It came as news to many when Ketan Anand, son of pioneer filmmaker Chetan Anand (1921-1997), revealed that his father’s film “Neecha Nagar” won the Grand Prix award at the Cannes Film Festival in 1946. Based on a story by Hayatullah Ansari, which in turn was inspired by Russian writer Maxim Gorky’s “Lower Depths”, looked at social disparity in India. Interestingly, it was the debut film of Kamini Kaushal and Pandit Ravi Shankar gave the musical score.
The significant contribution of the centenary edition of the Khushwant Singh Litfest was an assessment of his peers such as MF Husain, Ismat Chughtai and Bhisham Sahni, who share the centenary. Filmmaker Anand, a few years younger, was also recalled, for many have forgotten the man who had given memorable films like “Haqeeqat”, “Heer Ranjha” and “Hanste Zakhm”.
The festival also stressed on the social responsibility of these pioneers and their collective work in the field of art, cutting across religion and class barriers. Paying a tribute to Khushwant Singh, Bhisham Sahni’s daughter Kalpana Sahni said: “Khushwant Singh’s first novel was Train to Pakistan. My father travelled in the last train from Pakistan and after witnessing the horror of destruction on the journey during Partition, he wrote a story Amritsar aa gaya hai.”
Talking of “Tamas”, which Bhisham Sahni wrote in 1974, Kalpana said: “But for the character of Nathu, played by Om Puri in the film based on the novel, all other were real characters and as an activist of the Congress in Lahore, he had seen the circumstances leading to the great divide as well as the real-life parallels of all other characters who featured in the novel.”
The festival also made it a point not to ignore the centenary of the celebrated painter MF Husain. A film named “My Friend Husain”, made by Barkha Roy and Bhawna Shreshtha, was screened. The 20-minute film highlighted the personal and secular side of Husain, who died in virtual exile in London in 2011 following threats to his life on communal interpretation of his work.
Rakshanda Jalil, a well-known writer, will devote a session to the writings of the grand dame of Urdu literature, Ismat Chughtai, on Sunday. Jalil says: “As an active member of the literary grouping known as the Progressive Writers’ Association, Ismat was at the heart of a movement that spearheaded socially engaged, politically driven literature. She was part of a core group of the Bombay progressives who, during the high noon of the progressive movement all through the 1940s and early ’50s, spoke in unequivocal terms of the need for social change.”
‘Most well-dressed festival’
Anchoring a session at the Khushwant Singh Litfest, columnist Malvika Sangghvi said the Kasauli festival may not be the largest in the country or the most popular, but it was “certainly the most well-dressed” festival. “People come here wearing the most elegant clothes,” she said.
No casual wear
The Kasauli Club, venue of the festival, has a strict dress code and among the stars who were sent away by the security guards to change their clothes and shoes were the handsome Kabir Bedi and prominent actor Om Puri. Kabir had come in a T-shirt and Om in walking shoes. Kabir had to go to the market to buy a shirt and return suitably dressed. Writer Gulzar Singh Sandhu, president of the Chandigarh Sahitya Akademi, had to miss the Friday dinner because his shoes were not in order and it was too late to get them changed.
Rahul Singh said they took care to include a humour session because his father loved jokes and laughter. This year, they need not have bothered because Om Puri took it upon himself to do the comic act with aplomb. Those present loved his self-deprecatory humour when he said, “I was educated in a Punjabi-medium school.”
He even turned what was to be a serious session on “The Making of Tamas” with Govind Nihalani into a stand-up comedy, accusing director Nihalani and late Amrish Puri of eating all the cream and curd during the making of the film and depriving the rest. “It was a unit of some 80- odd people so you can imagine how much milk must be coming each day and how much cream there must be,” he said.
Nihalani bore all the fun poked at him by Om with laughter, saying, “The way you talk of me, I wonder why I choose you for an actor.” However, later in an aside, he said that Om was his best actor and a lovely human being and the two have done seven award-winning films together, including remarkable ones like ‘Aakrosh’ and ‘Ardh Satya’.
Hindi vs English
Kalpana Sahni was a little miffed when she went to the festival book shop and found that the English translation of her father’s famous novel was on the display and not the original Hindi. “He got the award for the Hindi novel and it should have been there.”