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Abbas, K. A.


Writer and Director. Nationality: Indian. Born: Khwaja Ahmad Abbas in Panipat, 7 June 1914. Education: Attended University of Aligarh. Career: Journalist, weekly columnist for Blitz magazine, and writer for various Hindi films; 1960s—suffered heart trouble and series of heart attacks. Died: 1 June 1987.

Films as Writer:


Naya Sansaar (New World) (Acharya)


Dr. Kotnis Ki Amar Kahani (The Immortal Story of Dr.Kotnis) (Shantaram)


Anhonee (The Impossible) (+ d)


Awara (Awaara; The Vagabond) (Kapoor)


Munna (Lost Child) (+ d, pr)


Shree 420 (Mr. 420) (Kapoor)


Aasman Mahal (+ d)


Saat Hindustani (Seven Indians) (+ d)


Achanak (Suddenly) (Gulzar); Bobby (Kapoor)


Faasla (Distance) (+ d)


The Naxalites


Love in Goa

Films as Director:


Dharti Ke Lal (Children of the Earth)




Chaar Dil Chaar Rahen (Four Hearts, Four Roads;FourFaces of India); One Thousand Nights on a Bed of Stones


Do Boond Pani (2 Drops of Water)


By ABBAS: book—

I Am not an Island: An Experiment in Autobiography, New Delhi, 1977.

By ABBAS: article—

"Social Realism in the Indian Cinema," in Filmfare, 2 June 1972.

On ABBAS: book—

Vasudev and Lenglet, editors, Indian Cinema Superbazaar, New Delhi, 1978.

On ABBAS: articles—

Indian Film Culture (New Delhi), no. 4, September 1964.

Film World, vol. 1, no. 10, October 1978.

Ghish, S., "K. A. Abbas: A Man in Tune with History," in Screen (Bombay), 19 June 1987.

Obituary in Jump Cut (Berkeley, California), no. 33, February 1988.

* * *

K. A. Abbas was representative of a generation of left-wing playwrights associated with the Indian People's Theatre Association (IPTA), who sought to draw upon indigenous and folk forms and idioms to communicate their radical ideas. This was evident in the first film Abbas directed, Dharti Ke Lal (Children of the Earth), about the Bengal famine of 1943. But perhaps as important were questions of the topical: how films he had conceptualised would draw upon immediate events and articulate them as part of his mise en scène. In Dharti Ke Lal this led to IPTA using actual peasant unions to stage protest marches for the film. Otherwise, in ways which were less directly political in their articulation, Abbas drew upon his career as a journalist to fulfill these topical relations to contemporary life. Journalism was used to constitute the raw material of his scenarios, and also functioned as representative modern practice and metaphor.

Thus, his 1946 script, Dr. Kotnis Ki Amar Kahani (The Immortal Story of Dr. Kotnis), drew on a real story, the commitment and premature death of a young doctor assigned to the Indian medical mission which helped the Chinese communists in Yenan, which had been recounted in Abbas's own book on the subject. And, in Naya Sansaar (New World), journalism becomes the medium through which the struggle for a new rationality was represented. Perhaps as significantly, in Naya Sansaar Abbas employed an oedipal plot to frame his narrative of the emergence of a new notion of Indian personality, one founded on the conflict between a dynamic young reporter and his cautious editor.

If the drive for a new, Nehruvian truth, uncluttered by superstition and the impediments of traditional pieties motivated Abbas's heroes, it is significant that the individuated oedipal self through which these aspirations were voiced came to be narratively constrained. A key example is the later Awara, in which the polemic against social attitudes founded on hierarchical and genetic conceptions of the social order is somewhat denied its full power when the hero recovers the elevated social situation he had lost. Not only is the critique of social hierarchy cushioned by this; so too is the discourse of masculine aggression and conflict, for the oedipal antagonism against the father which structures the story is qualified, and held in check by an undercurrent that motivates the hero to recover his lost mother and the innocence of childhood. Underlying Abbas's stories, and their rationalist stances, there rests a certain nostalgia, an idea of loss that is more widely common in the Hindi popular cinema. Significantly, his 1954 film, Munna, while abandoning the musical and performative conventions of that cinema, nevertheless founds its story on a child's search for his mother. The archetypal mother came to cast a looming shadow, one which spoke of the loss and the drive to renegotiate a cultural mooring.

Finally, we should note a strongly didactic element in Abbas's writing, again quite common in traditional dramaturgy, and here yoked to progressive causes. His own efforts as director to use film to urge caste, religious, and regional amity, such as in Chaar Dil Chaar Rahen and Saat Hindustani were less successful than when these imperatives were combined with directors more attuned to the entertainment conventions of the popular Hindi cinema. This is especially apparent in Abbas's work with Raj Kapoor.

—Ravi Vasudevan

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