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.