Manto on Ashok Kumar (OPEN Magazine, Oct. 20-26, 2011)

[This is a must-read for all those interested in, not just Hindi cinema, but Indian popular culture: an essay by arguably the most lauded (in our day; in his, the most controversial) Urdu prose writer of the twentieth century) on the first male numero uno of the Hindi industry. The reference to the “village” of Malad (now, very much one of Bombay’s mall-istans) is itself tremendously evocative. — Qalandar]

When Najmul Hasan ran off with Devika Rani, all of Bombay Talkies was in turmoil. The film they were making had gone on the floor and some scenes had already been shot. However, Najmul Hasan had decided to pull the leading lady out of the celluloid world into the real one. The worst affected and the most worried man at Bombay Talkies was Himanshu Rai, Devika Rani’s husband and the heart and soul of the company.

S Mukherjee, Ashok Kumar’s brother-in-law, who was to make several hit movies in the years to come, was at that time sound engineer Savak Vacha’s assistant. As a fellow Bengali, he felt sorry for Himanshu Rai and wanted to do something to make Devika Rani return. Without saying anything to Rai, he somehow managed to persuade her to come back, which meant that he talked her into abandoning the warm bed of her lover Najmul Hasan in Calcutta and return to Bombay Talkies where her talents had a greater chance of flourishing.

After Devika Rani came back, Mukherjee convinced the still shaken Himanshu Rai to accept his runaway wife. As for Najmul Hasan, he was left to join the ranks of those who are fated to be deserted by their beloved for less emotional, but weightier political, religious or simply material considerations. As for the scenes he had already done, they were trashed. The question now was: Who was going to be his replacement?

Read the complete piece HERE.

14 Responses to “Manto on Ashok Kumar (OPEN Magazine, Oct. 20-26, 2011)”

  1. PS — most important of all, the print version of this piece says that it is “[e]xcerpted with permission from Penguin Books India from Stars from ‘Another Sky: The Bombay Film World of the 1940s’ by Saadat Hasan Manto, Translated into English by Khalid Hasan, Penguin, Rs. 250.” Whoa, there’s a whole book of this!


    • Not sure if you noticed, But if you look at the bottom of the essay there is a link to the chapter “Ashok Kuma” about 15 odd pages, its a good read as well. Same piece with details and more.


  2. Great essay here. I’ve long known about Manto’s collection of essays on Bollyoowd (or it’s early period) but didn’t realize there was a complete translation available.


  3. superb read , maza aa gaya….


  4. The book was recently re-released as part of the opening of Penguin Classics section in Landmark, Chennai last year and Kamal Haasan was invited for a conversation with Baradwaj Rangan. Quite an event it was, short but very insightful on one of Kamal’s favorite authors and influences. He spoke about how Manto was a huge inspiration on his understanding of the freedom movement and the Partition and subsequently, Hey Ram. The complete book is lovely, I can’t claim even an iota of knowledge about that period of Hindi Cinema, but his anecdotes and the description 1940s Mumbai jumps out of the page. There is this sort of black comedy and even some self-deprecation in his writing that makes it riveting even for me, as I was reading about some people I had no idea about.


    • I’ve read many of his stories in translation and they’re quite remarkable. Haven’t read any of the essays though will definitely get this book. Didn’t know everything you mention here.. thanks..


    • Thanks so much for this note Gradwolf — I’d ordered the book anyway after reading this piece, but it really sounds like a keeper…


  5. Gaddeswarup sent me a link to another chapter from this book that someone has posted online, this one on Noor Jahan.


  6. Brilliant and wonderful satirical Piece on Manto by Haneef

    Congratulations on your 100th anniversary. “What is there to celebrate,” you ask. “I am dead. And why are you, the judges of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, my eternal tormentors, celebrating my birthday?” We need to talk because you might be dead but your books are still published in many different editions, some on very fancy paper. I saw one edition with a price tag of 750 rupees. Now don’t start calculating how many pints of the good stuff you could buy with that kind of money. Not a drop, sir. Or maybe a quarter of that foul stuff that contributed to your demise.


  7. A Hundred Years of Manto

    “Here lies buried Saadat Hasan Manto in whose bosom are enshrined all the secrets and art of short story writing. Buried under mounds of earth, even now he is contemplating whether he is a greater short story writer or God.”


  8. manto’s Tamasha on Jallianwalah Bagh Massacre isa gut wrenching tale. But my fav of his is Thanda Gosht thoyugh Toba Tek Singh, on partition, is also right up there


  9. Bachchan1 to 10 Says:

    here is a docu on Ashok Kumar, with interviews from Bachchan, Dilip Kumar, Dev Anand, Shakti Samantha, BR Chopra, Shammi Kapoor and many others. Enjoy Friends.


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