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Lucknow?s very own... but forgotten

On November20, 1999, Naushad Ali had written to Umar Ansari for the last time. The letter (see inset) ended with ?aapka shagird? and contained a request to change some of the couplets that the famous musician from Lucknow had penned.

india Updated: May 12, 2006 00:02 IST

On November20, 1999, Naushad Ali had written to Umar Ansari for the last time. The letter (see inset) ended with “aapka shagird” and contained a request to change some of the couplets that the famous musician from Lucknow had penned.

Some of the couplets now seem prophetic. Take a look. “Tum apne dil pe kabhi aitbaar mat karna, bharosa kar to liya magar baar baar mat karna… Yeh woh nagar hai jahan, rishtey, pyaar sab jhoothe, tum is nagar mein kisi se bhi pyaar mat karna.”

It’s difficult to tell whether Naushad had a premonition about his ‘guru’ or whether it was simple coincidence, but then, when Umar Ansari breathed his last in November, 2005, shortly after the receipt of the letter, one couldn’t help thinking how the couplets summed up everything that both Naushad and his mentor Umar went through.

Of course, Naushad, because of his 66 years in the film industry, was widely remembered not just in Lucknow, the city of his birth, but across the India. But he too, had suffered pangs in the city of his birth. But, when Umar saheb passed away in his Lucknow home recently, few realised that it was the end of an era.

For, Umar saheb was a great poet, a sensitive filmmaker, lyricist and an even greater human being who loved Lucknow above everything.

“My father was being offered Pakistani citizenship several years back. That was the time when his film Sheesha starring Nargis was to be screened in Pakistan.

Umar saheb travelled to Pakistan and was told that the film could be released in Pakistan only if he accepted Pak nationality. Umar saheb refused for he loved Lucknow above all material things. He always was guided by his heart,” Rafat, his son, who now runs a readymade garments shop at Aminabad recalls.

Years ago, one remembered having travelled to Umar saheb’s rather modest house in Aminabad. The old man was offering his prayers. After his prayers, the old man ordered for tea and asked “What brings you here?”

When told that one wanted to know about his life in Bollywood, the old man appeared surprised. “I have nothing much to tell,” he offered and then agreed to talk when persisted.

“Those were the days, all right. No point, elaborating,” he said matter of factly.

But after some persuasion, the man agreed. “Before leaving for Mumbai in 1949, I was involved in a film that was made under the Cinetone banner at Ideal Studios. It was Rasheed Dulhan whose lyrics I penned with Jigar Moradabadi with Ghulam Mohammad lending music to the lyrics,” he recalled.

The man then talked. How he became the controller of productions in Babul, a film that was made under the banner of Sunny Art Productions with Dilip Kumar and Nargis in the lead. How, both Dilip Kumar and he were waiting for their cars to arrive to take them to the sets of Babul. The car was late. The shooting was getting affected. “I was getting restless. Dilip Kumar saw that I was uneasy decided to take a bus to reach the sets on time. My anxiety as a production controller was justified but for Dilip Kumar to have taken a bus to ease my tension was touching especially when you see the starry tantrums of the present-day actors,” he recalled. Babul was a hit. Umar Ansari then launched a film of his own Sheesha as the sole proprietor and producer.

“For the film I took Nargis who was in great demand at that time. During the making of Babul I had already extracted a promise from her that she would act in my film. So, when Sheesha was decided, Nargis was the obvious choice,” Umar saheb had said. Sheesha was a hit. And immediately after this Umar saheb had announced his next film, Ajnabi. As luck would have it, there was a sudden slump in the market and Indian films were banned in Pakistan. Because, he was successful there were people ready to give him a loan. Umar saheb, refused loan, went to Pakistan to probe possibilities of the film being screened there.

“I was suffering a loss of Rs 40,000 per day in those days. But, the then Pakistan government said the film could be screened there only if I became a Pakistani national. It hurt badly. I decided to wind up everything in Mumbai and headed for Lucknow in 1955, the city where I grew up, the city I loved,” he h
ad said. The greatness of the man could be judged from the fact that when asked whether he ever thought of returning to Bollywood as a lyricist, since he had great command over the language, he had replied thus: “No, the reason was that the team of Naushad and Shakeel had already established itself. Had I returned I would have worked only with Naushad and that would have meant breaking the Naushad-Shakeel duo. Something that my value system never permitted.” Till his death, everytime Naushad Ali arrived in Lucknow, a visit to Umar Ansari’s place was a must. And not just Naushad saheb virtually all superstars of the bygone era like Dilip Kumar, Nimmi, Nargis often wrote to him and invited him to Mumbai. But the man was in love with Lucknow and poetry.

It’s a pity that Lucknow never reciprocated. When he died, the government did announce that a road would be named after him. But that’s that. The man had no regrets till the end. But those who knew him would always have one: Bollywood remembers Umar Ansari still, but Lucknow forgot one of its own.

First Published: May 12, 2006 00:02 IST