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The Critical Quill


Divya Jha


Studies of popular Bombay cinema tend to focus on post-Independence cinema as a period where the concept of a newly emergent ‘nation’ plays out as a trope across the forces of fragmentation. The work of many of the leading lights of post-Independence popular Bombay cinema—be it producer—directors like Khwaja Ahmed Abbas, Shahid Lateef and Rajinder Singh Bedi or screenplay, dialogue and lyric writers like Kaifi Azmi, Sadaat Hasan Manto, Ismat Chughtai, Ali Sardar Jafri, Majrooh Sultanpuri, Sahir Ludhianvi, Jan Nisar Akhtar, Shailendra and Gulzar - is read within the rubric of these approaches.   Such an approach does not always take into account two very important distinctions. First, that most, if not all, of these writers wrote in Urdu. Second and more important, a list of the above-mentioned stalwarts of Indian Cinema reads like a veritable ‘Who’s Who’ of a very important literary and cultural movement of the early part of the 20th century, namely, the All India Progressive Writers Association (PWA).   The All India Progressive Writers Association (PWA) came into existence in 1936 with the distinguished Urdu and Hindi writer, Munshi Premchand, as its patron and Chairperson. The seeds of its inception were, however, sown in faraway London in 1935 among Indian students and ideologues like Syed Sajjad Zaheer, Dr. Mulk Raj Anand, Pramod Sengupta, Dr. Mohammad bin Taseer and Dr. Jyoti Ghosh, to name a few.1 Its conception and inception was partly inspired by and in response to the emergence of anti-fascist and left-wing cultural fronts in Europe and the USA. More importantly, conditions back home in India in the mid-thirties seemed to cry out for a new orientation for literary expression. The seething political discontent and the resultant large-scale participation of the middle-class intelligentsia as well as the masses in the struggle for Independence; the rejection of fatalism and the beginning of a struggle by the underprivileged and the working multitudes to secure better conditions of living; the fracturing of feudal-colonial structures and systems in society; these and other such changes in the Indian social fabric prompted the response of writers that ultimately took the shape of the PWA.   However, the rise and popularity of the PWA was not without problems in its long run as a literary movement. Suspicion of the Communist credentials of its leading lights caused the PWA to be perceived as essentially a leftist association. As such, those writers who did not espouse ...


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