Ranchi’s poet Anwar Ali will turn 80 on October 11. One may ask, who is this Anwar Ali? It is none other than Amitabh Bachchan, the superstar of Hindi films – who made his film debut as a character with this name over five decades back.
In “Saat Hindustani” released in 1969, by journalist, scriptwriter, and filmmaker Khwaja Ahmed Abbas, the actor played the role of a poet who resided in Hindpiri, Ranchi. However, the character is entirely fictional i.e. no poet of this name ever lived in Ranchi.
The story of the film revolves around the fight to liberate Goa from Portuguese occupation. Seven people from different states of the country leave for Goa on this mission, one of them being Anwar Ali. In one of his dialogues in the film, Amitabh introduces himself saying: “Main hoon Anwar Ali. Bihar ke Ranchi ka rehne wala hoon aur shayri karta hoon.” (I am Anwar Ali. I live in Ranchi, Bihar and I am a poet.)
The sincerity by which Bachchan played this character got him the ‘Best Newcomer’ award for the role. Interestingly, Abbas paid Rs 5,000 as acting fee to him.
In one of his interviews, the actor was recorded saying that even though the fee wasn’t a lot in that time, it also wasn’t extremely less for a newcomer.
He had also said: “Agar Anwar Ali ke kirdar ke taur par mujhe break na mila hota, toh pata nahi mai aaj kis maukaam par hota.” (If I had not got a break as Anwar Ali, I don’t know where I would be today.)
“Saat Hindustani” was first released in Delhi’s Sheela Cinema, and Bachchan watched the first show with his parents. Before this, the trial screening of the film was also held, in which Abbas saheb specially invited Meena Kumari. Meena Kumari showered a lot of praises on Anwar Ali’s character which left Bachchan blushing.
Abbas had a special connection with Ranchi and perhaps this was the reason behind him including Ranchi and mentioning it about half a dozen times in the script of “Saat Hindustani”. He was great friends with the famous writer Ghiyas Ahmed Siddiqui of Ranchi. According to Siddiqui’s brother and retired professor, Dr. Siddiqui Mujibi, whenever his brother went to Mumbai, Khwaja Saheb himself came to the station to receive him.
Bachchan celebrates his birthday on the same day as the birth anniversary of Loknayak Jayaprakash Narayan, the leader of the ‘total revolution’. It may be a mere coincidence, but while playing the role of Anwar Ali, Amitabh takes the latter’s name in a dialogue. In the dialogue, he says: “Main us Bihar rajya ka rehnewala hoon, jaha Loknayak Jayaprakash Narayan aur Maulana Mazharul Haque ki paidaish huyi hai (I belong to the state of Bihar, where Lok Nayak Jayaprakash Narayan and Maulana Mazharul Haque were born).”