Made of awesome: Filmindia and Baburao Patel

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Just in time to rescue me from my self-inflicted melodrama trauma come some old Filmindia magazines! If you are unfamiliar with Filmindia, it was one of the first film magazines published in India (if not the first—inaugurated in the 1930s), written and edited by a hilariously acerbic gentleman by the name of Baburao Patel. His caustic wit and sharp tongue are legendary and he spared nobody—politicans and film people alike were all fair game for his particular brand of satirical sarcasm.

In his fantastic book “Stars From Another Sky” Saadat Hasan Manto has written a whole chapter on Baburao Patel. In it he says: “Babu Rao wrote with eloquence and power. He had a sharp and inimitable sense of humour, often barbed. There was a tough-guy assertiveness about his writing. He could also be venomous in a way which no other writer of English in India has ever been able to match.” He also describes meeting the infamous editor for the first time: “I had imagined that the author of such elegant and finely-honed humour would be slim and good-looking, but when I saw a peasant sitting in a revolving chair behind a huge table, I was disappointed.” Manto paints a picture of a self-made man who couldn’t stand the arrogant elite, but had a soft heart and was always willing to help out an underdog.

baburaopatel_filmindia

Baburao’s reviews bore titles like: “Adl-e-Jehangir—Crude and Stupid Picture. A Sindhi Murders Moghul History” and “Jalwa—Another Killing Trash From Shorey. A Visual Torture For Two Hours.”

Here is an excerpt from his November 1955 review of Shree 420 (a film that I liked only slightly more than he did, by the way). It is titled “Shree 420—An Anti-Social Picture. A Pathetic Burlesque Of A Noisy Producer”

Boring And Unconvincing

This is the story of a character who is supposed to be a graduate from the Allahabad University and a gold medallist in honesty and who had arrived in Bombay to “become something” with hard and honest work. Well, we never saw him doing any hard, honest and earnest work. We saw him taking the corrupt road in life at the least provocation and then calling society dishonest while at the same time practising unrestrained dishonesty himself. This character therefore totally fails to win sympathy and the picture fails to signify anything in spite of all its sound and fury and slapstick.

As entertainment the picture has an unbearable length of over 16000 feet and becomes a memorable piece of boredom. However, the production values are excellent. Achrekar’s sets are impressive and his efforts to simulate realism must be rated efficient. Photography is good throughout. Sound is well recorded. A couple of lyrics are interesting while the music ranges from popularly pleasant to dull and familiar. The dialogue carries the mark of K.A. Abbas in its raving, ranting and sermonizing character. Apart from technical gloss, the direction is poor and unimpressive.

From the players, Raj Kapoor as Raj Kumar Saxena thrusts himself on the screen most of the time obviously presuming too much attraction in his antics and outpourings. With the exception of some scattered pieces his clowning falls flat and where he tries to ape Charlie Chaplin he invites little respect as an artiste. In serious moments he fails to convince. On the whole his work is pretty mediocre. Nargis plays a spineless role as Vidya, but she gives a convincing and dignified performance. Nadira as the seductive Maya looks more ludicrous with that cigarette holder than convincing. Nemo as Seth Sonachand Dharmanand looks a dead man except when his massive chin starts quivering on some provocation. From the rest only Lalita Pawar deserves notice as a fruit vendor and she gives an excellent performance.

In fine, “Shree 420″ is 16000 and odd feet of flat farce and silly drivel. It is boring in entertainment, confused and stupid in theme.

Apparently, the Kapoors were not his favorites. He had a reputation for being extremely biased on a personal level, and for bashing up people he didn’t care for. According to Manto, when Filmindia was initially launched it was almost exclusively about film, although by the 1950s he wrote generally about politics and other subjects in addition (sex being a favorite as well).

In one of my issues he writes a very funny article about Prohibition where he recommends that India become “An Egg-And-Beer Nation.” To wit:

Considering that 99.2% of Germans drink only beer round the clock (German Lager Beer contains only 3% alcohol) and on that they fought two world wars within 25 years and are still growling; considering that Germans are still on top of the world in scientific progress; considering that the average span of life in Germany is 65 years, we feel that in beer we have the final solution of our Prohibition problem which is fast making our country a continent of criminals. In a country with an average adult weight of 80 lbs and the span of life dangerously shuttling between 26 and 32 years, beer seems to be the only nectar that will save our race from being extinct.

