Script and songwriters: Punjabi contribution to cinema – VII
By Ishtiaq Ahmed
Bombay of the 1940s was brimming with hopes and aspirations of a new India
Three giants of Urdu fiction, or rather of Urdu short-story, were also born in the Punjab: Saadat Hasan Manto (born Samrala East Punjab 1912 – died Lahore 1955), Krishan Chander (born Bharatpur 1914 – died Mumbai 1977) and Rajinder Singh Bedi (born Sialkot 1915 – died Mumbai 1984) were also celebrated story and script writers of the Bombay film industry. They represented the three main communities of Punjab who were united in their art by the Urdu language and script while ironically had they wanted to write in Punjabi they would have done it through the Punjabi written in the Urdu, Devanagri and Gurmukhi scripts.
While Krishan Chander and Bedi were in Lahore during their formative phase Manto was in nearby Amritsar. So, within a radius of 50 kilometres of central Punjab grew up and attained great fame three Punjabis in Urdu literature. Here, we are concerned with their contribution to cinema. Bombay of the 1940s was brimming with hopes and aspirations of a new India that would be democratic, progressive and pluralist but the anti-climax came in the form of the Partition of India. At the time of Partition, Manto and Krishan Chander were in Bombay while Bedi escaped death and injury just in time by managing to sit on the roof of a train carriage full of distraught Hindus and Sikhs and arrived in Amritsar.
Those who lived in undivided Punjab are included as Punjabis irrespective of whether their mother-tongue was Punjabi
All three continued to create masterly fiction while in Bombay, but they were also in great demand in the film industry. Some of the famous short-stories that Manto wrote were completed while he was in Bombay. His portrayals of film personalities such as Ashok Kumar, Nargis, Nazir, K. Asif and many others remain outstanding specimens of his writings. However, it is his friendship with Shyam (who died in 1951 after falling from horseback during the shooting of Shabistan) which he wrote as an obituary which will forever remain the most memorable of the stories about people from the film world.
Even after Manto left for Lahore in 1948 their friendship remained steadfast. It must be said that Manto’s success in films was rather limited. Chal Chal Re Naujawan (1944) was successful at the box-office. Manto wrote its dialogues. The other notable success was the national award-winning Mirza Ghalib (1954). This time he wrote the story while Rajinder Singh Bedi wrote the dialogues. It won the national films award and Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru attended its premier show in Delhi. There is famous picture of him sitting next to Suraiya, who plays the tragic girl from a family of bards who falls in love with Mirza Ghalib after reading his poetry. Manto was not present on that occasion as he had moved to Lahore. Suraiya sang two famous ghazals of Ghalib in the film: ‘NuktacheeN hai ghamey dil, uss ko sunay no baney’ in Rag Yaman Kalyan and ‘Rahiye abb aisee jagha chall kar jahan koi naa ho’ in Rag Darbari. Ghulam Mohammad was the music-director.
Krishan Chander wrote stories and scripts of 19 films in Bombay. Dharti key Laal (1946) was based on his masterpiece, Anadata (The Giver of Grain) which depicted the utter helplessness of the poor during the Bengal Famine. The landlord-moneylender uses that terrible famine to exploit the hungry peasantry even more pitilessly. Khawaja Ahmed Abbas adapted the story to the format of a feature film. Dharti key Laal was the first Indian film to be acclaimed in the Moscow Film Festival. Some films, of which he wrote the dialogues and they later became popular, include Manchali (1962), Humrahi (1963), and Sharafat (1970).
Of the three, Rajinder Singh Bedi was the more successful in films in terms of working with films which were great box-office successes. He wrote the dialogues of Barri Behan(1949) and the famous Dilip-Nimmi starrer Daag (1952), Mirza Ghalib (1954), Devdas(1955), Madhumati (1958), Anuradha (1960), Anupama (1966) and Abhiman (1973).
Bedi made his directorial debut with Dastak (1970), which had the finest musical score by ghazal specialist music-director Madan Mohan. Two of the songs written by Majrooh Sultanpuri were of vintage quality: the ghazal, Hum hai mata-e-kucha-o-bazaar kee terhaan’ and the geet ‘Baiyyan na maroro balama’. Lata Mangeshkar performed them with supreme finesse. He then went on to produce more films including Phagun (1973). His novel Ek Chadar Maili Si was made into a film in Pakistan under the title Mutthi Bhar Chawal (1978). Nadeem and Sangeeta played the lead role. It was acclaimed very positively by critics and did very well at the box-office. Later in India, it was produced under the original title in 1986.
The position I have taken in this series is that those who lived in the undivided Punjab are included as Punjabis irrespective of whether their mother-tongue was Punjabi. Accordingly, the contribution of Khawaja Ahmad Abbas (born Panipat 1914 – died Mumbai 1987) are fully acknowledged in this series. My approach to the question of nationality is that all those who live in a given territory on a permanent basis must be included in the description of a nationality otherwise we open up the Pandora’s box of Seraiki, Pothohari and other forms of separatism.
Khawaja Ahmad Abbas was also a great name in Urdu fiction. He was the script writer of all great Raj Kapoor films: Awara (1951), Shri 420 (1955), Jagte Raho (1956), Mera Naam Joker (1970), Bobby (1973) and Henna (1991). He wrote scripts of many other famous movies as well. In my opinion Awara is the greatest Indian film ever made. I will discuss it when we devote one or two articles to the greatest showman, Raj Kapoor.
Although at this stage we are concerned with the contribution of Punjabis to the cinema during the earlier period it is worth mentioning that some Punjabis distinguished themselves later as well. Among them I include Sagar Sarhadi (Ganga Sagar Talwar born in Abbotabad, 1933). I met this very committed Marxist in Mumbai in 2001 and enjoyed his Pothohari dialect. He told me he learnt only Urdu at school and had continued to write in Urdu: short-stories, plays and film scripts. He has written the script of these celebrated films: Kabhi Kabhi (1976), Silsala (1981), Chandini (1989) and Faasle (1995).
Of course, the contribution of Gulzar (Sampuran Singh Kalra) as a story and script writer also belongs to the post-Partition period, particularly from the 1960s onwards. The list of award-winning films for which he wrote songs and scripts is too long and I will return to him in a later article.
Ishtiaq Ahmed is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Stockholm University, Visiting Professor at the Government College University and Honorary Senior Fellow at the Institute of South Asian Studies, National University of Singapore
Courtesy: Friday Times