Aiding Bosnian Muslims a New Role for India Star : Charity: O.C. benefit hosted tonight by veteran actor Dilip Kumar seeks donations from Indian Americans for victims of Balkans war.


They hear his name and many Indian Americans effusively describe actor Dilip Kumar, their countryman, as India’s John Wayne, Dustin Hoffman and Marlon Brando--all rolled into one.

Tonight, the country’s premier leading man will host a benefit dinner at the Buena Park Hotel and Convention Center to raise money for humanitarian aid for Bosnia’s Muslims.

Orange County is one of seven stops the 72-year-old actor-cum-activist is scheduled to visit by the time his whirlwind tour of the United States ends in a couple of weeks. Kumar is here to appeal to an estimated 200,000 Indian Americans in Orange and Los Angeles counties to help the victims of the three-year civil war in the Balkans.

“The killing and manslaughter of numerous men, women and children and all done under the title of some kind of process of purification of man and society--ethnic cleansing--how could I not get involved?” Kumar asked earlier this week in his hotel suite, his voice low and eyes red and tired.


Exhaustion had clearly set in for the actor from a tour that has taken him to Dallas, Detroit and Toronto. After his stop here, Kumar will head to Fresno, Chicago and then New York, where he hopes to present to the United Nations Mission for Bosnia-Herzegovina about $500,000 he has helped raise.

Kumar has devoted most of his life to helping the downtrodden and advocating various political causes in India. His countrymen still speak with awe when they recount his tireless efforts to help the victims of the 1993 riots in Bombay that left more than 900 people dead and 30,000 injured or homeless. At the time, Kumar had turned his mansion into a command center for riot relief work.

The film star was originally invited by the American Federation of Muslims from India and the Los Angeles-based Muslims Public Affairs Council to the United States this month to receive an award for his numerous public services for India.

Kumar told them he would attend only if the event becomes something more meaningful: a drive to get the Indian American community to help Bosnian Muslims.

“We couldn’t turn down such an opportunity,” said Salam Al-Marayati, director of the council. “He is the ideal person to get people to participate, to give, because he’s very popular with the people.”

Dr. Aslam Abdullah, editor of Minaret, a monthly magazine that focuses on Islamic and Muslim affairs in North America, added: “He’s an institution, a legend in the film industry. He can command the respect of so many Indian Americans.”

Aging gracefully and looking younger than his 72 years, Kumar brushed aside such compliments.

“People who get famous, there’s a halo around them--[a result] of public adulation--so they tend to lose their moorings,” Kumar explained. “Their image becomes far more important than the substance, so they have to do something to sustain a sense of balance.”


Acting is his craft, said the veteran star whose film career has spanned more than 50 years and who has starred or directed in some 80 movies made in India.

But acting is not his first love. His passion is focused on finding homes for the displaced and to raise money for the blind, the poor, orphans and widows--all victims of his country’s poverty and violent strife.

“I feel the need to participate . . . to maintain my own sanity and peace with myself,” Kumar said. “I must feel a sense of peace, so I do what occurs to me to be the healthy thing to do.”

Like traveling to the United States to raise money for Bosnian Muslims even when, by his own admission, he is “old and tired.”


“I feel this need to join the voice of the international protest against these inhuman atrocities,” Kumar said. “As an actor who can get people to respect me, I must do more than act. I must take actions.”