Mumbai will host the fourth Bhendi Bazaar Urdu festival between February 17 and 19 to celebrate the Urdu language and its associated culture. The event is also a homage to a locality that has nurtured estimable music and literary talents over one-and-a-half centuries.
Organised by Urdu Markaz, a group created to promote the language, the festival, which will be held at the Imamwada Urdu municipal school, Dongri, will be inaugurated by lyricist Javed Akhtar. The first edition of the festival was held in 2014, and the second in 2016. After a gap caused by several reasons, including Covid, the event was revived in 2023. This year’s attractions include sufi qawwalis, plays based on stories by Saadat Hassan Manto, exhibition of photographs of Urdu poets and writers and a musical programme titled ‘Urdu and Bollywood’.
Urdu Markaz Director Zubair Azmi said that the festival aims to further the cause of Urdu culture and language. “We want to tell the young generation about Bhendi Bazaar and its connection to the Progressive Writers Movement and the Bhendi Bazaar gharana,” said Azmi.
Connection to Bollywood
Bhendi Bazaar’s connection to Bollywood is extraordinary. Spanning different eras, the area has hosted writers like Manto, Shakil Badayuni, Majrooh Sultanpuri, Sahir Ludhianvi and Kaifi Azmi; many of whom were part of the Progressive Writers Movement, a literary chapter inspired by leftist thoughts. The neighbourhood also lends its name to Mumbai’s only classical music lineage, Bhendi Bazaar gharana, that emerged in the late 19th century when three Khan brothers, Chhajju, Nazeer and Khadim, came from Bijnor. Here, they developed a style of singing that grew into a unique genre of Hindustani classical music.
Chhajju Khan’s son, Utsad Aman Khan, the inheritor of the tradition, taught singers like Lata Mangeshkar and Manna Dey. Singer Mohammed Rafi also has an association with the locality. Residents narrate stories of lyricists and writers from the film industry, who frequented the area’s bookstores to buy rare editions of Urdu publications. To honour that heritage, the festival will feature ‘Kuch Ilmi Kuch Filmi’, a talk on the literary and cultural life of Bhendi Bazar.
The festival will also honour two people and an institution, Burhani College, with Mohsin-e-Urdu or Friend of Urdu award for their contribution to the language. Dr Sanjay Deshpande, director, Centre for Central Eurasian Studies, University of Mumbai, will be honoured for establishing research on Sufism. Sachin Pilgaonkar will also be felicitated. The actor, who was taught the language by actor Meena Kumari, is an aficionado of the language and writes Urdu poetry under the pen name ‘Shafaq’ or horizon. A portal 'Urdu Marathi Sahitya Forum' will be inaugurated by Pilgaonkar.