This freedom fighter-turned-actor joined films in his 50s, starred in highest-grossing Indian film, but died in poverty

This freedom fighter-turned-actor joined films in his 50s, starred in highest-grossing Indian film, but died in poverty

AK Hangal joined films after years as a freedom fighter where he also spent time in prison. Despite acting in some of the biggest hits ever, his final years were marred by financial hardships.

Avtar Kishan Hangal, better known in the world of cinema as AK Hanga, was a multi-faceted personality. Not only did he join films very late in life but was already a known name in theatre and political worlds by then. On his 11th death anniversary, a look back at the stellar life of one of the most recognised faces from Indian cinema.

AK Hangal’s early life as a freedom fighter and theatre actor

Born in 1914 in Sialkot in United Punjab, Hangal spent his early years in Peshawar where he first became acquainted with theatre. In his teens, he became involved with the Indian freedom movement and was an active participant in the struggle from 1929-47 and even spent three years in prison. In 1936, he joined the Shree Sangeet Priya Mandal, a theatre group in Peshawar, where he continued to act in many plays till 1946. Following his father’s retirement, the family moved to Karachi and Hangal continued to act in plays there. The actor moved to Bombay after Partition and became acquainted with theatre legends Balraj Sahni and Kaifi Azmi, joining theatre group IPTA alongside them. Over the next decade and a half, he acted in many plays in Bombay, becoming one of the most respected theatre artistes of his time.
AK Hangal’s film debut and career

In 1966, at the age of 52, Hangal made his debut in Bollywood with Basu Bhattacharya’s Teesri Kasam, following it up with Shagird the following year. He made a name for himself playing righteous, morally correct characters in a number of popular films. While he never played lead roles, Hangal was recognised enough to find himself in the main star cast in many films like Shaukeen, Namak Haram and others. In 1975, he appeared in Ramesh Sippy’s Sholay in a supporting role. The film went on to be the highest-grossing Indian film of all time and his role was appreciated. In 1979, he starred as the antagonist in Rajesh Khanna-starrer Prem Bandhan, one of his rare negative roles. Hangal continued to act into his 70s and 80s, appearing in films like Kudrat, Bewafai, Lagaan, and Shararat. One of his final major appearances on screen was in the 2005 Shah Rukh Khan-starrer Paheli. He was 91 at the time.

AK Hangal’s financial hardships and final years

Post 2007, Hangal fiund it difficult to work given his age and ailments and as per reports, was struggling to manage his medical expenses. His son, cameraman Vijay, had also retired by then, and hence, the family was having a tough time managing his health and finances. In 2011, after news reports highlighted the actor’s plight, many film stars and politicians – including Maharashtra CM Prithviraj Chavan – contributed and assisted him financially. Hangal made a comeback to acting, appearing in the TV series Madhubala in 2012. It was to be his final appearance though as he passed away in August that year at the age of 98.

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