He adds: “It will easily add warmth, sincerity and character to our Congressmen’s speeches” and then writes a paragraph extolling the nutritional excellence of the egg.

dilip_devdas

There are a lot of stills from films in production throughout, which have been captioned by Baburao himself and are v. amusing.

I will share more of these gems (and there are some fabulous hand-colored pictures of various stars as well) on an ongoing basis. And for more bits of Baburao Patel wisdom, don’t miss these posts here and here over at Upperstall.

And the cover shown above has inspired me to order a DVD of the film Insaniyat, too. It’s a swashbuckler starring Dilip Kumar and a chimp from Hollywood named Zippy! How can that possibly go wrong?

Images scanned from the September and November 1955 issues of Filmindia magazine.

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85 Comments to “Made of awesome: Filmindia and Baburao Patel”

  1. Awesome. I never heard of this Mr Baburao, but he sounds extremely entertaining and amusing.

    • You have to enjoy that particular kind of wit, but I do! I do!

    • You can say that again Ava!

    • I should also say AWESOME! Ravishingly entertaining. I read about Mr.Baburao Patel in Mantoo’s book ‘Ganjee Faristaa’. And also in other books. Mr.Baburao reigned as the ultimate film critic in fifties, sixties and his was the final verdict. He could even make or break a movie with his acidic, witty, amusing, cerebral and also intellectual reviews.
      Wish he could continue for many more years and entertain with with superb comments and reviews.

  2. In Bollywood History by Mihir Bose, a trashy tell-all about the industry, he describes Baburao as a ruthless kind of a guy, a bit like JJ Hunsecker from Sweet Smell of Sucess, but hell he was a hilariously vicious movie reviewer and lol if only i could be a movie journalist like that!

  3. AHAHAAHAHAHHAAHAH!!! I was all prepared to remark that Manto should meet some of the bloggers today but he’s right! Baburao is unique. Cheers to that!

    • Even sick with the flu I was falling out of bed laughing :-) I wish I could have met Manto. He is even more hilarious!

      • I hope you’re better now…. get well soon!

        And thank you ever so much for sharing this. It’s hilarious! I esp. love his review of Shree 420 (well, a scathing review of just about any Raj Kapoor film is okay by me).

  4. If I could have met Manto AND Baburao, I would have died in peace. I would have been dead by now, in fact, and not writing this.

  5. I admire anyone nerdy enough to list a film’s run time in terms of the footlength of the actual film print.

    Regarding the filmindia cover you posted: their chimps are always so well-dressed! None of that degrading “baby diaper” nonsense for them!

  6. Aha! Now I know who I was bidding against for these magazines on Ebay just the other week!

  7. Whatever snippets you have provided about Baburao Patel are Excellent ones.

    Thanks for sharing.

  8. This is awesome! Baburao sounds like a fun person to have around. I love how he tears into Raj Kapoor. No nonsense about admiring his art, direction, music, etc.

    Raj Kapoor … thrusts himself on the screen most of the time obviously presuming too much attraction in his antics” – that is sooooo true about RK generally, though I found him more bearable in Shree 420 than anywhere else. Wonder what Baburao would have said about Mithun Chakravarty et al… in the 80s!

    Guess Filmindia didnt survive to modern times, because I dont remember ever seeing it. *Off to ebay to join the fight for Filmindia* :-D

    • According to the little I’ve been able to find out on the internet, Baburao stopped publishing filmindia in 1964 and began publishing a magazine called Mother India instead, which was more political in nature although it still contained film reviews. He also entered politics and was elected to the Lok Sabha…

      He’s quoted on Shammi’s site as having said about Prithviraj that “There is no place in the films for uncouth brawny Pathans who think they can make it as actors.” Of course he was more than proved wrong on that score! Prithviraj’s response was “Baburao, do not provoke this Pathan. If there is no place for me in the Indian films I shall swim across the seven seas to Hollywood and make it there as an actor.” (http://www.junglee.org.in/pk.html).

      In one of these issues though he calls Shammi “a matador” for “taking the bull by the horns”—referring to his marrying Geeta Bali against the wishes of his family :-D

  9. Wow Memsaab! This is great. Filmindia stopped publication in 1961 after which Patel launched Mother India which continued with film reviews but had more politcial pieces.

