A ubiquitous presence in Hindi films for over three decades in various roles, his avuncular appearance made him an ideal parental figure. Nazir Hussain, by the time he turned 50, had the distinction of being the only actor to play the father (or father-in-law) of the trio of Dilip Kumar, Raj Kapoor, and Dev Anand, as well as Shammi Kapoor, Dharmendra, and heroines from Meena Kumari to Hema Malini.
But playing an entire gamut of fathers — helpless (Gurcharandas of “Parineeta”, 1953), imperious (Lala Daulatram Khanna of “New Delhi”, 1956), provoked (Mr Khanna of “Leader”, 1964), disappointed (Gen. Durgaprasad Bakshi, retd, of “Prem Pujari”, 1970) — was not Hussain’s only acting strength, despite his 400-odd screen appearances.
With his imposing physique, bluff features, and an air of worldliness, which he could transform into despair or authority, he could pull off roles of rickshaw-pullers or village postmasters with the same aplomb as those of rich landlords or industrialists.
He was frequently roped in to play policemen — the Police Superintendent in “Ganga Jumna” (1961) or the Commissioner of Police in “Jewel Thief” (1967) — and army officers (Colonel Choudhury in “Lalkar”, 1972), but he also found a special niche in playing priests, especially Catholic. Remember him as Father Gonsalves of “Amar Akbar Anthony” (1977), where he went on to play foster father to Amitabh Bachchan, or before that, Father Joseph of “Sharmeelee” (1970)?
Hussain’s talent of playing this disparate group of characters came from his equally eventful life. At this point, though, it is important to distinguish Nazir Hussain from filmmaker Nasir Hussain, Aamir Khan’s uncle and also the creator of the modern Indian musical (“Jab Pyar Kisi Se Hota Hai”, 1961; “Teesri Manzil”, 1966; “Yaadon Ki Baraat”, 1973, et al).
Born on May 15 in 1922 at Usia village in the Ghazipur district of the then United Provinces, Nazir Hussain was the son of railway guard Shahabzad Khan and followed his father into the railways as a fireman.
He subsequently enlisted in the British Indian Army when World War II broke out and was posted to Southeast Asia, where he was captured by the Japanese. At the PoW camp, he got influenced by Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose and signed up for the Indian National Army.
His war record was not eventful, but the INA tag – like for many others – created for him its own set of problems after he was drummed out of the army. He found it hard to get gainful employmentr (though he was later granted the status of a freedom fighter, which entitled him to free railway travel).
Hussain drifted into theatre, where he did bit roles before coming to the notice of the legendary B.N. Sircar and was invited to join New Theatres in Calcutta.
Here he made the acquaintance of Bimal Roy — and this would prove to be game-changing. Roy was impressed by his INA background and they collaborated on the film “Pehla Aadmi” (1950), usually described as a tragic love story set against the backdrop of World War II and the formation of the INA.
Unfortunately, little is known about this film, which is supposed to be the first to represent Netaji. Hussain, apart from acting in it, furnished the screenplay and the dialogues.
Hussain would go on to become a fixture in most of Bimal Roy’s films, including “Parineeta” and “Do Bigha Zamin” (both 1953) — where he is the rickshaw-puller who befriends Balraj Sahni and teaches him the art; “Devdas” (1955), “Yahudi” (1958) — a rare outing for him as a merciless and manipulative villain, and the fantastic but not that well-known “Parakh” (1960), which could serve as a parable on Indian politics.
He was also present in many outstanding films of many other leading filmmakers, notably B.R. Chopra’s “Naya Daur” (1957) and “The Burning Train” (1980), Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s debut “Musafir” (1957) and “Anuradha” (1960), Raj Khosla’s “Kalapani” (1958) and “Bombai ka Babu” (1960), Guru Dutt’s “Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam” (1962), Mohan Kumar’s “Anpadh” (1962), Shakti Samanta’s “Kashmir ki Kali” (1964) and “Kati Patang” (1971), Ramanand Sagar’s “Aarzo” (1965) and spy flick “Aankhen” (1968), Asit Sen’s “Khamoshi” (1972), Feroz Khan’s “Godfather” rip-off “Dharmatma” (1975), Manmohan Desai’s “Amar, Akbar, Anthony” (1977), and many more.
Yet, what was Hussain’s most abiding contribution to Indian cinema was his pioneering role in the genesis, rise, and development of Bhojpuri cinema.
As the story goes, he met India’s first President Rajendra Prasad, possibly at a screening of “Ganga Jumna” (1961), and they started conversing in their common language, Bhojpuri. It was then that Prasad urged him to look at the possibility of Bhojpuri films and Hussain took it up as a personal responsibility.
“Ganga Maiyya Tohe Piyari Chadhaibo” (1963), written by Hussain and also featuring him, though again in a character role, became India’s first Bhojpuri film. More followed — they were not merely entertainers in a rustic setting, but dealt with prevailing social issues.
In the 1970s, when action became the rage in Indian cinema, Hussain went on to revive Bhojpuri films with another hit “Balam Pardesia” (1979).
By the early 1980s, Hussain had begun to cut down on work and his last major film was B.R. Chopra’s “Mazdoor” (1983), while his last onscreen appearance was in K. Asif’s incomplete, long-delayed, and posthumously released “Love and God” (1986).
Nazir Hussain passed away in October 1987, aged just 65, after a stellar career where he had featured with almost all the actors and actresses of his period. — IANS