Martin Heidegger, the famous German philosopher, proposed that a longing for a particular place is basic to human nature and that it reflects an innate desire to live a more authentic life. Nostalgia is a term coined by a Swiss medical student in 1688. It was originally a disease characterized by insomnia, anorexia, palpitations and stupor, which could result in death if the patient was not returned home. “Wuthering Heights” the great literary creation of Emily Bronte (1847) reflects humanist theories of place identity which propose an authentic self that belongs to, or is at home in a particular place.
Revisiting ‘Kamalistan Studio, Mahakali, Anedheri (E), Mumbai, after an interval of thirty five years flooded the memories of the times when I used to visit this palace of dreams frequently in my youth. You can count most of the big names of film industry from all disciplines there from time to time and you could also access to them in relaxed atmosphere. It was the favorite hangout of those who were serious about beauty of language and creative arts.
Decades rolled when on a sad dusky evening, on the set of ‘Razia Sultan’ I’d last met Kamal Amrohi. He was standing inside a dark dingy prison tunnel where the long iron fetters ropes were pulled and the backup noise of prison was generated. (This shot was edited later to make the length of the movie short).
His personality was powerful and you would be compelled to feel an unknown and undefined fear, awe and respect that you rarely experience. KAMAL AMROHI has always had the commanding personality. He presided like a Moghul Emperor in Bollywood for over five decades. He has directed and written some of Indian cinema’s most elegant and commercially successful films. He was scrupulous for the minutest details and gifted with an acute visual sense. He worked on the most delicate, romantic and magical subjects like reincarnation, adultery, prostitution and pure love. He was born in Amroha, an aristocratic town located 140 Km from Delhi, a historical hamlet that produced the first Justice of Emperor Akbar – Syed Mohammed Meer Adl (Meer Adl means Chief Justice), great Urdu poet Mushafi Amrohvi and Krishna Bhakt Muslim Hindi poet RasKhan. Kamal’s father was a great scholar also.
In his landmark creations, Kamal Amrohi harnessed the full power of cinema to highlight the social issues with a touch of class, with an understanding so deep that it fascinated the viewers and left the indelible mark. His favorite subject was a cultured, good-hearted courtesan and his last-but- one successful creation ‘Pakeezah’ (means Pure Pristine) was that story pictured on his beautiful and estranged, wife Meena Kumari who died soon after the film’s release. This picture subtly captured the ambience of courtly prostitution patronized by nawabs or Muslim rulers. The mellifluous smooth and haunting music, magnificent sets, sensitive story line, superb direction and marvelous acting of every character are the phrases that describe the film.
Pakeezah was the inaugural film telecast by Doordarshan, India’s state-owned television station when it began broadcasting from Amritsar in Punjab state in the early Seventies and specially beamed towards nearby Lahore in Pakistan. Thousands flocked from here from Karachi, hundreds of miles away to see Pakeezah and crowds stampeded Lahore’s streets to get to television screens placed at strategic points on virtually every street corner.
Kamal Saheb was 16 when ran away to Lahore. It was the intellectual capital of northern India in those days. It was in Lahore that he used his pen and imagination and made a living on writing short stories for an Urdu magazine and later traveled to Bombay to explore the new possibilities that brought him fame and fortune.
In the mid-Thirties Bombay was a magnet for youngsters with dreams and guts. ‘Jailor’was Amrohi’s first story successfully adapted for the screen in 1938. In 1949 Kamal Saheb made his directorial debut with the trend-setting supernatural movie Mahal (‘Palace’). The remarkable dealt with the concept of reincarnation and had the famous song ‘Ayega, ayega Ane Wala……..’ Daera (Circle) was in my opinion was the finest film directed by Kamal Amrohi. It was controversial also as it narrated the story of a 16-year-old girl forcibly married to an older man who falls in love with a teenaged neighbor. Unfortunately it miserably flopped and proved a disaster at the box office. In 1940 he directed Pukar (‘The Call’), a romantic story about the blind justice of Moghul emperor Jehangir. He had contributed to the dialogues of most successful film of Indian cinema Mughal- e-Azam (1960). ‘Pakeezah’ was released in late 1960’s. And 11 years after, Amrohi made his last film, Raziya Sultan. It was a great art film that failed to click.
After the Razia Sutan’s disaster Kamal Amrohi turned his attention to create the finest studio in India and it was name ‘KAMALISTAN.’
Those were the days when I frequently visited the studio and see with my own eyes the great master at his Art Director at his creative best.
Kamalistan’s story would never be complete without a few words about Meena Kumari. The famous journalist Vinod Mehta who did an exhaustive reaearch and wrote the book ‘Meena Kumari the Classic Biography’ described Meena Ji as a multi-faceted personality. “Unlike today’s stars, she had many dimensions – she read poetry, had literary friends, aspired to the higher life and was an alcoholic. She also represented that generation of young Muslim girls who were pushed into the film industry so that they could become their family’s meal tickets. Meena Kumari’s family too exploited her and felt betrayed when she married Kamal Amrohi. Meena Kumari also thought of herself as a Marilyn Monroe, “unlucky and unloved. She drank because she wanted to get drunk, not because she enjoyed it. Much of her sorrow was self-imposed. She felt that God had cursed her, and transferred the tragedy of her films to her make-believe life.”
Kamal Amrohi died on February, 1993 and with him died the golden tradition of Udru dialogues in Indian film industry. Today, ‘Kamalistan’ has gone out of the ownership of his successors. The tears rolled down my eyes when I saw the deserted, forsaken and dilapidated sets and the sprawling lawns like meadows of Kamalistan. It was a place where love used to live. It was beauty and in perfection. I don’t know if the new owners are going to build a concreted jungle 0n the ashes of aspiration of grand master. To share with India Opines readers I’ve taken some snap shots of the dying past and remaining vestiges of the dream project of Kamal Amrohi – the Cecil De-Miles of India. May his soul live rest in peace !
By Naim Naqvi
Images were supplied by the author.