The Kapoor family of Bollywood has earned three Dadasaheb Phalke Awards over the years. Prithiviraj Kapoor, then his son Raj Kapoor and later his grandson Shashi Kapoor were conferred with the prestigious award for all that they have done for the entertainment and arts industry in India.
But in 1988, when it was Raj Kapoor’s turn to receive the award, the President broke an important protocol for the veteran actor-director. Raj Kapoor was unwell when he landed in Delhi on May 2 for the ceremony. He could not breathe properly and had to be given an oxygen mask and cylinder. Dressed in a crisp white suit and joined by his wife Krishna Raj, Raj Kapoor sat with the audience for the ceremony.
However, when it was his turn to receive the award, he could not make it to the stage. This was when President Ramaswamy Venkataraman, the eighth President of India, decided to go to Raj himself.
Speaking to Filmfare about the incident, his daughter Rima Jain said, “Somewhere, I believe, Papa ordained his death. He was to be conferred the Dadasaheb Phalke Award on May 2, 1988, in Delhi. He left from Mumbai on April 30. There was a dust storm in Delhi. As soon as the door of the plane opened, he was greeted with a violent gust of wind. Being an asthma patient, it affected his lungs. He attended the function with an oxygen cylinder. Through the function he was restless.”
“He kept pressing my mother’s hand hard to show his discomfort. Finally, when his name was announced he couldn’t get up. There was hulchul (commotion). President Venkataraman saw his discomfort and came down to him to present the award. He said, ‘Put him in my ambulance and take him to the hospital.’ Papa was put on ventilator. There were news bulletins on his health. Ministers dropped in to check on him. In a way, he prepared the family that he was going,” she added.
Raj had a difficult few more weeks in the hospital after that episode and died on June 2, 1988.