Guest post: Khwaja Ahmad Abbas

Recently the great-nephew of the prolific writer and director-producer Khwaja Ahmad Abbas left a comment here under my review of Char Dil Char Rahen (Abbas was the screenplay and dialogue writer on that film). Everyone is familiar with many of the movies he wrote, beginning in the 1940s: Neecha Nagar, Dr Kotnis Ki Amar Kahani, Awaara, Shree 420, Jagte Raho…the list goes on and on. He also wrote for film publications including my beloved Filmindia, and introduced newcomer Amitabh Bachchan in a film he wrote, directed and produced called Saat Hindustani. So I was thrilled to hear from Mansoor Rizvi, and he graciously consented to give us a guest post with some personal insight into a man who gave Hindi cinema and Indian literature and journalism so much.

He says he has much more to tell, too, so let’s give him some encouragement!

I was born and brought up in Bombay (now Mumbai) in the very house that belonged to Mr. Abbas or “Baba” as we used to call him; I still remember my childhood days at the Juhu residence where I lived with him till my matriculation, the same year of his death in 1987.

I always remembered him as a crusader, who, even after suffering from a paralytic stroke, never gave up his “first love” which was writing. He kept writing for Blitz, in Urdu and English, by the name of Azad Qalam and a column called The Last Page, till the time of his death.

Apart from making several films, he directed and produced short stories which were based on national integration, of which Abbas sahab was a staunch supporter. He produced a short film by the name Do Dost which featured me and the son of a poor laborer who had been hired for the renovation of our building. The film shared the lifestyles of both the children and their blossoming friendship; the movie ended when the construction work was completed and the two friends had to bid farewell to each other on a sad note.

Abbas sahab was lovingly referred to as “Mamujan” (he was my mom’s maternal uncle and she called him Mamujan) by the whole film industry. Believe it or not but the great Mr. Bachchan used the same nickname for him. I remember meeting Amit-ji at the musical function of his then releasing movie, Shahenshah, by which time Abbas sahab was keeping un-well. Very few people know that Bachchan sahab bore the expenses of Abbas sahab’s hospitalization, he actually walked up to my mother and after greeting her told her to convey his greetings to “Mamujaan” and shook hands with me, and you can imagine my excitement as a teenager, shaking hands with Amitabh Bachchan, and you can also imagine the crowd staring at us when we kept sitting on our chairs and all others were busy trying to get hold of their favourite megastar.

Baba also produced a short documentary film on national integration, Naked Fakir, the name was taken from Winston Churchill’s name given to Mahatma Gandhi. It was about a fakir who used to worship in the Mosques, Mandirs and Churches.

Abbas sahab welcomed the youngsters and wannabes who knocked his door for an opportunity to work in films. All that these youngster knew was Abbas was Bachchan’s mentor and they wanted to emulate Bachchan. We family members were witness to innumerable such interviews and the questions were identical for all: 1) Which films of mine have you seen? Which movie did you like the most? The answer to this question was always the same i.e. Saat Hindustani; and 2) Whose role inspired you the most? The answer to this was also the same i.e. Amitabh Bachchan, and this answer made Abbas flare up. WHY ONLY AMITABH BACHCHAN!!!!!!! was his response, and we used to laugh our heads off!

Abbas sahab was always a staunch Congress supporter, his association with the Nehru-Gandhi clan dated back to Jawahar Lal Nehru’s premiership days. He has written innumerable books on this family. At the same time he was also a critic of Indira Gandhi’s policies and wrote books namely “That Woman” and “Return of the Red Rose”. I remember escorting Baba to All India Radio for a recording. I was then in my teens and quite unaware of the happenings all around, but I did not miss the sudden change in his expression when he was informed of Mrs. Indira Gandhi’s assassination. We were supposed to attend a dinner at a relative’s house the very night of her death, but had to cancel due to the law and order situation that followed this incident. On our way back we were stopped by some youngsters who brandished cricket bats, hockey sticks and bamboo sticks (gun culture had not yet been introduced then) and they kept saying “Sir, paise do, Sikhon (Sikhs) ko jalana hai” (“Sir, give us money, we need to burn the Sikhs”) as Indira Gandhi’s Sikh bodyguards had assassinated her. They then held a torch on our car with two women, my mom and my aunt, in the back and on the front seat sat my maternal uncle and Khwaja sahab. Probably the youngsters were searching for turbaned Sikhs and their families who sported long hair, but instead found two men who were bald and women who had short haircuts. One of them probably even recognized Abbas sahab and told his partners to let the car move forward without demanding any money.

Abbas sahab always loved watching cricket and watched the India Pakistan matches intently. When asked whom he supported, since his younger sister was married and settled in Karachi, Pakistan, he always replied that he was a fan of Kapil Dev, who belonged to Haryana, the same place that Abbas sahab belonged to.

