Role of progressive writers in cinema
KARACHI: Lacing his presentation with his trademark quips cultural commentator Asif Noorani recounted the contribution of the Progressive Writers Association to the Indo-Pak cinema on Saturday at the fifth Karachi Literature Festival.
Beginning with the history of the association Mr Noorani said that the initial members included writers such as Munshi Premchand and Hasrat Mohani. “There were two types of members, the hard-core communist card holders such as Sajjad Zaheer and Kaifi Azmi and left of the centre members such as Faiz Ahmed Faiz.” The moderator, Haris Gazdar, interjected and said that Faiz later on also became a communist card holder. “Accha baad main woh bhatak gaye,” retorted Mr Noorani.
“Around the same time the Progressive Artists’ Association was formed that included M.F. Husain and Souza. And the Indian People’s Theatre Association or the Ipta was formed.” Mr Noorani told the jam-packed hall that there were several regional theatre associations also in Maharashtra, Gujrat, Chattisgarh, Punjab and Bengal. “Khwaja Ahmed Abbas one of the progressive writers adapted a Bengali play by Jyotinand Mitra called Nava Jibonar Gaan and made a movie Dharti Ke Lal which is considered to be a classic.” He also pointed out that this theatre movement seriously dented the Parsi theatre at the time which was commercial-oriented and considered an escapist form of entertainment, gently ribbing that he did not want to say more since the hotel in which his programme was being conducted was owned by a Parsi. “Ipta had several other well-known writers for instance Shailendra and Balraj Sahni.”
When cinema or the talkies arrived, these progressive writers then moved to the new medium and made significant contribution. “Since the talkies paid far more than theatre even the ones who had said that they would not sell their art to the talkies such as Shailendra were compelled to do so because of better remuneration.
For an afsana a writer would get paid Rs20 and for a ghazal a poet was paid Rs10 and most didn’t even get this paltry sum. But writing a song for movies meant getting paid Rs200 per song, a handsome amount of money in those days.” Post-partition progressives such as Rajinder Singh Bedi, Hameed Sheikh, Saifuddin Saif, Ahmed Nadeem Qasmi and Hajra Mastoor wrote scripts and songs for numerous films.