It was because of my mother that I got interested in Hindi films, because she liked to watch a new film every week and I was with her all the time, due to which I got this good fortune. His favorites among the stars were Dilip Kumar and Balraj Sahni. This meant that by the time I was ten, I had seen most of the films of the two actors and was familiar with their names. For some reason, my school boy found Balraj Sahni more handsome, all the complications only started when I grew up, but when I was 15, I didn’t know who was better and my own teenage mind decided that Balraj Sahni was better and by the time I had made my decision, my source of inspiration to watch Hindi films had suddenly increased and my mother had suddenly died at the age of 15…
I was very interested in politics and the politicians of that time like Mr. VK Krishnan who was the first Defense Minister of India. who ruled after a major controversy and was yet to contest on a Congress ticket from the North East Bombay constituency. Stars like Dilip Kumar and Dev Anand who openly came out to support her, but there was one man who worked day and night for her, it was Balraj Sahni who was a ‘Kammi’ (Communist), but he Supported the minds on an individual basis. I remember attending a meeting near RK Studio where Mano and Balraj Sahni used to address a massive rally of the most common people. Mano arrived first and spoke in English for more than an hour (Mano held the record for addressing the United Nations for nine hours without a break) but his speech in English went over the heads of the audience and they went without a break. Sitting on his seat of a film as it was being announced time and again that Balraj Sahni was on his way. The actor arrived at the event at 2 am and the crowd was still waiting for him, of whom I was one. Balraj Sahni gave such a provocative speech in Hindi which was understandable by the common man and he wanted him to go ahead with his speech but he said, “Sorry guys tomorrow morning at 9 am I have to go on shooting , but I promise that I will be back among you very soon. I am asking only one thing from you, let my friend Krishnan win.” The crowd cried out, “Zure will definitely give, you have said so how can we not agree.” After which Krishnan won the election with an absolute majority. But after Mann, Balraj Sahni did not campaign for anyone else. That night I went from Chembur to Andheri East to my home. Balraj Sahni had cast the spell on my life that should have been on all the thousands of people present at the meeting.
I watched all his new movies and went to places like Grant Road, Charni Road and Marine Line to watch all his old movies like ‘Do Bigha Zameen’, ‘Kabuliwala’ and ‘Seema’ which are called matinee shows which take place at 9 AM begins. And tickets were sold for less than half the price of normal movie tickets. I am still grateful for those shows which were like my basic education in Hindi films.
However, even after I completed my studies, I never imagined that I would meet Balraj Sahni and face him. All kinds of miracles happened in my life, but my biggest miracle was joining Mr. K.A. Abbas as his assistant on a salary of one hundred rupees a month. Little did I know then that working with Abbas sahib made it possible for me to meet some of the greatest writers and poets like Sahir Ludhianvi, Kaifi Azmi, Rajinder Singh Bedi, Majrooh Sultanpuri, Ali Sardar Jaffrey and Balraj Sahni to meet his friend filmmaker Chetan Anand. There will be an entrance. One thing about Abbas sahib was that he introduced me to every famous person who used to come to his house or office, even showman Raj Kapoor. This was another chapter for me to learn more about Hindi film.
Balraj Sahni was a star who had nothing to say about him and lived in harmony with all classes from the upper classes, who were creating a new Bombay. He also made common man his friend and told everyone about his life struggles. The unit of one of his films which was shooting in the interiors of Maharashtra when there was a show between the local people and the members of the unit. Balraj Sahni faced the alarming situation and spoke to the local people in local Hindi and understood them and the same local people who were waiting to kill some of the unit members were willing to give any help to the unit. Balraj Sahni had faced such a situation many times during his career.
I had heard how he was arrested for participating in the freedom struggle. But it was great to hear her story from the same man. He was kept behind bars in Arthur Road Jail. Then the shooting of K.Asif’s ‘Hustle’ was on and Asif appealed to the government to allow Balraj Sahni to come for the whole day shooting and take him back to jail in the evening. He was brought to the location in a police van, handcuffed and taken back to Arthur Road Jail, handcuffed again after the shooting. But even in this circumstance he did not let it affect his performance in any way.
Balraj Sahni was an ardent believer in the natural school of acting. This was the method that made him take his weight to a minimum and let him stay in Calcutta where he learned how to drive a hand rickshaw and walk barefoot in the sun, all in preparation for the film ‘Do Bigha Zamin’. Which is one of the most memorable films in Indian film history. He stayed with Pathan in real life to see how he lived to prepare himself for his role in ‘Kabuliwala’. This was the way that prepared him for all his roles.
His bad times began when he took the most ambitious decision of his life, to build his own bungalow in Juhu. He had earned enough money to fulfill his ambition. His bungalow was named “Ikram” which was opposite Sun n Sand Hotel. Trouble started for the family as soon as it entered ‘Ikram’. His first wife who was an actress died suddenly. A young servant girl also died suddenly. And then the biggest shock came when his younger daughter Shabnam committed suicide and Balraj Sahni was completely broke.
It was in such turmoil – full life that Balraj Sahni started shooting for his last film ‘Garm Hawa’. Which was the story of an old Muslim between his love for India and the circumstances that force him to follow the advice of his family and move to Pakistan. Emotions in the film took a heavy toll on Balraj Sahni’s life. And to add to his misery, he had to shoot for a scene in which his daughter was committing suicide in the film. Director, M.S. Sathe wanted to drop the idea of how sensitive Balraj Sahni is, but the veteran actor was determined to shoot and completed the scene after which he saw the man completely dismembered when the shooting was over. The next morning, the telephone rang at all the places where he was known, Balraj Sahni was dead, having died of a massive heart attack in his sleep. Then he was only 59 years old.
He was a comrade and was cremated without any religious rites. Before the funeral was held a large crowd of people from all walks of life and under the Wahi tree stood a struggling actor named Amitabh Bachchan whose row 11 flopped. And people called him bad names instead of focusing on the passing of a Jew from India. Balraj Sahni was the first to tell KA Abbas that he had made the right choice while selecting Amitabh Bachchan in the last minute of ‘Saat Hindustani’. He told Abbas that this young man had a very good future and that Amitabh was Balraj Sahni’s biggest fan.
Their house, ‘Ikram’ has collapsed and only their daughter, Sanbor lives in the middle of the ruins and her trial is pending and her brother Parikshit Sahni has no right to let their only son enter the ruins. Parikshit is writing the biography of his father by chance.
There is no museum, no effigy and no memorabilia needed for such a great hero because he lives in every heart…