Praised in death, Dev Anand got film's highest honour only in 2003

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By Hindustan Times

India's top cinema award had eluded Dev Anand until 2003. For one reason or the other, his name did not figure in the selection list of the Dadasaheb Phalke Award given annually by the government of India for lifetime contribution to Indian cinema.

It was only in 2003 when the NDA government was in power, his name was put before the selection panel. This came after, then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and then deputy PM LK Advani wanted his name to be considered.

By then, many of his contemporaries had already made it to the august list of awardees, which included Raj Kapoor (who won it in 1987), Ashok Kumar (1988), Dilip Kumar (1994).

Ravi Shankar Prasad, who was then information and broadcasting minister, pushed for Dev Anand's inclusion.

Eventually, the legendary actor’s name was for the award for the year 2002. Prasad said "Vajpayee and Advani felt that the award was long overdue for him. But, for some inexplicable reasons, he wasn't considered, which our government thought was not fair..."

True to his style, Dev Anand never thought he would be honoured with the prestigious award after so many years. Therefore, when Prasad called him up to inform him of the decision to confer the Dadasaheb Phalke Award, the actor's first response was a long pause and then a short laugh followed by an expression of gratitude."Dev sabheb felt very happy when I conveyed the news to him but, perhaps, there was an underlying feeling that it had come to him after a long time."

But, why did the Phalke award come so late? A former I&B official, who was associated with the awards, said it was not just because Dev Anand had taken a strong political line against Indira Gandhi by opposing the Emergency (1995-97) and had later supported Jaya Prakash Narayan-led opposition in the 1977 polls. It had to do with rivalry within the Bollywood fraternity. Incidentally, previous winners were part of previous selection panels.