Dilip Kumar, our one-time colleague in Rajya Sabha, tweeted on his 89th birthday on December 11, even as the deaths of Dev Anand, Shammi Kapoor, MF Husain, Bhimsen Joshi, Bhupen Hazarika and Jagjit Singh continue to sink in. A void, difficult to fill, has been left behind. But we must end this year in celebrating the life and work of these creative giants who, along with many others, moulded the collective consciousness of the country’s post-independent generations. The celebration lies in the resolve to carry forward their contributions in creating, what is popularly called, a national psyche.
In the 1970s, I remember the night-long recitations of Faiz Ahmed Faiz at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, and the enchanting singing of Bhupen Hazarika, which left everybody at the university recite or sing these for months on end. A Tamil student would be singing Bhupenda’s Asomiya and Bengali rendition of Paul Robeson’s ‘Old Man River’ or an Odisha student reciting Faiz saab’s poetry, melding revolutionary urge with a lover’s passion. Persuaded by us, the university also invited Balraj Sahni to deliver its convocation address. He chose to be cremated draped in a red flag.
Hindi cinema — I don’t like the term Bollywood as its origins lie in aping Hollywood — moulded a social consciousness that reflected the aspirations of a resurgent and an independent India. The hopes generated by Raj Kapoor through his characters achieving what appears impossible, Bimal Roy’s influencing the national agenda on issues like land reforms (Do Bigha Zameen), untouchability (Sujata), Dev Anand’s eternal romanticism or Guru Dutt’s nostalgia of a bygone era, among others, gave an expression to the concept of the ‘Idea of India’. These contributions created a common consciousness that wove together the bonds of commonality in diversity.
This, however, didn’t happen accidentally. The Progressive Writers’ Association (PWA) was formed in 1936 under the presidentship of Munshi Premchand in Lucknow. In the same year and in the same city, the All India Kisan Sabha and the All India Students’ Federation were established. Sajjad Zaheer, who was sent as general secretary of the Communist Party of Pakistan, after Partition, was its general secretary. The writers’ association brought together literary giants like Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Saadat Hasan Manto, Bhisham Sahni, Ali Sardar Jafri, Josh Malihabadi, Firaq Gorakhpuri, among many others, including Sahir Ludhianvi, Majrooh Sultanpuri, Kaifi Azmi and Shailendra, whose lyrics gave the most cherishable images of the actors that we recollect today.
A few years later, in the wake of the Bengal famine of the 1943 and the Quit India Movement, the Indian Peoples’ Theatre Association (IPTA) was formed, bringing together giants like Prithviraj Kapoor, Ritwik Ghatak, Utpal Dutt, KA Abbas and Salil Chowdhury, among others. It no longer mattered whether one was associated with the PWA or the IPTA. Every creative personality of those times was influenced by these movements, as Dev Anand himself said about Navketan Films and Vijay Anand in his last interview.
Premchand, in his presidential address, said that the PWA’s “purpose is to mould our thoughts and emotions and give them the right direction”. He summarised the duty of a writer by saying, “He becomes the standard bearer of humanity, of moral uprightness, of nobility. It becomes his duty to help all those who are downtrodden, oppressed and exploited — individuals or groups — and to advocate their cause. And his judge is itself — it’s before society that he brings his plant.” Both the PWA and IPTA carried forward the struggle to give expression to the changes taking place in Indian life and to assist “the spirit of progress in the country... discourage the general reactionary and revisionist tendencies on questions like family, religion, sex, war and society”.
It’s no secret that the Communist Party played an important role in catalysing these organisations and their works, in addition to the contributions made by the communists in bringing into the agenda of the freedom movement the issues of complete independence (a decade before the All India Congress Committee resolution of the ‘Purna Swaraj’), land reforms, the abolition of zamindari through the militant peasant movements and the linguistic reorganisation of the states. The communists, thus, carried forward the realisation of the Idea of India. It’s no coincidence that Mehboob Khan’s banner had a hammer and sickle, opening his magnum opus Mother India. The giants of Hindi cinema came from such ranks.
The generation of actors that gave expression to such a collective social consciousness are no more but have left behind their everlasting images for us to cherish. The content of these, however, were given by the lyricists and were expressed by the artists. It’s indeed ironic that while their words have been rendered into songs, many of these people never got their due. They virtually remain ‘unsung’ heroes. Hopefully, Parliament will give them at least some of their due by legislating the pending Copyright Act in the current session.
The current domination of the Khan quartet over Hindi cinema and its content created by many distinguished, creative minds including our Rajya Sabha colleague Javed Akhtar, AR Rahman and others, must continue to nurture the building of such social consciousness in modern times that will further the realisation of the Idea of India, combating, as PWA had said, “trends reflecting communalism, racial antagonism and exploitation of man by man”.
With this spirit of celebration, as 2011 draws to an end, we wish Yusuf Khan saab and Hindi cinema that this ‘suhana safar’ continues towards the realisation of the Idea of India.
( Sitaram Yechury is CPI(M) Politburo member and Rajya Sabha MP )