People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 36

September 09, 2012


Comrade Hangal: A Life More Interesting than a Film


A K Hangal is now no more among us. He breathed his last in a Mumbai hospital on August 26 morning, at the ripe age of 95. He, one of the founders of the Indian People’s Theatre Association (IPTA) that left an indelible imprint on the Indian cultural scene, continued his work till the last days of his life, despite his illness. In films, Hangal has carved for himself a unique place as a character artist though he entered this line in 1966, at the age of 50.


He acted in about 250 films in the last 45 years and some of the roles he played would be remembered for long.


Born in a Kashmiri family of Sialkot in the pre-partition days, Avtar Kishan Hangal received his education in Peshawar, and threw himself headlong into the thick of the freedom struggle when he was still a student. Later he shifted to Karachi where he emerged as an important communist leader. Though he later shifted to the world of art and theatre, he never severed, nor concealed, his links with the Communist Party. It was his intense sense of patriotism that he celebrated his birthday on August 15 every year, the day of the country’s liberation from the British imperialist rule, while it is believed that he was born on February 1, 1917.


His firm faith in democratic values invited not just oral opposition but even physical attacks from the communal forces. During 1993-94, the Shiv Sena not only ran a venomous propaganda and boycott campaign against him but also, with its brute goondaism, forced cinema halls in Mumbai and other parts of Maharashtra to stop showing films which featured Hangal. It is another thing that this campaign failed to cow down Hangal, who was otherwise an epitome of gentleness and humility.


The People’s Democracy-Lok Lahar family offers its tearful homage to this extraordinary creative and communist artist.    


Here we reproduce excerpts from a report titled “Bhagat Singh Memorial Day Observed,” from the April 23, 2006 issue of People’s Democracy. The event was jointly organised by the Centre of Indian Trade Unions, All India Democratic Women’s Association and Democratic Youth Federation of India at Bhandup (Mumbai) when Comrade A K Hangal was publicly felicitated.




IN keeping with the Party’s call to observe the 75th anniversary of the martyrdom of Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev in a fitting manner, the Bhandup centre of the CITU, along with the DYFI and the AIDWA units, held a cultural programme of revolutionary and progressive music and poetry.


On this occasion, veteran actor and progressive personality, A K Hangal, was felicitated for his lifelong steadfast commitment to the Left, secular and progressive values. Hangal, who has never hidden the fact that he is a communist, is today in his 90s. In the days when Bhagat Singh was active in Lahore, he was a teenaged student in Peshawar, beginning his own involvement in the freedom movement.


The programme was presided over by Prabhakar Sanzgiri, president, CITU Maharashtra state committee. Vivek Monteiro in his introductory remarks said that when demonstrations against George Bush were held with the slogans ‘Samrajyavad Murdabad’ and ‘Inquilab Zindabad,’ many might not have known that these slogans were bequeathed to the freedom movement by Bhagat Singh and his comrades, along with a third slogan ‘Sarvahara Zindabad.’ Bhagat Singh was a towering intellectual who wrote at a very young age, with great depth, on a wide variety of subjects like communalism, secularism, socialism, caste exclusion, language, nationalism, imperialism --- and his writings remain of prime relevance to us even today, he said. He further stressed that this year, which also includes his birth centenary, should be observed by propagating as widely as possible his thoughts and ideals.


Hangal formally inaugurated the programme by garlanding the portraits of the martyrs. A tribute was paid to Comrade Safdar Hashmi. Writer Sudha Arora then read excerpts from Bhagat Singh’s own writings, including his writings on communal riots, where he lauds the role of trade unions and the working class of Kolkata for coming out on the streets to oppose communal riots. 


Hangal was later felicitated by Sanzgiri. When Hangal rose to speak, he moved everyone by the first sentence itself. “I stand before you today not so much as an actor, but as one of you.  Much before I became an actor in films, I was a trade union worker and communist. I started my work in a tailoring shop at Karachi before partition. I was a founder member and organiser of the Karachi Tailoring Workers Union. We were demanding a weekly holiday, 15 days leave and implementation of the Shops and Establishment Act. We organised a one day strike on these demands. For that I was victimised and removed from my job.”


Hangal vividly remembered the day when Bhagat Singh was hanged. He was a young student in Peshawar at that time. The next day there was a public meeting in Peshawar, in which a Pathan poet recited a poem in Pushtu as a tribute to the martyrs. The last line was “Sardar Bhagat Singh, Sardar Bhagat Singh.” When the poet reached the end of the poem, he started weeping and with him everyone in the crowd wept that day. He called on the participants to take the ideals and thoughts of Bhagat Singh to the common people, particularly focussing on the young. A few days before he was hanged, Bhagat Singh was writing something in his notebook. When asked what he was writing, he said it was about the constitution of future free India. He knew he was to die shortly, but even then he was not thinking about his own future; his mind was on the future of his country, said Hangal. 


Suman Sanzgiri, AIDWA leader, also spoke on the occasion. Prabhakar Sanzgiri concluded the meeting saying that the ideals and writings of Bhagat Singh would be useful in taking secularism and progressive thought into the common masses.