Khwaja Ahmad Abbas

7 Jun 1941
1 Jun 1987
Film Industry
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Khwaja Ahmad Abbas (Hindi: ख़्वाजा अहमद अब्बास) (7 June 1914 – 1 June 1987), popularly known as K. A. Abbas, was an Indian film director, novelist, screenwriter, and a journalist in the Urdu, Hindi and English languages. He was the maker of important Hindi films such as Saat Hindustani (1969) and Do Boond Pani (1972), both of which won the National Film Award for Best Feature Film on National Integration, Palme d’Or nominated (Cannes Film Festival) Pardesi (1957) and Shehar Aur Sapna (1963), which won the National Film Award for Best Feature Film.

As a screenwriter, Khwaja Ahmad Abbas is considered one of pioneers of Indian parallel or neo-realistic cinema, having penned films like the Palme d’Or winner at the Cannes Film Festival, Neecha Nagar (1946), Jagte Raho, Dharti Ke Lal, Awara, Saat Hindustani and Naya Sansar. Apart from this, he wrote the best of Raj Kapoor films, Awaara, Shri 420, Mera Naam Joker, Bobby and Henna.

His column ‘Last Page’, holds the distinction of being one of the longest-running columns in the history of Indian journalism. The column began in 1935, in Bombay Chronicle, and moved to the Blitz after the Chronicle’s closure, where it continued until his death in 1987.He was awarded the Padma Shri in 1969, by Government of India.

Khwaja Ahmad Abbas was born in Panipat, Haryana. He was born in the home of celebrated Urdu poet, ‘Khwaja Altaf Husain Hali’, a student of Mirza Ghalib. His grandfather Khwaja Gulam Abbas was one of the chief rebels of the 1857 Rebellion movement, 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. Abbas took his early education in ‘Hali Muslim High School’, which was established by his great grand father Hali. He had his early education till 7th in Panipat. He was instructed to read the Arabic text of the Quran and his childhood dreams swung at the compulsive behest of his father. Abbas completed his matriculation at the age of fifteen. He did his B.A. with English literature in 1933 and LL.B. in 1935 from Aligarh Muslim University.

Abbas’s family tree goes back to Aiyub Ansari, the companion of the Islamic prophet Muhammad.

Abbas began his career as a journalist, when he joined ‘National Call’, a New Delhi based paper after finishing his B.A.. Later while studying law in 1934, started ‘Aligarh Opinion’, India’s first university students’ weekly during the pre-independence period.

After completing his education at Aligarh Muslim University, Abbas joined the Bombay Chronicle in 1935. He occasionally served a film critic, but after the film critic of the paper died, he was made the editor of the film section.

He entered films as a part-time publicist for Bombay Talkies in 1936, a production house owned by Himanshu Rai and Devika Rani, to whom he sold his first screenplay Naya Sansar (1941).

While at the Bombay Chronicle, (1935–1947), he started a weekly column called ‘Last Page’, which he continued when he joined the Blitz magazine.”The Last Page”, (‘Azad Kalam’ in the Urdu edition), thus became the longest-running political column in India’s history (1935–87)A collection of these columns was later published as two books. He continued to write for The Blitz and Mirror till his last days.

Meanwhile he had started writing scripts for other directors, Neecha Nagar for Chetan Anand and Dr. Kotnis Ki Amar Kahani for V. Shantaram.

In 1945, he made his directorial debut with a film based on the Bengal famine of 1943, Dharti Ke Lal (Children of the Earth) for the Indian People’s Theatre Association (IPTA). In 1951, he founded his own production company called Naya Sansar, which consistently produced films that were socially relevant including, Anhonee, Munna, Rahi (1953), based on a Mulk Raj Anand story, was on the plight of workers on tea plantations, the National Film Award winner, Shehar Aur Sapna (1964) and Saat Hindustani (1969), which won the Nargis Dutt Award for Best Feature Film on National Integration and is also remembered as Bollywood icon, Amitabh Bachchan’s debut film.

A prolific writer, and novelist, during his illustrious career spanning five decades, Abbas wrote over 73 books in English, Hindi and Urdu.Abbas was considered a leading light of the Urdu short story. His best known fictional work remains ‘Inquilab’, based Communal violence, which made him a household name in Indian literature. Like Inquilab, many of his works were translated into many Indian, and foreign languages, like Russian, German, Italian, French and Arabic.

Abbas interviewed several renowned personalities in literary and non-literary fields, including the Russian Prime Minister Khrushchov, American President Roosevelt, Charlie Chaplin, Mao-Tse-Tung and Yuri Gagarin.

He went on to write scripts for Jagte Raho, and most of the prominent Raj Kapoor films including Awaara, Shri 420, Mera Naam Joker, Bobby and Henna.

His autobiography, I Am not an Island: An Experiment in Autobiography, was first published in 1977 and later released in 2010

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