    BTW, Insaniyat is the only film in which Dilip Kumar and Dev Anand (in a howlarious moustache) came together. The general consensus was the chimp outacted them all!

    • Well of course he did! Chimps are awesome. Michael Barnum and I are wondering if perhaps Zippy and Pedro the Ape Bomb (of Zimbo movie fame) were related or even the same guy :-) They both had American trainers…hmmm.

  10. memsaab,looking at the first picture posted, i can say that Insaniyat is a tamil film remake coz S S Vasan was a famous director of tamil films those days. Plus Gemini was also a famous production house of tamil films.

  11. Plus the little kid’s dress – she is wearing a south indian style lehenga called Pavadai in tamil

  12. further proof of my theory that anything + chimp addition makes it 100% more awesome!

  13. Bollyviewer, Mithun is nowhere near Raj Kapoor in irritating, self-important attention-seeking antics. Mithun is endearing and humble, he never seems full of himself on screen. Of course, can’t say that would have saved him from Baburao’s tongue.

    • Humble I grant you. Endearing? Sometimes! But I was merely pointing to the films and actors of the 80s (not just Mithun in particular) – the movies were pretty often sleazy and/or plain bad. So I was wondering what Baburao would have written about 80s films and their leads – considering that Shree 420 was a piece of art in comparison to them!

    • Baburao might have actually liked the sleazy films of the 80s, although he probably would never have admitted it! Would have been fun to see what he had to say, though.

  14. It is always interesting to read the reviews of all time classic movies by their contemporary reviewers. The historials paint a very rosy picture about how these movies were regarded as work of art at that time, but they most of the time make it up.

    The scathing review of “shri 420″ reminds me of the review of ”Sholay” by a Hindi movie magazine in 1975. There, “Sholay” was castigated as a poor man’s “Mera Gaon Mera Desh” where the villain had the voice of a wimp and no match to “Mera Gaon Mera Desh” villain. The review also suggested that “Sholay” would have become passably decent had they bothered to sign up a decent villain. The music , of course was of poor quality, as per that review.

    That was some famous last words !

    • Ah, the benefit of hindsight :-) Although I actually think that he made some very very valid points about Shree 420—at least he echoed some thoughts about it that I had had watching it: viz. Raj’s character was so self-important about the value of honesty and hard work, and yet himself was such a bad employee and so hypocritically quick to become corrupt himself.

      I gather that one reason the magazine was so popular is that many people agreed with his comments, although were perhaps too polite to couch them in the same words :-)

    • Atul, I know I’ll be the odd man out, but nevertheless this is my take on Sholary (1975):

      Regarding Sholay, I have never understood the reason for the success of this movie. Was it the Emergency when violence was curbed on screen? No good songs or music. Was it ignorance of the masses who were not aware of the golden age of Hollywood when classic Cowboy movies were churned, featuring train robberies, injun attacks, gold rush, lawlessness, rustling, lynching mobs and posse, man-hunters and rewards, chugging trains being dynamited, lassoes and riders falling off the horses, shooting snipers, heroes with shades of gray, etc? One or more of these elements were ingrained in Sholay.

      Thus I agree with the critique that you have mentioned.

  15. Well, jiyo Baburao, jiyo!
    *With the exception of some scattered pieces his clowning falls flat and where he tries to ape Charlie Chaplin he invites little respect as an artiste.*

    How true!

    Ouch, so much venom!

  16. Thanks for sharing!
    please do carry on!

  17. Awesome. Talk about damming with faint praise. We need to show this to poor Amitabh who STILL doesn\’t understand that this has always been the preferred way for the press to talk about film personalities and films.

    He sulks, broods and reacts like a child even after having nothing to prove. :)

    Just a doubt, you too are aware aren\’t you of Moraji Desai\’s preferred drink, aren\’t you? :)

    • I don’t know what Morarji’s preferred drink was (whiskey?) but I do know he was one of the big proponents of Prohibition (and also one of Baburao’s favorite targets) :-)

      • Morarji’s favourite drink? Don’t you know? It appears that it was URINE. I’m serious.

        Yes, Morarji Desai was a great task master and strict disciplinarian when he was the Chief Minister of the Bombay State. His policy of Prohibition is really famous or infamous.

