Every culture is abound with stories of remarkable men and women who struggle against all odds to succeed in life. Such stories are usually reproduced in movies or books with great fanfare. Political leaders, sportspersons, writers, musicians, actors, entrepreneurs, scientists as well as social workers belong to this category. However, there also exists the ignored and detested real life tales of those who do not succeed – men and women who wished to fulfil their dreams and strived every moment of their lives but were either led astray or fell victim to invariable circumstances of fate. Ali Hassan Khoso alias Vijay Kumar is one such forgotten individual.
Born in a small village of Pejaho KN Shah at Dadu, Sindh, Ali was sucked into the allure of the blooming film industry in the 1950s. Like other young men of his age, he went to Karachi and did menial jobs even though his natural flare for acting was admired by all and sundry. Ali’s dream to enter movies affirmed at a time when Indian films were regularly screened in Pakistan.
Ali wanted to try his luck in Bollywood but was unable to cross the border into India. He then went looking for work in movies in Lahore. He met actor Allah Uddin at Data Darbar and earned some roles as an extra in Punjabi movies. However, disappointed from the environment of Lahori film industry he returned home. Contrary to his wishes, Ali was married to a common village girl at KN Shah.
During the days of Reza Shah Pahlavi in Iran, Ali decided to venture into this neighbouring state, also known as mini-Europe at the time. This was in the year 1959, when Ali Hassan was almost thirty years old. He entered the country illegally through Balochistan but gained legal recognition in a short period. Ali worked at a radio shop during the day and roamed around film studios at night. After many years of dragging his heels, he was finally able to impress producers and acquired leading roles in Iranian movies.
Inspired by one of Bollywood’s most famous Peshawar-born personality, Yusuf Khan, better known as Dilip Kumar, he also took the screen name of Vijay Kumar. Completely influenced by the Indian maverick, Ali also styled and acted like Dilip Kumar. His picture, carried here, even bears an uncanny resemblance to Dilip Kumar.
During his days in the Iranian cinema industry, Ali worked with the country’s most famous stars and walked in the extravagant corridors of Shah’s high and mighty palaces. Ali performed numerous memorable roles in TV series, theatres plays and high budget Iranian movies. He even got the opportunity to work with Shah’s friend, Nancy Reagan, wife-to-be of another filmstar, Ronald Reagan, who went on become the American President. Yet, today Ali is not only unrecognised in Pakistan but also virtually unknown in the country where he had once earned much fame and fortune.
Although Ali was married with a son and daughter in Dadu, he indulged in relationships in Iran. He married four times in his adopted country. First two were ordinary Iranian girls while the last two belonged to the film industry. Interestingly, he had later brought his Sindhi wife to Iran as well. However, his village wife returned home after spending a few years in Iran since Shah’s westernised Persia was unsuitable to her lifestyle.
Homesick and hopeful of success in his own country, Ali returned to Pakistan in 1974, leaving behind 15 years of high life. Ali brought his Iranian wife, Aqi, back with him. Crowds regularly gathered around this girl, who walked around without a burqa. Feeling terribly out of place, Aqi eventually rushed back to her country. She pleaded for Ali to come with her; but inspired by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s populism, Ali had made plans to be step into politics. Being a famed actor of Bhutto’s in-laws country, Ali was able to get in touch with the young leader. His connections with Bhutto’s wife Nusrat Bhutto were well known since he had first met her during his years as a patron of Shah. Even today, one can find pictures of Mr and Mrs Bhutto and Shah of Iran at his small house in KN Shah.
Sadly, Ali had barely entered the political arena when Bhutto was hanged in 1977. He wisely answered the call of his Iranian silver screen wife to cross the border and join her. Unfortunately, when Ali was still planning his departure, Ayatollah Khomeini’s ‘revolution’ took place. Bulldozers which ran over Iran’s cinema houses targeted film stars and producers as well. Ali’s doors to Iran were permanently closed and even his wife had to seek exile in Germany.
When Bhutto was hanged, Ali hoisted a black flag atop his house, which was only taken down at the time of his death many years later. His miseries, however, did not end with Bhutto’s execution. The movie industry in Pakistan was crushed into dust by Zia’s Islamisation campaign. Cinemas and production houses closed down while a large number of artists had to flee the country. Ali’s years of acting suddenly died and never resurrected.
In 1983, when the Movement for Restoration of Democracy (MRD) was at its peak against Zia’s martial law, Ali received news that his son from an Iranian wife, Shaista, had died in the Iran-Iraq war. Furthermore, Ali was sidelined by leaders of MRD in Dadu. Resilient as always, he found new ways of protesting. He began gathering street children and schoolboys and took out rallies with his young recruits. They marched the streets of KN Shah, shouting anti-government slogans and espousing PPP’s resistance against Zia.
This unique form of protest gained Ali much attention and it was only a matter of time before he was scrutinised by government’s security agencies. By now, people did not know of any Ali Hassan or Vijay Kumar but simply called him ‘Irani’. He was arrested by the police and punished with flogging in public. While still at jail, thieves swept all prized possessions from Ali’s home. Upon his release two years later, Ali had nothing except for a few pictures from his acting days and film reels of Persian movies the robbers had left behind as worthless. In 1986, his wife at the village died of natural causes, his only daughter got married and son Shahzeb departed to his stepmother in Iran, where he joined the army.
The money Ali had earned as Vijay Kumar was spent in futile attempts of running a business. To survive, Ali had to sell the only property registered in his name. When there was nothing to sell, he opened a shop of homeopathic medicines, of which he had once completed a course. He also tried to open a radio repair shop but suffered failure there as well. Ali, who had once lived luxuriously and roamed in the company of Iran’s princely elite, was reduced to a beggar.
During the day, Ali went about the streets of KN Shah playing the Sindhi chapri wearing a silly crown-shaped hat, clutching a worn begging bowl with multiple beads around his neck. At night, he went to cinema houses with his VHS cassettes and requested them to play his Iranian movies.
Towards the end of his days, Ali traversed the streets of his village in delirium. Dressed in rags, he muttered senselessly in English and Persian and slept on pavements.
In the summer of 1992, people of KN Shah rushed a fainted man from the street to the doctor’s clinic on a donkey kart. The doctor immediately diagnosed that the man had committed suicide by consuming poison. Ali was buried by kind souls at the local cemetery. Here, the life of Sindh’s only performer to have gained recognition in a foreign country ended. In his poor store of homeopathic medicine at KN Shah tehsil of Dadu, there are still remnants of bygone days including a picture of his with Nancy Reagan.
People of KN Shah remember ‘Irani’ but few are aware of his success in Iran’s film industry. He is spoken of as the feeble madman, who begged on the streets in dirty clothes with pictures of his acting years plastered on a stick.