19 Comments to “Guest post: Khwaja Ahmad Abbas”

  1. Great post Memsaab, thank you so much for sharing. Also many thanks to Mansoor saab for sharing these stories on his uncle, the prolific writer.

  2. Thank you Mansoorji for sharing such personal memories. Yeh dil maange more!And thank you, Greta, for hosting these guest posts.

  3. very interesting. how is this gentleman related to shahid kapoor, who also i believe is the great grandson of ka abbas.

  4. This was very touching. Such memories need to be put down in writing. Khwaja Ahmad Abbas was one of the GREATS of the film world as well as the writing world. He was associated with Blitz too! Wow! Blitz was edited by Russi Karanjia and was such a favorite of mine at one time.

    • I remember Blitz more for the last page naughty picture! Mamujaan’s articles appeared on the side. Hence, I always associate him with those pictures :D. More seriously, his name appeared so often in the credits. I would like to know more about his interaction with Raj Kapoor, V Shantaram. Unfortunately this would be well before Mansoor Bhai’s time. Still – there may have been Mamujaan’s reminiscences …

  5. KA was a really great writer and director! I applaud his great work in bringing thoughtful subject matter into Hindi cinema — Awaara, Mera Naam Joker, etc. are some of the best Hindi films ever and can stand toe toe with World Cinema.

    Memsaab, does Rizvi Saab have any information about Rashid Khan and Randhir? I know these two actors have worked quite a bit with Mr. Abbas.

    • I don’t know, hopefully he’ll stop by again and maybe he can answer questions himself :) I do hope he shares more, including pictures. I am sure he is busy too though.

  6. Thank you Mr Mansoor Rizvi.
    We’ll always be grateful to K. A. Abbas for introducing Amitabh Bachchan to the world of Indian Cinema in addition to his own great personal contributions.
    The last film that I saw was Gyarah Hazaar Ladkiyan written by him. I liked it and thought it to be different from the general fare.

  7. Thank you Mansoor saab for sharing your memories of your uncle. For me seeing the name K. A. Abbas in the credits of a film signals that I’m about to watch a thoughtful, intelligent and humane film. Be it the little known “Shehar aur Sapna” or the blockbuster “Bobby” I’ve never been disappointed in a film associated with Abbas.

  8. This was an excellent read. Thank you, Mansoor – and thank you, memsaab. It is so different to read something from a family member as compared to a biographer.

    I think K A Abbas was quite a towering figure in his time, especially for his writing. I remember him very well from his writing for Blitz in the 1970s. I also remember we had a book at our home, “I am not an island” written by him. We probably had other books by him too – my dad was an avid reader and would mention Abbas once in a while – but this is the one I remember now, top of head.

    Would love to read more about him, so looking forward to Mansoor sharing more with us.

  9. After a long time an outstanding write up about a legendry personality. I was deeply moved whlie watching his movie called “Sahar Aur Sapna”. It dipicted real life in Bombay(Mumbai) in 60s. It is sad that movie in not available in any format. I would love to watch it once again.

  10. Please share a link to your original review. I want to read my cousin, Mansoor Rizvi’s actual response.

    Just to explain the lineage:

    Mansoor is the grandson of KA Abbas’ elder sister, Ahmed Fatima. Mansoor’s mother, Narjis Rizvi, took care of KA Abbas in his old age and final illness. Mansoor and Narjis were the family members with him in his final moments. Narjis’ brother, Anwar Abbas, went from Pakistan to assist in his last illness and burial.

    I am the granddaughter of another sister of Abbas, Akthar Fatima. They were one brother and three sisters. The youngest sister, Zehra, died in childbirth.

    Shahid Kapoor’s mother is the granddaughter of one of KA Abbas’ first cousins. She was KG Syedain’s sister.

  11. Mannu Farooki… I like it …

  12. Mansoor you have proved with your writing that you are truly a chip of the old, old block, Carry on Cleo!! You have touched the chords of my (tender) heart with some sweet and sad memories of Mamujan, as no one has before. Love you baby. (Also, believe it or not)) Mamoojan.

  13. I’ve often wondered what happened to the great K A Abbas’ family. I’m so glad that my google-search rewarded me with this post. I am translating Sombhu Mitra’s biography, written in Bengali by his daughter, Saoli, a reputed theatre person in her own right. Sombhu and Tripti got married in K A Abbas’ Juhu bungalow where both were staying during the making of Dharti ke Lal. I wonder if Mansoor or any other relative could give me the correct English spelling of the name of his wife (Mujjhi?) and sis-in-law (Chhadi?). Also, what was the name of Abbas Saheb’s Mamujan, who was in charge of the Marathi unit of IPTA back in the mid-40s and was also his father-in-law?
    I’d be most grateful for the above information. Thanks.

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