        One of the famous movies during his tenure was DAAG of Dilip Kumar where the evil of liquor is portrayed in various shades – one being that Dilip sets out with the brorrowed money to bring medicine for his dying mother and actually buys liquor instead.

        Lots can be said about Morarji but then this is no place for that.

  18. And that reminds me, I grew up in the 80s reading Khalid Mohammad’s caustic reviews. Going to theatres was a strict no-no and unlike what Mahesh Bhatt believed, “real” middle-class people did not own VCRs. Hence, my entire idea of films was formed by Khalid. After I started seeing films on my own in college and forming my own judgement, I saw how terribly biased and unfair Khalid had been – he had mislead me! But now, to give Khalid his due, he atleast unlike Baburao never went around cacalling the heroines ugly!

    • Baburao apparently really had an eye for the ladies—he certainly is very unforgiving of flaws! I shudder to think what he might have said about me, glad I will never know :)

      • *Baburao apparently really had an eye for the ladies*

        Well, from the lines that I’ve read it seems he had eyes only for certain parts of ladies’ anatomy.

        I find it extremely crude, the way, which he refers to actresses.

  19. *I grew up in the 80s reading Khalid Mohammad’s caustic reviews. …*

    sunil: I think we shared the same childhood!

  20. Thank you memsaab for this peek into the past.
    I enjoyed reading your comments and information. Patiently waiting for more as soon as you feel better. (Hope you already are :-).

    Personally I was able to keep a straight face most of the time while reading his reviews.
    Apart from the virtue of being vintage material, and therefore precious, I find his wit rather childish, and he’s quite repetitive.

    Of course all this is based on the snippets I’ve read here and over at upperstall.
    He tended to use the word ‘stupid’ for films – repeatedly.
    Agreed, the films might have been stupid – repeatedly, ;-) but a good writer shows some variation in the use of vocabulary.
    There *are* some very funny comments, like for Ek Musafir Ek Haseens;

    *the numbskull falls down from a staircase and again gets one more shifting of grey matter which takes him back to the arms of his sweetheart.*
    LOL!

    If he had reviewed in this vein all the time I might have held him in high regard, but I do prefer some really witty reviewing on some blogs ;-)

    • I know what you mean :) but he also inserts those really funny comments in between the “stupid” and “ugly” stuff. And taken as a whole even that becomes funny after a while—hard to explain when you do only get to see snippets. He comes off as just so *disgusted* by it all that it just makes me laugh, especially since he did it for 25+ years!

      Will post more photos from the magazines soon, they are luscious :-)

  21. Patel’s writings strike that funny bone for all that spite and venom. In his days though he was a force to be reckoned with, almost deciding the future of films and those associated with it.His magazine enjoyed sole monopoly for a long period. His likes and dislikes were indeed personal, look out for what he says of V. Shantaram in some of his reviews. Criticism of the Kapoors fade in comparison.
    Before taking to journalism he did direct and produce a few movies on his own. Perhaps that made him bitter at whole set up!

    • He started out as a Shantaram fan—in fact his review of Jhanak Jhanak Payal Baje in one of my issues extols its virtues to the skies (I found it dull, dull, dull, I’m afraid)…but he did fall out with him later, and then spared him nothing.

  22. Thanks for sharing! I really enjoyed reading Patel’s posts–and that I’ve actually seen the film he was writing about made it all the more hilarious (I too like Shree 420, but some of those jabs were just downright true, such as Nargis not having much depth to her character, though she did a fine job with what she did have, and Raj hogging the spotlight!).

    I’m with him on the beer argument, too ;)

    And I was going to comment on Dilip’s hotness in that photo but I see Bollyviewer beat me to it (great minds think alike, ha ha)… Sigh, I guess I will have to watch that old Bimol Roy Devdas version after all…

  23. Dammit! I thought my nickname on this blog was unique. :-(

  24. Baburao Patel is the kind of film journalist I would have been had I the sense to to do something about it.

    khalid Mohammad and Patel were both delicious obviously. I wish Khalid still wrote fim reviews. Movie making made him all sensitive and boring. Never a good thing.

  25. agree with Patel on Raj K. I have also always felt he was overrated. You might not feel it memsaab, but for us who grew up in India, it was always Raj Kapoor – greatest showman – la di dah di dah
    He was alright but not the “greatest showman” as he was made out to be.

