Remembering Khwaja Ahmad Abbas, the legendary filmmaker, novelist, short story writer, screenwriter and journalist, on his 31st death anniversary today.
The name Khwaja Ahmad Abbas rings a bell in the mind of an average cinephile primarily for two reasons. The first is as the story/screenplay writer for Raj Kapoor’s cinema; and the second is as the filmmaker who introduced the star of the millennium, Amitabh Bachchan, to Hindi films. His directorial output, comprising 14 feature films and numerous short films and documentaries, is either ignored or overlooked.
K A Abbas, described by Gulzar as “a man of literature, a journalist of distinction, a film-maker who created a genre of his own”, believed that the greatest mission of a writer was the “improvement of man”. Part of the Progressive Writers’ Movement, he was greatly influenced by Marxist and Communist thought.
Khwaja Ahmad Abbas is known as a film maker and a journalist all over the world. Not many people know that he wrote some 73 books in the genres of fiction and non-fiction prose in Urdu, English and Hindi. His fiction includes 15 novels and seven short story collections.
The stories of Khwaja Ahmad Abbas focus on the much talked about ‘common man’. Abbas’s short stories, while literal and not literary, point to the breadth of his talent.
To some people, Khwaja Ahmad Abbas means journalism, on account of the ‘Last Page’ column which he wrote for the Bombay Chronicle and Blitz from 1935 to 1987.
Today’s generation might know him as the crucial member of Raj Kapoor’s dream team but before ‘Awaara’, Abbas had shown his literary prowess in cinematic writing with V Shantaram’s ‘Dr. Kotnis Ki Amar Kahani’ and Chetan Anand’s ‘Neecha Nagar’. A member of IPTA, his house was always open for strugglers and one of them happened to be Dev Anand.
With Raj Kapoor he struck a chord with the masses with series of films starting with ‘Awaara’ and ‘Shree 420’ and it continued till ‘Ram Teri Ganga Maili’ and ‘Henna’. RK films biggest commercial success “Bobby” and biggest commercial flop “Mera Naam Joker” were created by this master storyteller.
His production company, named ‘Naya Sansaar’ (A New World) was his way of voicing his message of empowerment as he made films like Shahar Aur Sapna, Do Boond Paani and Saat Hindustani. Most of them were commercial disasters and some of them look didactic from a 2018 viewpoint. However, if there is one film that has remained relevant, both in terms of its art and its content, it is Dharti Ke Lal.
Khwaja Ahmad Abbas left this world three decades ago, but the humanism that shone through his creative life will remain alive for all time.