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Pakistan highlights Bollywood links with Raj Kapoor and Dilip Kumar museum project in Peshawar

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Dilip Kumar's ancestral home in Peshawar, Pakistan. Photo: Neeta Lal

Conservationists in Pakistan have set to work restoring the ancestral Peshawar homes of iconic Bollywood film stars Raj Kapoor and Dilip Kumar, in a bid to revive the city’s cultural links to India and Central Asia.

The film stars’ former houses, which were built in the early 20th century, stand a few metres apart on the same street in the heart of the old city, but are both in dire need of repair.

Since being declared national heritage sites in 2014, interest in their conservation has peaked – resulting in the provincial government of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, where Peshawar is located, allocating funds to purchase the two homes and renovate them as museums.

“Peshawar has a special place in film history,” said Abdul Samad, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province’s director of archaeology and museums. “However, over the last few decades, its reputation has taken a knock due to militancy resulting in the erosion of the city’s architectural and archaeological heritage.”

Abdul Samad, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province’s director of archaeology and museums. Photo: Handout

Kapoor and Kumar were born in Peshawar in the 1920s, before the partition of India in 1947 that resulted in the birth of Pakistan.

Both actors found fame during the 1950s and 60s – Kapoor captivating film lovers with his flamboyant personality that earned him the title “The Showman”, while Kumar was dubbed “The Tragedy King” for his on-screen portrayal of melancholic characters.

Kapoor died in New Delhi in 1988 and Kumar, 97, still lives in Mumbai with his wife, former Bollywood actress Saira Banu.

They are not the only Bollywood legends with links to Peshawar, either. The father of silver screen superstar and “King of Bollywood” Shah Rukh Khan also hailed from the city.

These ties are what spurred the local government to include Kapoor and Kumar’s houses in a wider conservation initiative known as the “Peshawar Revival Plan”, which Samad said aims to restore around 1,800 buildings in the city – all more than 100 years old – to bolster its reputation as a cultural destination.

“Indian films may be officially banned in the country but the reality is that Pakistan’s love for Bollywood continues,” he said. “Also, the money for buying the homes of Indian actors will be coming from the state. So in a way, the Pakistani government supports the move to honour their legacies.”

Kumar’s ancestral home is a palatial, multi-storied bungalow crafted from sandstone with green latticed balconies, trellis work and sweeping arches that is currently being used as a warehouse. Kapoor’s old house, meanwhile, was built by his grandfather Deewan Basheswarnath between 1918 and 1922 and was visited by his sons Rishi and Randhir in 1990, according to the Cultural Heritage Council of Peshawar.

Both were sold once the Kapoor and Kumar families migrated to India in the years before the partition.

A street view inside the old walled city of Peshawar. Photo: Neeta Lal

The homes of Bollywood stars past and present often make for popular tourist attractions, with Shah Rukh Khan’s Mumbai residence sometimes being referred to as India’s “most famous address”.

Yet filmmaker, historian and author Amit Khanna questioned the need to make museums out of Kapoor and Kumar’s former houses.

“Bollywood personalities have been celebrated across the world including in the UK at Madame Tussauds … so this is hardly a novel idea,” he said, adding that Lahore, rather than Peshawar, would have made a more fitting location for a museum.

“Many Indian actors – such as yesteryear legends like Pran and Kamini Kaushal and influential producers and directors like Dewan Sardar Lal – trace their roots to the city. So Lahore would’ve made for a more credible choice as a city to reinforce the Bollywood connect.”

A street scene in Peshawar. Photo: Neeta Lal

Be that as it may, cinema buffs like Iqbal Qasim say they are looking forward to the Peshawar renovation project and predict it will resonate with Bollywood fans across Asia.

“I will certainly visit the homes of these greats on my next visit to Peshawar as I have many relatives living there,” said the 68-year-old spice trader from Old Delhi.

“I grew up watching both their films. To get the opportunity to visit their former homes would be like a pilgrimage for me.”