    • Well I didn’t grow up hearing about him, but what I’ve seen of him hasn’t impressed me much :) Although I felt scared to admit it!

    • Many descrptive terms or appellations came to be attached to different stars much much later, sometimes taking a full 360 degree turn.
      One is: The Greatest Showman….
      Someone was Jubilee Kumar…
      who was overturned by the Phenomenon…
      Some one used to be called Carbon Copy for years.
      Then came the Angry Young Man who soon became Big B.
      Of course we have our Evergreen too.
      And so on….
      Some flop movies became “Classics”.
      And of course, our favourite, Rebel Star.
      We also have Thespian, Tragedy King, the Last Emperor.
      And so on….

  26. Yes, I faintly remember Baburao Patel’s FILM INDIA. As a child, I used to come across this film trade magazine by chance sometimes. As I have mentioned somewhere else, it was in this magazine that I remember to have read Nargis’s comments on having Dilip Kumar in MOTHER INDIA. “In that case,” she said, “You better make FATHER INDIA. Or some such words. Naturally that issue must have been after the release of MOTHER INDIA. I have never seen that magazine after 1957. So I don’t remember much.

  27. Not everfyone trembled at the thought of Baburao Patel’s sharp and nasty comments. The heroine Shanta Apte once landed up at his office and proceeded to thwack him with her cane — six of the best — for something that he had written. I remember hearing from old time journos that he cowered under his chair!

  28. As a child i used to read ‘film india’ in 1950′s and later ‘mother india’ magazine; of baburao patel

    i can remember :- that he made the first comment about bombay film industry in a sarcastic way ;calling it “bolly wood ” back in 1950′s ;though i cannot remember which year . i am sure ,very sure of this , as i chuckled and laughed a lot ,at this new name for bombay film industry

    • Did he now?!?! And the poor man gets no credit for it. Most people think the phrase was coined sometime in the 1970s. I don’t find it difficult to believe at all that he thought of it first, though :) Do you still have any of them? They are pretty rare nowadays…

  29. i dont have any of the old film india or mother india magazines
    you may get in ‘chor bazar’.i have seen old film posters of 1950 there

    one thing more about bolly wood word coind by baburao patel i want mention
    he gave the ‘bol’ importance means talkative ,emptyheaded,unimportant
    so i think bol-lly wood is that bol+wood and not bom+wood

    • That’s even better!!!!! :)

      I keep meaning to venture into Chor Bazaar when I am in Bombay. It’s pretty intimidating for a white girl though…I need company so I don’t feel like I’m the only one being stared at and talked about! :D

  30. In fact, Chor Bazaar is one of the tourist destinations and the people there are used to seeing international peoples.

    But to tell you frankly, I wonder what’s it like today, for I have not ventured there for the past thirty years.

    By the way, Friday is the best day if one wants to visit Chor Bazaar.

    • I was there two years ago…and was openly stared at and talked about (and TO, and not in a good way), which is not unusual in India, but somehow in the crowded lanes of Chor Bazaar was more intimidating…but I’ll def. go back one of these days :) Will make one of my Bombay pals take me there!

  31. What you state is not improbable. One easy way or avoiding ogling by onlookers is the Burqa. Chor Bazaar and all the adjacent areas are dominantly Muslim and no one looks at a Burqa-clad women. This also offers an experience. Anyway, this is just a suggestion. However, I feel that it may not come to such a pass.

    It’s comparatively safer without a Burqa too. Mumbai is much safer than, say, Delhi in India.

    I wish I could offer my services but I have broken my ligaments while climbing and now unable to walk properly for I dont know how long.

    • Actually that’s not a bad idea. I’ve always wanted to try out a burqa to see what it’s like, although I may find it too claustrophobic. But Chor Bazaar seems a good place to try it! :) I didn’t feel in any danger or anything, it was just mostly curiosity and occasional leering.

  32. memsaab, it’s a good idea and occasion to try out the Burqa. But equally essential is the bargaining power when buying things especially in Chor Bazaar.

  33. An era seems to have ended with Baburao Patel. I had several chances of meeting and inter-acting with him.I was struck by his innate goodness. His warm hospitality is legendary. Above all, he charmed the world with his words. There was no malice or meanness in his mental make-up. His hearty laughter was infectious. But he could also thunder like a lion when provoked. He could cross swords with the high and mighty but had caring and compassionate eyes for the underdogs. Rarely does one come across such gifted and generous personalities.

