On Agha's (probable) 103rd birth anniversary (21 March), his daughter shares memories of her father and his foray into films.
Agha’s daughter Shahnaz Anand remembers the comedian
Mumbai - 21 Mar 2017 9:00 IST
Updated : 27 Feb 2018 16:16 IST
Running away from his Pune home, actor Agha, most famously known for his comedic roles in films like Insaniyat (1955) and Sharada (1957), came to Nagpada, an area in South Mumbai, where he joined a theatre group that performed on stage and in the streets. From there he found his way to the film studio Kanval Movietone where he landed a role in Stree Dharma (1935) starring Mehtab and Nazir.
Agha’s first film as hero, Jwar Bhata (1944), had a young actor named Dilip Kumar making his debut as the second lead. Beginning his career in the silent era and continuing till the 1990s, Agha had a very long run in the Hindi film industry. Yet, originally, the comedian had no aspiration to become an actor. He actually wanted to become a jockey.
Agha's daughter, Shahnaz Anand, told Cinestaan.com, “He was very fond of horses. Unfortunately, he became very tall so he couldn’t become a jockey. He then ran away from home and came to Bombay, to Nagpada, and there he joined a drama group acting on stage. SF Yusuf was an old-time producer and he had all these young boys acting on the stage. That is where Dad started his acting career, on stage in Nagpada, on the streets.”
Garrulous on screen, the actor was reticent about his film career at home. Shahnaz said he kept his children far away from the industry. She recalls going with her father to the sets of Jab Jab Phool Khile (1965) in Kashmir and seeing him interact with the crew.
“He was always joking on the sets, always making fun of everybody, and he would talk to the workers, the lightboys, the spotboys and all, and he would speak to them in their language," she said. "If it was in Maharashtra, he would speak in Marathi. He was born in Pune, so he knew Marathi.
"He did a lot of films in the South. He did [many] Gemini Studios films, the [Hindi] remakes of Tamil films. He did Insaniyat (1955) with Dilip Kumar, Dev Anand, and a chimpanzee called Zippy. Zippy was a superstar [who] had come all the way from America to act [in the film]. He became very fond of my father. It was amazing the kind of rapport they both had during the shoot.”
Agha was mostly known for his comedic roles, but there were certain films in which he had a dramatic presence as well. Amiya Chakrabarty and Agha were dear friends and the two worked together in quite a few films. Chakrabarty offered him a chance to show his dramatic side in Patita (1953) with the role of Mastaram, who saves Usha Kiran’s Radha from suicide and gives the distraught woman and her child, food, shelter and a chance to live. In Kala Pani (1958), he is friend and roommate to Dev Anand’s Karan who is on a quest to help his father who is wrongly imprisoned for murder.
Even so, Agha always marched to the beat of his own drum. “My husband, Tinnu Anand, directed my father in Duniya Meri Jeb Mein (1979). He used to come home and hold his head and sit. I’d say, ‘What happened?’ He said, ‘Your father doesn’t learn any dialogue. He says his own dialogue. The other actor cannot get a cue to say his dialogues!’ (Laughs) This is also what I had heard earlier, that Dad makes up his own dialogues. The other actors [used to] get stumped, when do they catch on? We used to tell him, ‘Daddy, you are not supposed to say these dialogues. This is how you say it.’ He used to say, ‘Nahin, nahin, chalega, chalega [No, no, this works]!’
Full of laughter and fun on the sets, Agha enjoyed his days off with his children. “He would play cards with us," said Shahnaz. "He loved cricket and football, those were his favourite games. He was also very fond of snookers.”
Back in 1914, there weren’t any registers to keep records of births and deaths. Shahnaz explained, “His mother died when he was very little and his sister was also very young and she didn’t remember the date as he grew up. 21st March is our Iranian New Year [Navroz]. So he said that’s the best day I’ll keep my birthday on. We used to celebrate [it then].”
Agha had three daughters and one son, Jalal, who, like his father, became an actor. But he didn’t want his daughters to join films. Shahnaz laughed and said, "We were three sisters and [my] two sisters were very keen to act. I was not keen, but I acted the most. He would say, ‘You girls don’t need to act, you just need to get into the kitchen and learn how to cook.’ He would be so strict.”
Shahnaz’s first film as an actress was KA Abbas’s Saat Hindustani (1969), which, incidentally, was also the acting debut of a certain Amitabh Bachchan. “[Tinnu], who was not my husband then, and my brother [Jalal] encouraged me to do this film," she remembered. "I was not very willing to do it, but I did it and my father was a little taken aback. But he let me do it because I was a little tomboy and he said Jalal is there and it’s Abbas uncle’s production so it’s kind of a safe thing for my daughter to be in. We were very close family friends.
"After the film got released, I did get offers and my father asked me, ‘You want to act?’ I said, ‘No, thank you, it’s a very slow profession. It just takes hours for a shot. I’m going back to my hairdressing'," she added.
It was 17 years later that Shahnaz Anand made an acting comeback with Mahesh Bhatt’s Naam (1986) in which she had a small role. In 2008, she appeared in three films — Kismat Konnection, Yuvvraaj, and Saas Bahu Aur Sensex. Prior to that, she did the first ever cookery show for Sony in 1995.