K.A. Abbas: The City as a Metaphor

It is not a city, but a dream. - Shahar Aur Sapna (1963)

In collaboration with the Khwaja Ahmad Abbas Memorial Trust

Habitat Film Festival Special Exhibition

May 19-28 - an exhibition of selected writings and film posters of Khwaja Ahmad Abbas. The exhibition will include film posters and stills of Abbas’s films such as Saat Hindustani, Shehar Aur Sapna, Dharti Ke Lal, Naya Sansar, Anhoni, Pardesi, Char Dil Char Rahein, Naxalites, Do Boond Pani and Char Shehar ek Kahani etc.

Venue: Convention Centre Foyer, IHC


The city has been explored in various ways in Hindi cinema. Khwaja Ahmad Abbas's engagement with the city, as a progressive writer and as a filmmaker, reflects his engagement with social and political issues. Whether it is the juxtaposition of harsh poverty with an increasingly consumerist ideology, the corrupting nature of the city, the claustrophobia and fear in the urban landscape; Abbas's films deal with contemporary realities in their exploration of the city and its dwellers.

In Bombay, My Bombay! (1987), Abbas wrote about his experience of sleeping on the pavement one night in Bombay, where he became acutely aware of the class system amongst pavement dwellers, where on the one hand were people who slept on clean sheets and at the other end were those who “had nothing to spread on the bed of stones”. The incident had a profound effect on him that it was translated into several stories and films.

The Khwaja Ahmad Abbas Memorial Trust presents a package of curated films which traverse the cityspace in different ways- from the physical and mental to the figurative. In Neecha Nagar (1946), the carefully plotted demolition of a rural space to make way for a sprawling city is almost prophetic in its depiction of the land grabbing real estate agents preying on the less fortunate where homes are erased in the service of profit. Shree 420 (1955) presents a Chaplinesque common man as the outsider who arrives in Bombay framed by a huge advertisement for Coca- Cola, a sign of the consumerist times. A beggar informs him that the city is no place for an honest, educated man and he finds himself lured by the get-rich-quick mindset.

Jagte Raho (1956) depicts the journey of a man desperately in search of water and takes us through the locked gates of apartment complexes, which seal in the prejudices, fears and insecurities of the city dwellers. From the physical inhabited spaces of the city, Abbas's Bambai Raat ki Baahon Mein (1967) explores the effect on the psyche while mapping the seamy underbelly of the city. Finally, in Char Dil Char Rahein (1959), we see a figurative depiction of urbanity and its prejudices through its characters.  

Acutely aware of the common man and his struggles, Abbas’s films continue to resonate in contemporary times.