    • Oh thank you for stopping by and sharing that :) Manto said much the same thing about him: that he was a fierce defender of the oppressed and less fortunate. You can tell that from his writings too.

  34. I remember he was very critical of Shammi Kapoor- how he could never walk in a straight line, (which is a fact) , he was always showing praise on his last wife Susheela and if you read it you would think she was the greatest musician alive.
    I have a feeling he liked Dev Anand.( Is it true I wonder)

    • He was pretty critical of the Kapoors all around, but I forgive him. He did praise Shammi in no uncertain terms for marrying Geeta Bali against his family’s wishes :)

  35. Didn’t like Shree 420 too much either. What annoyed me the most was Raj lying about ‘rescuing’ Nargis when she in fact had rescued him and then forcing her (through the lie) to take him home and then get in cohorts with the father.

    I thought he was much more likable when he turned bad. He wasn’t mugging for once, Thank Bhagwan.

    Baburao is completely wrong about the music though which is among the greatest soundtracks ever. “Mera Joota Hai Japani” + “Dil Ka Haal Sune Dilwala”.. and he didn’t mention Rashid Khan as the pawnshop owner.. (he was wonderful!)

  36. Baburao Patel is a pet peeve. Like pacifist, I found him unbearable, and his ‘wit’ less than witty. That is perhaps because I grew up with those magazines, and reading them regularly somehow cures you of worshipping at the altar. He had a vicious pen, was absolutely unforgiving towards anyone who didn’t kowtow to him, and could be a manipulative B… He was lewd, crude, and rude.

    And I’m totally biased too, of course. In any case, the wholesale RK bashing here is making me feel horrible. I need to go and rewatch Chori Chori or something.

    ps: Insaaniyat is horrible. :( Though I must admit the dances were fantastically choreographed, which is not surprising, considering the director was SS Vasan. It was the remake of a Telugu film called Palletoori Pilla, which was loosely based on Richard Sheridan’s Pizaro.

    • Sorry, I just don’t get the Raj Kapoor appeal :) But don’t take it personally, he probably wouldn’t!

      Insaaniyat is horrible! I watched it (and reviewed it I think).

  37. I love Baburao Patel’s wit and went to visit his wife Sushila Rani Patel in their bungalow on Pali Hill last year (they were incidentally neighbors of the Kapoors living across the road from Krishnaraj). She is still an interesting character and it was wonderful to visit her. She still faithfully has a function every year on April 6th on his memorial day in Mumbai. I think it takes a lot of boldness and guts to have been the press man he was – people either loved him or hated him.

    Though Insaaniyat was a Gemini film and I am SS Vasan’s great grandson, it is one of the least favorite of the films made in the banner or by him. It was also one of the least successful despite being the only one starring both Dev Anand and Dilip Kumar together with Bina Rai and Shobana Samarth. My great granddad and BRP were great friends often talking well into the night whenever he was in Mumbai or they visited Madras staying in each other’s homes. BRP was a very intelligent man and he singlehandedly took on the issue of fighting against Gunga Din by traveling across the world to protest in the pre-independence era. He was also much older than Sushila Rani (his second wife), who was an early actress and playback singer in films. She continued to run Mother India and now has a Music College in Mumbai that she is still the Correspondent for after being President for many years. At 94 and faculties failing a bit, she lives alone in a portion of the famous “Girnar” bungalow and is active in various ways.

  38. After nearly half a century later I remembered Baburao and searched to find about him through Google, but the search did not find anything. Later I tried to search Fimlindia and landed at this site. I used to his magazine every month during the 50s, when I was in “India, that is Bharath” ( his famous quotation) and later forgot completely about him or the magazine. Recently,I became very interested to visit my teen years and looking for old Bollywood movies, especially great directors and music directors. Found a lot about V. Shantram and his life. Then I remembered Baburao who used to be very critical of Shantaram ( it seemed that he had a grudge against him).

    I enjoyed reading Baburao’s writings about politics, his criticisms of Nehru and Gandhi and also his criticisms of Muslims and how they are exploiting the secular India.

    I wish to know more about his life and archives of his writings. Hoping someone will have more about him.

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