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June 2019 Edition of Power Politics is updated.    Wishing You All a Happy New Year.       June 2019 Edition of Power Politics is updated.
Issue:June' 2019

BOLLYWOOD PAGE

What led Devika Rani to meet Nehru ?

Gautam Kaul

Ashok Kumar and Devika Rani We are not privy to the date and year, but we have a vivid description of a rather unique “strike” by the leading film actor of his time whom we all know, as Ashok Kumar. The year of the Lord is probably 1945.
Ashok Kumar was already riding a wave of popularity after the record run of the film Kismat(1943) produced by Bombay Talkies. Askok Kumar was also once one of the members of the Board of this company which had Devika Rani and Himanshi Rai as founder directors.
The film had recently got into trouble with the British administration with the song , ‘Dor hatoe o duniya valon, Hindustan hamara hai’.

‘So have you given Nehru a time and place for this meeting?’ Ashok Kumar asked. ‘No. Why should I. I get hundreds of such letter each week seeking appointments’, Devika replied. ‘You mean to say, you have rejected the request of a man who is most likely to be the first prime Minister of our country. What vain woman are you?’ Ashok Kumar was quite worked up by now.

Devika Rani and Pt. Nehru The song writer Vrijendra Gaur on facing the local District Magistrate had explained that the word ‘duniya walon was for the, ‘Germans and the Japanese, who had eyes on India’ and was not a local call for the British to quit. The song was allowed to be retained only to be sung in all cinema halls along the film on the screen, for the audience thought it differently !! This film held the record of the longest run of 5 years, in a single movie hall in India until the 1950s, till Sholey topped it in the 1970s, followed by Dilwale Dulhania le Jaiyenge (21 years, at Maratha Mandir, 1998-2019, Bombay).
It was lunch time and the tradition was in the office of the film company that all members of the Board would sit down together if they were present, and eat together from the food prepared in the office canteen .

That fateful day, halfway through lunch, Devika Rani informed the small gathering that she had received a letter from Jawarharlal Nehru informing her that he would be in Bombay for a Congress Party meeting and would like to call on her for a chat as he was a fan of her acting; a meeting time may be suggested.

JLN had earlier seen her film Achhut Kanya and was deeply impressed not only by the theme of the film, that the actress was a grand niece of Rabindra Nath Tagore, and also a case of beauty with brains. We normally call this situation as being ‘blown over’, and Nehru was indeed a such a case.

Khwaja Ahmad Abbas Devika Rani had then also informed that this was a second request coming to her from Nehru. Khwaja Ahmad Abbas, who was the guest for lunch that afternoon, was aghast at this news. Ashok Kumar the other member of the lunch was equally taken aback.
‘So have you given Nehru a time and place for this meeting?’ Ashok Kumar asked.
‘No. Why should I. I get hundreds of such letter each week seeking appointments’, Devika replied.
‘You mean to say, you have rejected the request of a man who is most likely to be the first prime Minister of our country. What vain woman are you?’ Ashok Kumar was quite worked up by now.
Khwaja Ahmad Abbas took the matter seriously and suggested that Devika Rani should immediately send a letter of appreciation that an important person like Nehru was her fan and it would be her pleasure to have a private meeting at his bidding and convenience. To this Devika Rani said, she was busy, and she would think about the suggestion from Abbas.

According to the eyewitness account of the day, Askok Kumar by now was quite worked up and pushed back his food plate and shouted at Devika Rani, Devika you think too much of yourself and your beauty. I am going to stop talking to you or meeting you, come what may for six months, until you go and meet Nehru. And with this, Ashok Kumar stormed out of this lunch break.

Khwaja walked out quietly leaving Devika Rani to herself.

All thought Ashok Kumar’s vow was a moment of justifiable anger and things would be normal the next day. But the actor did not turn up for his normal office work. He told his office hand, that documents needing his signatures may be sent to his home.

Ashok Kumar then avoided all meetings where Devika Rani was also invited . When friends and associates came to know the reason, they agreed with Ashok Kumar’s decision. Soon Devika Rani realized she was being marginalized in the local film circles in Bombay and Ashok Kumar’s protest was the reason.

Business in Bombay Studio also came to be affected. Devika succumbed and sent a request to Nehru for an early meeting and apologies for the delay on her response. That private meeting with Nehru took place when Nehru returned to Bombay on party business.

Ashok Kumar, on knowing that Devika Rani had written a letter to Nehru, broke his vow and returned to the lunch hour meetings. As for Khawaja Ahmad Abbas, the journalist, he wrote for himself an aide de memoires of the incident, which years later, he incorporated in his autobiography, ‘No man Is an island’.