Suhasini Mulay


Veteran actor, A K Hangal, faced the camera for the first time when he was 50. At 93, he “walked” the ramp in a wheelchair for the designer, Riyaz Ganji. He faced the cameras for the last time when he was 94, for a Television series, “Madhubala – Ek Ishq Ek Junoon”.


Avtar Kishan Hangal spent his childhood in Peshawar, and was fired by the struggle for independence of India. He joined a theatre group in Peshawar in 1936 and acted in many plays. While acting was his first love, his primary occupation at that time, was that of a tailor.


Life was not easy for Hangal. In 1949 he moved to Bombay with Rs 20 in his pocket; after having spent 3 years in a jail in Karachi, for being a member of the Communist Party. In India he was associated with the Indian Peoples’ Theatre Association for many years and performed in plays.


He was a late comer to the film industry and acted in his first film, Teesri Kasam, when he was fifty, and Shagird in 1961. He went onto act in over 200 films, playing a myrid of character roles, as an onscreen father or uncle in to leading men and women in 70s and 80s. He played pivotal roles in Namak Haraam, Aaina, Sholay, Avtaar, Aandhi, Bawarchi, Guddi, Balika Badhu, and Guddi.


Recognition as an actor, did give him and his family stability, but a comfortable bank balance eluded him. His political beliefs and anti fascist stand did get him into trouble. Once he was called “anti national” for having attended the Pakistani Independence Day celebrations at the Pakistan Consul-General’s office. Next day, the right wing Shiv Sena newspaper Samnaa called him a “Deshdrohi”. His films were removed from the theatres in and around Maharashtra. Film posters were torn, effigies were burnt, and roles stopped coming to A K Hangal.  After a year, Bal Thackeray, the Shiv Sena supremo clarified that he had not asked for a boycott; slowly Hangal began getting film roles. Although things returned to normal, the incident left him deeply hurt.


He once again faced the ire of the powers that be, when he condemned the role played by the Hindutva forces in the aftermath of the destruction of the Babri Masjid in December 1992, and the subsequent riots in Mumbai.


Whatever the role, Hangal was able to give the character, an innate, gentle dignity. The characters he was asked to play, often mirrored the ups and downs of his own life. “There is no age limit for an actor. Earlier I did old man’s roles, now I do even older man’s roles” Hangal Saab told me on the sets of Lagaan.  Such was his commitment to work that in spite of a nasty fall in the bathroom where he needed to be hospitalised, he reported for the shoot in Lagaan in an ambulance!


The Government of India awarded him the prestigious Padma Bhushan for his contribution to Hindi Cinema in 2006.


His role in Sholay as the blind Rahim Chacha is unforgettable. His lines “Kyon? Kya hua? Bhai itna sannata kyon?” on the death of his son are memorable.


With his death, the grand old man of Hindi Cinema has passed away.


[Hangal was a member of the Communist Party of India as early as 1946]

Top - Home