Actor Mehmood was truly the undisputed King of Comedy but readers would be surprised to know that in the mid-‘70s he made a heart-rending film Kunwara Baap (1974) highlighting the significance of early polio vaccinations. The subject was sensitive and vital as in India the awareness about the dreaded disease polio was very limited.
In fact, according to a survey report published in 1972, even people in metropolitan cities like Mumbai and Delhi were not aware of the immunization of polio! This resulted in several lakh children in India being disabled!
It may be noted Polio is a disease that attacks the nervous system and weakens the leg muscles thus crippling a person and snatching the ability to walk on his own feet. In Kunwara Baap Mehmood conveyed the social messages on ‘eradication of polio’ and the importance of immunization cleverly by interweaving the heart-rendering subject in an entertaining style.
Besides playing the protagonist Mehmood also directed Kunwara Baap because the subject of the film was close to Mehmood‘s heart. Readers may wonder what was so special. Well, the bitter truth is that Mehmood‘s own son Maqdoom Ali (Macky) was affected by polio. In an interview, Mehmood informed, “My first wife Madhu gave birth to a healthy baby boy. I was delighted. However, soon after his birth, my wife fell sick. Also, my little son fell ill. Suddenly happiness turned into sorrow.
I took my wife and son to top Mumbai hospitals but in vain eventually, my friend suggested visiting J.J. Hospital. Fortunately, at JJ Hospital, Dr. Udani diagnosed my son suffering from polio but she said due to which my son will never recover and have to depend on clutches! I was shattered!”
Mehmood admitted that due to his busy shooting schedules he never had time to spend with his wife or children. Secondly, being not much well-read he was not aware of polio. When he asked Dr. Udani about the disease she angrily scolded Mehmood, “Why do you give birth to a child when you are ignorant and do not know how to take care of babies?”
The scolding of the doctor kept hunting Mehmood for many weeks. Later, he asked his assistant to find details of the polio disease. The details were shocking. Mehmood was left stunned to know that there was a very poor literacy about the immunization of polio doses among parents in India. Hence he decided to make a film to create awareness about immunization of polio and the eradication of the disease.
To attract people to watch the film many top stars came forward and did cameo roles like Amitabh Bachchan, Sanjeev Kumar, Vinod Mehra, Dharmendra, Vinod Khanna, Hema Malini, Dara Singh, Yogeeta Bali, etc. The major highlight of the film was Mehmood’s own son Maqdoom Ali (Macky) who was affected by polio. He played the key of a polio-affected child and the hardship he faces as a handicap.
In the climax of the film, Mehmood had a direct conversation with the audience where he informed the audience about the benefits of polio vaccination at early stages of birth. He also urged viewers that such children must be encouraged and educated so that they become independent and not a burden on society!! Interestingly the government of India had made the film Tax Free hence the film was widely watched and succeeded in bringing change in society.
Today, in India, Polio is almost 100% eradicated as parents are aware of polio immunization!!