Remembering Khwaja Ahmad Abbas


Khwaja Ahmad Abbas : Remembering  a Saga of Commitment




Born on June 7th, Abbas left the world on June 1st . The whole life of Abbas thus appears a film in flash back, a technique often used in Cinema. Like the famous song of the film Mera Naam Joker in which life is compared to a show of three hours, the life of Abbas is also a show of three genres- Journalism, Literature and Cinema. The year 2014 is the centenary year of this genius who described himself as a “Communicator” and used almost all media available to put forward his ideas, feelings and thoughts in order to create a secular, socialist and democratic nation free of the blemishes of poverty, hunger, caste prejudices and communal hatred. He was an internationalist to the core and believed in universal brotherhood. His journalism, literary writings and films are best illustrations of his commitment.


In a life span of seventy three years Abbas wrote more than seventy three books, wrote, directed and produced about a dozen films and wrote scripts for more than fifty films. The much talked about ‘Common Man’ was valorized and brought centre stage in the films like Awara, Shri 420, Jagte Raho, Saat Hindustani, Dr.Kotnis Ki Amar Kahani, Do Boond Paani ,Mera Naam Joker, Shehar aur Sapna and Aasmaan Mahal.It was the scripts of Abbas with a socialist leaning which gave Raj Kapur an image of the common man and endeared him to the masses not just in India but all over the world. He made a film Pardesi in collaboration with Russia in which the directors and cast were chosen from the two countries and worked in perfect coordination with each other.  The film was a success in Russia too.


Abbas belonged to a family of the well known reformist poet in Urdu Maulana Altaaf Hussain Hali, a student of Mirza Ghalib . His grandfather Khwaja Gulam Abbas was one of the chief rebels of the 1857 revolution, and the first martyr of Panipat to be blown from the mouth of a cannon. Abbas’s father Ghulam-Us-Sibtain graduated from Aligarh Muslim University, was a tutor of a prince and a prosperous businessman, who modernised the preparation of Unani medicines. Abbas’s mother, ‘Masroor Khatoon’, was the daughter of Sajjad Husain, an enlightened educationist. The family tradition  made him into some kind of a rebel himself. While pursuing his M.A. in English Literature he hoisted the tricolour on the student’s Union office at Aligarh Muslim University and was expelled from the University for this ‘crime’.


Beginning his journalistic career with the radical paper ‘National Call’ edited by J.N. Sahni , he went to Mumbai and joined ‘Bombay Chronicle’ in 1941 and served there as a sub editor, film critic and editor of the magazine. He began a weekly column “Last Page” and shifted the column to ‘The Blitz’ which he joined in 1947. He continued writing this column without a break for more than forty five years. This is a record in the world of journalism. No where in the world in any language has there been a column which continued uninterrupted for so long.


When he was writing film reviews, some producer commented that it is easy to criticise a script but is tough to write one. He took up the challenge and started writing scripts and screenplays for films. Later, he felt that the producers and directors for whom he was writing did not do justice with his stories. He then decided to produce and direct his own films. These films did not become box office hits but quite a few of them bagged national and international awards. His film Neecha Nagar won Palme d’Or at the Cannes film festival. Dharti Ke Lal was a film that he made for Indian People’s Theatre Association. This and the film Shehar Aur Sapna won the Presidents Gold Medal.


 As a screenwriter, Khwaja Ahmad Abbas is considered one of the pioneers of Indian parallel or neo-realistic cinema. He was a man who practiced what he wrote in his writings. When he was awarded the president’s Gold Medal for his film, he took the entire crew to Delhi in the award ceremony and distributed the award money of One Lac  rupees equally among all the unit members. He wrote Bobby for Raj Kapoor , film which became a super duper hit. In this film too he did not miss his mission. He tried to preach that one must be willing to change. The parents of the hero Rishi Kapoor in the film initially do not allow him to marry the heroine Dimple Kapadia not because of religion or caste but simply because she belongs to a poor fisherman’s family and the hero is the son of a rich man. The class dimension is kept much higher than any other consideration. Abbas drives home the message that the new generation will not care for the class distinctions in their relationships.




His commitment to portray the reality and create characters who take up challenges and dare for the cause of humanity is seen in about eight of his novels and five collections of short stories. I Write As I Feel and Bread, Beauty and Revolution are two books which are compilation of his columns  published in Bombay Chronicle and The Blitz respectively. His novel Inquilab published  in English, Hindi and Urdu became very popular and sold more than ninety thousand copies in Russian. Abbas was planning to write a trilogy but could write only one sequel to Inquilab namely The World Is My Village. Maria, Tomorrow Is Ours, The Walls of Glass, Boy Meets Girl, When Night Falls, Distant Dreams, Divided Hearts, The Naxalites and Four Friends are some of the important novels which have made Abbas a writer of Indian English Fiction as well. However, in literature he is known more for his stories. His story “Sparrows” translated in Urdu and Hindi as Ababeel has become a classic and is included in some of the best short stories of the world.


Cages of Freedom and Other Stories, Black Sun and other Stories, Rice and Other Stories, The Thirteenth Victim and Other Stories and The Gun and Other Stories are some of the major collections of short story collections which have become popular in the world of literature. In his writings he always pleaded for democracy and secularism, economic equality and socialism and freedom of expression. He fought a case in the Supreme Court of India against the Censor Board of India for his film A Tale of Four Cities. For the first time in Indian History a film was screened in the Supreme Court of India and the apex court not only asked the Censor Board to give a U certificate to the film but also congratulated Abbas Sahab for making such a meaningful film. In his Will Abbas wrote that after his death he should be given a Muslim Shroud but above it should be placed the pages of the Blitz with his column The Last Page because it was for this that he live and died.


Recipient of a number of National and international awards like  Haryana State Robe of Honour for literary achievements in 1969, the prestigious Ghalib Award for his contribution to Urdu prose literature in 1983 Vorosky Literary Award of the Soviet Union in 1984, Urdu Akademi Delhi Special Award 1984, Maharashtra State Urdu Akademi Award in 1985 and the Soviet Award for his contribution to the cause of Indo-Soviet Friendship in 1985 in literature, and more than a dozen awards for films Abbas remains an icon in the post independence literary and cultural horizon of India.


The author is a Professor of English at Janardan Rai Nagar Rajasthan Vidyapeeth ,Udaipur (Rajasthan) 313001 and is the author of two books on K.A.Abbas Ethos of Khwaja Ahmad Abbas and Script to Screen : The Progressive Vision of K.A. Abbas.






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