June 15, 2014

Khwaja Ahmed Abbas Centenary Celebration

Amol Saghar

KHWAJA Ahmed Abbas, a multi- faceted personality who was engaged in several important ventures is an important legendary figure in the world cinema and literature. Abbas was integral to Indian People’s Theatre Association (IPTA) and Progressive Writers’ Association (PWA). He is known not just for being a writer and director of several well-known movies including Neecha Nagar, Dharti Ke Lal and introducing Amitabh Bachchan in Saat Hindustani; but is also known for writing several articles for Bombay Chronicle and Blitz (his column known as ‘Last Page’ was keenly looked forward to in Blitz) and being an author of several books and stories. He was also an important figure in the Indo-Soviet co-operation and was the maker of Pardesi a movie which was made as a part of Indo-Soviet joint venture in 1957. It is also interesting to note that he made not just experimental movies but was also involved in making several off the mainstream cinema movies as is clear from his association with Raj Kapoor which resulted in memorable movies such as Shree 420, Jagte Raho and Bobby. To honour this legendary figure, his centenary celebration was on for quite some time now which concluded on June 8, 2104 with the vice president of India Hamid Ansari delivering a talk. The occasion which was organised at India International Centre saw a vast gamut of people from various walks of life including artists, media personalities, academicians, students, activists, theatre personalities among others coming together. The hour-long programme began with Syeda Hameed, member of the centenary celebrations group, welcoming all those present and introducing the dignitaries. This was followed by a mesmerising rendition of a nazm written by Kaifi Azmi from Khwaja Ahmed Abbas’s movie Saat Hindustani (1969). Professor Shahid Mehdi in his turn said that Khwaja Ahmed Abbas was an epoch making personality. He was an active journalist and remained active till his last breath. Abbas, Mehdi said was a multi-dimensional figure and was a litterateur, script -writer, and director all at the same time. He made important contributions in maintaining communal harmony and forwarding the cause of the under-privileged. DP Tripathi, Rajya Sabha member who was also one of the organisers of the programme, speaking after Shahid Mehdi said that Khwaja Ahmed Abbas was a humanist and a universalist. Tripathi drew attention to four of his early movies including Naya Sansar (1941), Neecha Nagar (1946), Dharti Ke Lal (1946) and Dr. Kotnis Ki Amar Kahani (1946). Tripathi spoke of some interesting facts related with these movies such as Naya Sansar being made by Abbas when he was just 26 years of age; Dharti Ke Lal being the only production of Indian People’s Theatre Association (IPTA); and that Dr. Kotnis Ki Amar Kahani being the first movie where a foreign location of that of China was created in India. Tripathi said that it would not be wrong to say that Abbas was the founder of experimental movies or what is known today as parallel cinema. The incumbent governor of Uttarakhand Aziz Qureshi in his turn said that Khwaja Ahmed Abbas was working at a very critical moment of Indian history when Indian freedom fighters were yearning and fighting hard to attain emancipation from the hands of the British colonial regime and when the progressive literary artists such as Sajjad Zaheer, Sahir Ludhianavi, Faiz Ahmed Faiz and many others were active. Hamid Ansari in his short but crisp talk encapsulated the personality of Khwaja Ahmed Abbas and the important position that he holds in Indian history. Though Abbas was an institution, yet as Ansari said he in his life maintained a low profile and never boasted of his stature and importance. The vice president said that Abbas was working at a critically important time in Indian history and the plethora of his works show how multi-faceted a personality was Khwaja Ahmed Abbas. Ansari also spoke in some detail of Abbas’s communist connection and quoting from his autobiography said how he was in a funny situation at times as the non-communists perceived him as a communist while the communists themselves perceived him as a petty bourgeois. Abbas recounts in his memoirs how he faced difficulties at times to convince the communists of his Leftist credentials. He also discussed the important position that Khwaja Ahmed Abbas held in the arena of the Indo-Soviet relations. Ansari also read out a letter that was written by Mulk Raj Anand to Khwaja Ahmed Abbas encouraging him for the work that he was engaged in and the movies that he was making. Hamid Ansari also spoke of some interesting incidents that involved Abbas such as his interaction with Jawaharlal Nehru and also the letter that Abbas wrote to Gandhiji critiquing his stand that the latter took as far as movies were concerned. The contents of the letter that Ansari read out brought a smile to one’s lips. He concluded the talk by saying that Khwaja Ahmed Abbas once travelling in a train sang a medley of three songs namely Jana Gana Mana, Saare Jahan Se Accha and Dekhna Hai Zor Kitna Bazoo-e-Katil Mein Hai which reflected his never-die attitude and his revolutionary streak.