Nazir Ali’s Story: A Life Bigger Than Nationalities

Syed Nazir Ali Rizvi famous child artiste of 1950s.

Ratan Kumar was his screen name. The home-given name of this boy, born in 1941, in Ajmer, was Syed Nazir Ali Rizvi.

Gopalkrishna Gandhi

JAGRITI, made in 1954 is remembered today only by those like me, in their mid-70s, who saw it in their childhood, mesmerised by the acting of Abhi Bhattacharjee as the school teacher who takes a group of his student-wards on an all-India excursion by train. Abhi-babu sings during this journey (in Hemant Kumar’s voice) a song penned by Kavi Pradeep that pulls at the heart strings.

Aao bachcho tumhein dikhaein jhanki Hindustan ki is set on the moving train that takes the children through great sites in the country ranging from the Himalayas to its oceanic south, and through various venues of valour and victorious battles. The film’s hero, the young boy played by Ratan Kumar, with the other children joins in singing the song’s refrain Vande Mataram with gusto. Old legends, myths and modern facts – the Jallianwala Bagh massacre among them – meld in that song which is dedicated to India’s greatness. Like many other boys at the time, I saw myself in Ratan Kumar and Ratan Kumar in me.

Ratan Kumar was his screen name. The home-given name of this boy, born in 1941, in Ajmer, was Syed Nazir Ali Rizvi. With the family moving to Bombay, little Nazir made it to cinema. Success swooped on him instantly. His innocence and his voice both unbroken, he had everything that child-stardom needs. And just as Bombay turned Mohammad Yusuf Khan into Dilip Kumar, Mahjabeen into Meena Kumari, it morphed Nazir Ali into Ratan Kumar.

And jewel he was. He was first featured in 1952 , at age 11, as the child Baijnath in the musical “megahit” that made Bharat Bhushan famous – Baiju Bawra. And then at age 12, as Kanhaiya in Bimal Roy’s Do Bigha Zamin which had Balraj Sahni and Nirupa Roy as Kanhaiya’s parents. When he turned 13, Ratan was cast by Raj Kapoor in Boot Polish. And the same year, in Jagriti as Shakti, a poor and disadvantaged boy.

I do not know how or when exactly or why – many do, I am sure, I do not – his family decided to leave Bombay for Pakistan. Ratan, who had acted with Meena Kumari, Nirupa Roy, Balraj Sahni, been groomed by Raj Kapoor, Bimal Roy, Naushad, all of 15 years, left India for Pakistan with his family. It was Nehruvian India’s high noon. And Pakistan was seeing a political eclipse, its civilian administration breached by two military men, Iskander Mirza and Ayub Khan.

So, why? On arrival in Pakistan – Lahore – the family was in for more than the usual problems of adjustment. The child of discord became a brother to dilemma – a quickly and piquantly resolved dilemma – when his elder brother Wazir Ali decided to do a film: Jagriti, in reverse. Translated into Urdu, Jagriti is Bedari or wakefulness.

A film was made, Bedari, with Nazir Ali , his puppy fat all gone, two years older, singing the same song, same tune, in the same location – a train – same andaz, same josh, same sifat, same fiza, but words changed and changed, also, the sites being visited. The new song was Ao bachcho saer karaein tumko Pakistan ki. It was Ghar vapasi, Pakistan-style.


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