft founder and philanthropist Bill Gates and his wife Melinda, journalists Swapan Dasgupta and Rajat Sharma, lawyer Harish Salve, filmmaker Jahnu Barua, former chief election commissioner N. Gopalaswami, wrestler-turned-coach Satpal, maths “Nobel Prize” winner Manjul Bhargava and Carnatic singer Sudha Raghunathan.
The Padma awards are given in various disciplines and fields of activity such as art, social work, public affairs, science and engineering, trade and industry, medicine, literature and education, sports and civil service.
The Padma Vibhushan is awarded for exceptional and distinguished service; the Padma Bhushan for distinguished service of high order; and the Padma Shri for distinguished service in any field.
These awards are conferred by the Indian president at ceremonial functions around March or April every year.