Harsh Sharma, Sep 2, 2012,
On August 27, Prithvi Theatre buzzed with a sizeable crowd of film personalities, media persons and theatre lovers.
It wasn’t a play that they had gathered to see, but they had come to pay their last tributes to Avtaar Kishan Hangal, the legendary actor who had passed away at Asha Parekh Hospital only a day before. The condolence meeting had been organised by Indian People’s Theatre Association (IPTA) to remember the contributions of A K Hangal to Hindi cinema and theatre and it was heartening to see people braving the heavy Mumbai rains to remember the man who had given them several unforgettable moments on celluloid.
Although Hangal attained fame through his matchless performances in over 200 Hindi films, very few people know that he was also a freedom fighter who was imprisoned for close to two years in a Pakistani jail before he came to India in 1949; a skilled tailor who was paid about Rs 500 a month for stitching elegant suits; a dedicated Communist who kept striving for a just world, a member of Indian People’s Theatre’s Association (IPTA); a recipient of Padma Bhushan and countless film awards and a skilled writer who penned an interesting autobiography titledThe life and times of A K Hangal.
Though I met the legendary actor A K Hangal for an interview just about a year ago, it was some 15 years ago that we had a communication that revealed his humane side to me. Bowled over by his performance in Shaukeen, I wrote a letter to him expressing my appreciation of his role. At the same time, I also asked him why films of that quality were no longer made. Within a week he replied to me explaining how the market-driven film industry panders to popular tastes, where quality often loses out to making money.
That he was a fatherly figure to so many actors became apparent at the condolence meeting. “It wasn’t a condolence meeting but a celebration of a life well-lived,” remarked IPTA member Ramesh Talwar, a close associate of Hangal for over four decades. Noted actor Pawan Malhotra said, “He nurtured several actors who were associated with theatre, the late Sanjeev Kumar being one of them. Through his brilliant cameos in films, Hangal ji proved time and again that roles aren’t big or small, actors are.”
Though the impressive performances of Hangal in films like Sholay, Shaukeen and Baawarchi may seem so effortless, he worked hard to get into the skin of his characters. Remembering his association with the iconic actor, Javed Akhtar said, “His attention to the minute details of the characters he essayed never failed to awe me. While narrating the role of a retired school teacher in Deewar, he queried, ‘Can you tell me for how long this teacher has been living a retired life? I want to feel how he thinks.’ On another occasion, while we were working in Saagar, when I asked him why was he asking so many questions about the watchman of a lighthouse, a role he was to portray in the film, he replied, ‘Mere alava us watchman ka hai hi kaun?’ But what left me dumb and dazed was when Hangal saab told me how he conceived the role of Rahim Chacha in the blockbuster Sholay. He told me, ‘Though the old man can’t see, there is a deep-seated desire in him to see, which is his why his shoulder keeps twitching involuntarily!’ This was the depth of thinking of the iconic actor. He just fell in love with his characters.”
Hangal would have loved the glowing tributes he received from film people who genuinely care for quality cinema. And what better venue than a theatre to say the final goodbye to a man who devoted his entire life to stage
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