Though he played a hero in other films, I was very impressed by Ashraf Khan when I saw him sing and act in Roti - so impressed, in fact, that I would have to call him one of my favorite villains of all time.
In Roti, the overtly anti-capitalist movie made by that communist director of blockbusters named Mehboob Khan, Ashraf Khan was the ultimate proponent of social Darwinism, the dog-eat-dog ethos, the philosophy of capitalist individualism often attributed to Ayn Rand. (We all know people he might resemble in “real world” politics… He could certainly be a kind of fascist, and an Indian friend of mine would instantly compare him to people in the BJP. In the U.S., he would surely find his niche as a Republican.) Therefore, I could not help but find it particularly ironic that in real life, the actor Ashraf Khan was so revered for his spiritual devotion and generosity, that he became a Sufi saint.
And as I discovered from a fascinating post in the blog
Music & Arts in erstwhile Hyderabad – Deccan, Ashraf Khan essentially began that road to sainthood when he met a Peer O Murshid (spiritual guide) named Ghulam Sarvar during the filming of Roti…
It was during the filming of Roti he came in contact with Peer-0-Murshid (Spiritual Guide) Ghulam Sarvar. Ghulam Sarvar belonged to Lahore and was employed in railways as a guard. He had many followers in Bombay. Ashraf Khan’s devotion towards his spiritual guide was so great that when ever he visited Bombay he used to carry his luggage on his head and escort him home.
Large crowds used to gather to meet Peer-o-Murshid Ghulam Sarvar in the 1940’s and among the film personalities the notable were AR Karda, Mehboob Khan, Yaqub, Prithviraj Kapoor, Trilok Kapoor, Sardar Akhtar, Akhtari Faizabadi, Jaddan Bai, etc etc to name a few. Akhtari Faizabadi and Jaddan Bai used to sing devotional songs during the assembly.
And then Ashraf performed very humble services to show his devotion to this Peer – such as tending to visitors’ footwear – which eventually allowed him to follow in the Peer’s footsteps, a duty that he fulfilled right up to his death and, apparently, somewhat afterwards as well:
Taking care of the visitors foot ware was the first duty assigned to him by his Peer and Ashraf Khan never thought it was a menial job. He knew that the peer is shedding his ego by assigning such tasks. Peer-o-Murshid Ghulam Sarvar was so pleased with his devotion that he handed over his Gaddi ( seat ) to Ashraf Khan. Ashraf Khan became a Peer.
His association with the Gujrati stage lasted till his end. In 1962 after his last stage show at Dharoji in Gujrat he returned to the Durgah where he was stationed with his family. It was the ninth day of the Gyarhvi Sharief ( the eleventh month of Islamic calender ). He lied down on his bed and spoke few words to his wife and fell unconscious , but his lips started moving as if he is narrating verses from [?]. This situation continued the whole of that night and the next day. His wife, family members and devotees remained at his bed side reading verses from Ayat Sherief. He opened his eyes in the evening. His devotees asked him how he was and he replied that where ever he is, he is doing well.
He was brought to the hospital at Rajkot in this condition. Ashraf Khan passed away at eleven PM on the eleventh day of the Gyarhvi Sherief, the eleventh month of Islamic calender. His mortal remains were brought to the residence of Dr Malik who was a friend and a devotee for funeral. His devotees were chanting holy verses from Ayat Sherief and Darood Sherief. Around 4 O’clock in the morning he opened his eyes once again, looked all around him with a smile and closed his eyes. This was a surprising moment for all those who were present around him. A dead man opening his eyes and smiling was some thing strange. The crowd shouted Hazrat is alive, Hazrat is alive, call the doctor. There are several people alive today who witnessed this strange incidence. Dr Malik examined him and pronouned him dead. He was buried at Gunj Shahda which is located on the Ahmedabad – Delhi highway. The Urs is celeberated every year and lakhs of devotees all across the globe visit his Mazaar (Tomb).
Here’s a nice tribute by IMIRZA 777. The song is from Baghban (1938):
And this is interesting – though there are no words of description or further notes; the video just refers to “Master Asharaf Khan A Great Sufi Saint”