All quiet at the crematorium: A.K.Hangal

How the social hierarchy reveals itself is evident in how many people did not attend actor A K Hangal’s funeral. He lived to be 98 and half of these years were spent in the Hindi film industry.

This is showbiz, and most of the people in it make it a point to be present for various reasons. At one of the prominent funeral pictures, I spotted two well-known stars having a good laugh. Could the joke not wait? Or were they, as has become so trendy to say, “celebrating his life”?

Okay, so why were no prominent names who Hangal saab acted with present? They will run to see a newly-born baby who will come out all swathed to hide her from the world; they will rush to the hospital for an actor who suffers from fever or routine checkups; they will visit to condole the death of a parent/grandparent of one of them.

Of the few character actors present, Raza Murad did not mince words:

“The actors would’ve come if a political party summoned them. But they didn’t have an hour to spare to pay their last respects to the man who gave 50 years to the industry and worked with all top stars.”

I’d also ask the media the same question: where were they? They will climb atop trees to capture a baraat they are not invited to; they will sit for hours outside vanity vans waiting for some star, or even starlet, to turn up after giving 40 retakes to get a sound byte; they will do their Entertainment slots with loops that make no sense. Had they landed there, some stars might have turned up.

Of course, they tweeted about it, or gave their two paise worth.

“A K Hangal, passes away this morning!! A veteran, a gentleman, a congenial co artist and a master at his work” – Amitabh Bachchan

But he is not Uddhav Thackeray getting an angioplasty, right? Besides, what are those two exclamation marks for to announce a death?

“An era comes to an end. Theatre and film were enriched by him” – Shabana Azmi

So what happened? After all, he was part of the great theatre movement IPTA, a card-holding Communist that Ms. Azmi admires so.

“Undying father figure in world of theatre n hindi cinema lived for 50 years in this profession only because he was disciplined n a thorough gentleman, who would bring theatre discipline on sets of a film shoot too . He worked with me in ‘Krodhi’ n ‘Khalnayak’ and we used to call him ‘humble sahib’. Great soul, indeed” - Subhash Ghai

I suppose Mr. Ghai thought he was so humble he would not have wanted to feel conceited about people attending his last rites.

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This is only one of the concerns. More important is the fact that Hangal saab could not afford treatment when he fell seriously ill last year.

I have written this earlier, but let me repeat it. The day after it came out, the film industry woke up. Some contributed quietly, some raised issues of ‘doing something for our seniors’. Jaya Bachchan sent a message to be conveyed that his ‘daughter’ remembers him (he played her father in many movies) and her office will handle his medical bills. How dismissive is this. Office? Could she not visit him or just keep silent about who would manage it? Why this announcement?

Upon mild recovery, Mr Hangal was on the ramp in a wheelchair. The reason? Part of a fashion show was organised by designer Riyaz Gangji to generate money for the ailing actor, according to Mumbai Mirror.

Helpless to save his health
This was insensitive and gross. Was he a showpiece? Can there be no dignity in such charity? Imagine someone who was a “freedom fighter” - incidentally everyone is mentioning this having discovered one more use for their patriotic fervour - expected to display himself and his “abject poverty” to get a decent life. These people get mileage and our seniors have no choice but to go along.

Following this, another case was highlighted about someone leading a penurious life. The editor of Sholay, a blockbuster and pathbreaker of its time, was living in Dharavi. Shocking? Yes and no. How many of us ever bothered to find out who edited the film? What about all those researchers who did critical tomes on these movies? Why such discoveries now?

M.S. Shinde worked on a salary of Rs. 2000 and he has no regrets:

“I worked with Sippy Films on a salary of Rs 2,000 (per film) all my life. I didn’t mind the salary because they allowed me to take up work outside.”

At one time even film stars, the visible beautiful faces immortalised in black and white, led lonely forgotten lives. They did not invest their money and instead chose to flash their Bentleys. That was stardom and glamour in the pre-red carpet days. It also had to do with splurging arising out of insecurity if they had made it from the pavements.

Think also about art house cinema before it got sponsors and acquired marketing skills. A whole bunch of idealists would descend on the city and often crashed at someone’s place. Or took the train back home after performing in a few street theatre plays.

This is not to deny the genuine problems faced by our veterans, but before we dismiss it as callousness think about the hierarchy that has always been prevalent. Even today the actors are paid much more than the director. We won’t get into the subject of junior artistes, at one time called ‘extras’, who have to await their turn and often cosy up to the ‘provider’. It is not a business that is organised and therefore a risky proposition for almost everyone concerned.

Mr Shinde might have had it better if there was mandatory provision for provident fund and retirement benefits.

Newspapers and TV channels, if they do take notice do so in a patronising manner: to announce how people came forward to help after they ‘broke’ the story.

The Hindi film industry is acting out a farce with its fake philanthropy helped along by the media.

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I’m afraid, this should have been a tribute to a fine actor, but this attitude upsets me. About Hangal saab and his most-remembered character of the blind Rahim chacha is Sholay, I have some reservations. It was a stereotype, the token nice Muslim posited against the rough terrain of thakurs and dacoits. His blindness, of course, gave it added pathos of not seeing the bad and therefore understanding the good.

But I cannot forget being creeped out by him as the lecherous old skirt chaser in Shaukeen. I disliked him, so credible he was. He, Ashok Kumar and Utpal Dutt, all wonderful, formed the trio of shaukeens. Dutt was always stylised; Ashok Kumar had his mannerisms. A.K. Hangal had the ability to not act. After seeing him as the genial grandpa or the family retainer in other films, this was a shocker.

I mentioned elsewhere how it is perhaps our moral obsession that makes all tributes glorify his Rahim chacha character and of course, the famous line, “Itna sannata kyon hai bhai?” (Why is it so quiet here)

It was indeed very quiet at the crematorium, for no one was there.


  1. I especially liked his acting in Avtaar, with Rajesh Khanna. He pretended to be happy, but was burning with agony inside. Great acting.

    In Tollywood also, the case of a most glamorous actress of yore came forward, some 12 years ago. She spent her last days as a BEGGAR beside the old Ganges ghat in Kolkata.

    People are cruel all around; cruel and careless. The society chews the succulent part and then spits out into the darkness of oblivion.

  2. FV,

    QUOTE: "Rahim chacha.... was a stereotype, the token nice Muslim.."

    Are you saying that Muslims are generally not nice? Or are you saying that our films, in pursuit of a sekulaar idiom and in dread of the censors, take the easy way out by obliterating the Jehadi "spirit"?

    After all, it is not too difficult to imagine Rahim Chacha's son joining SIMI and getting killed in a preemptive police encounter. Will it look poignant and realistic for you? Even if the villagers refuse to comfort the old man while he hobbles to the mosque to "ask Allah why He did not bestow him with more sons"?

    Time for a contemporary remake of the classic. Hopefully not by Ram Gopal Varma!

  3. Anon:

    Indeed, it is a cruel world. Glitter hides warts.


    Thank you. Hope you've been well. Not seen you around.


    Look forward to a post-modernist jihadist version, like all stereotypes assume one would.


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