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Marxist who made it good in movies

V. GANGADHAR

In the glamorous world of Hindi cinema, A. K. Hangal seemed a misfit. But his talent brought offers, trophies and the Padma Bhushan.



A. K. Hangal

There is no buzz in the ground floor flat of the unpretentious housing society at Santa Cruz, a Mumbai suburb. Its occupant, 89-year-old stage and screen actor, A. K. Hangal, has just been awarded the Padma Bhushan, and he wanted a re-confirmation of it!

The official intimation of the award did please Hangal, one of the few remnants of romantic Marxism, that too in the Hindi film industry. His world has revolved round films, the Indian People's Theatre Association (IPTA), Marxist ideology and workers' causes. It is hard to imagine that this frail, old man who smiled easily was a revolutionary. Even in the pre-partition days, Hangal, a native of Karachi, had protested and organised marches against injustice and imperialism.

Hangal points out with pride how, during the freedom struggle and subsequently the `morchas' for workers' causes he had faced lathis and bullets. "Real ones, not the ones you see on the screen," he chuckles.

A tailor by profession, Hangal was involved in theatre and for years worked for IPTA, which produced thinking and revolutionary plays. "It was theatre with a difference and attracted quality minds," he says. "Our plays were purposeful and not necessarily propagandist."

In its long years of existence, IPTA produced hundreds of actors, writers and producers who made their mark on Mumbai's stage and screen. Some of them forgot their ideology, others diluted it according to the times but Hangal has kept his principles of secularism and Marxism intact.

During the height of the cold war between India and Pakistan, Hangal's presence at the Pak Consulate office on their National Day, where he had gone to get a visa, was misinterpreted by fascist forces.

They launched a vicious campaign against Hangal that included a boycott of his films and even producers avoided him. "Those were tough days," Hangal admits. "But then, should I give up my principles over such threats?" He was an unlikely figure in the glamorous world of cinema. But Hangal's talent got him innumerable offersof major character roles. His small flat is full of trophies, a proof of appreciation.

Making an impact

Some were cameo parts, but they left an impact. He starred with generations of stars, from Sanjeev Kumar, Jeetendra and Amitabh to the present day Khan trio. When he was ill, producers were prepared to wait for him to get well.

Hangal has never trained as an actor. "I believe in natural acting and underplay my roles," he explains.

Hangal regards the stage as a greater challenge. "No retakes and then you are confronted with a live audience," he points out.

"In Prithvi theatre, you are very close to the audience and this can unnerve some actors." He agrees that today's movies have no sense of purpose, lacks a coherent story and features [ingredients that aims at a] commercial success.

"Making a film these days is expensive," he says. "If the filmmaker wants to break even, he feels he has to resort to sex, violence, loud music and other gimmicks."

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