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Habitat Film Festival 2017: KA Abbas — a man ahead of his times

Writer Jai Arjun Singh and historian Ravikant discussed the legacy of KA Abbas’ films and his oeuvre as a writer and filmmaker, at the Habitat Film Festival in New Delhi.

Ghazala Amin, Dr Ravikant and Jai Arjun Singh during a panel discussion on KA Abbas at the Habitat Film Festival in New Delhi

Sukhpreet Kahlon

A package of curated films titled KA Abbas: The City As A Metaphor is being presented at the Habitat Film Festival in collaboration with the Khwaja Ahmed Abbas Memorial Trust. This special presentation brings together films written/ directed by Abbas that traverse the cityspace in different ways- from the physical and mental to the figurative.  

Neecha Nagar (1946), Shree 420 (1955), Jagte Raho (1956), Bambai Raat Ki Baahon Mein (1967) and Char Dil Char Rahen (1959), are being screened as part of this collaboration.

A panel discussion featuring writer Jai Arjun Singh and historian Ravikant was organised on Sunday (21 May), to mark the opening of this section. The discussants explored the legacy of Abbas’ films and his oeuvre as a writer and filmmaker.

In conversation with Ghazala Amin, who was moderating the discussion, Singh began by talking about Char Dil Char Rahen, Abbas’ portmanteau film that takes a hard look at several social issues.

Seeing it is as one of "the most structurally interesting Hindi films of its time, with separate stories coming together through the device of the crossroads and the personal journeys of the characters passing it", Singh highlighted the ambivalent attitude towards the city in Abbas’ films pointing out that while the city featured as a corrupting influence in many of his films, it was also featured as a place of education, which in turn carried the possibility of enabling the characters to question societal prejudices and ills.

Both panellists were awestruck by Abbas’ creative output as a writer and filmmaker and the fact that he was so bold and ambitious in his themes. He took massive commercial risks in his films, resolutely steering away from stereotypes, even in his casting decisions.

KA Abbas

Writer and historian Ravikant emphasised that Abbas was "always in dialogue with his times", trying to write meaningfully and to communicate ideas and thoughts. Pointing out that films at the time were drawing from literary texts and influences, and there were several writers making films, the films had certain nuances that are largely missing in contemporary cinema. As he put it, "Films ab filmi lagte hain [Films are filmi now]."

The panel was concluded by danseuse Kiran Sehgal, who reminisced about her parents Zohra and Kameshwar Sehgal being part of Neecha Nagar (1946). Zohra Sehgal starred in the film and also did the choreography for the film, while Kameshwar Sehgal was the art director for the film.

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Habitat Film Festival 2017