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Rediscovering The Greats

It is shocking that the writers of so many of our cult classics have remained largely anonymous. Here are some stunning ‘discoveries’

Ask any movie-goer to name the writer of his/her favourite films. Ten to one, barring perhaps two-three really celebrated ones, s/he will have no clue. That’s how it’s been. Barring screenwriters, and perhaps a few other interested people of the film industry, no one knows the names of writers.

And, yet, even within the contemporary screenwriting fraternity, we tend to have a bias towards only some names of the past. Salim-Javed, Vijay Tendulkar, Pandit Mukhram Sharma, Sachin Bhowmick, Vajahat Mirza, Ali Reza, KA Narayan, Vijay Anand, etc. will spring to mind from the pre-80s days.

So, once again, Box Office India comes up with another wonderful idea for its anniversary issue. Why not acknowledge and celebrate the lesser-known and uncelebrated folk from Indian cinema history?

After the editor lobbed this idea at me, with a request to write about nine under-recognised screenwriters, I was in for some happy surprises.

I took the path of looking at the writing credits of films that I had enjoyed in childhood. Out came names that either we have forgotten, or have shrugged away, believing that their body of work was not of great consequence. And, for more names, I turned to one of my more learned and dependable friends, Vinay Shukla. Pleased with the idea, he quickly offered invaluable suggestions of names with comments, all of which culminated in a much more appropriate list.

So, here goes, in alphabetical order:

Aghajani Kashmeri

While most of us are only aware of Vajahat Mirza as Mehboob Khan’s writer (seven films), few remember that Aghajani Kashmeri too wrote six films for the great Khan, including some memorable ones like Anmol Ghadi, Amar, Humayun and Anokhi Ada. Needless to say, in keeping with the filmmaker’s penchant for ultra-dramatic plots, Agha saab has penned some intense premises for him with some solid dialogue lines thrown in.

Apart from these, in a career that went from the late ’30s to the early ’70s, he has some surprising credits to his name. Have a look at the range of genres that he had a grip on. From family dramas to intense love stories, to rom-coms, comedies, musicals and thrillers too.

His notable credits include Chori Chori, Love In Simla, Junglee, Mujhe Jeene Do, Love In Tokyo, Gazal, Khilona, Parwana and Naya Zamana. While one had imagined that he was only a dialogue writer, most of his credits are for screenplay and dialogue. And, to top it all, almost all of his 30 credits were big successes!


In the ’70s and ‘80s , the lost-and-found formula ruled many a blockbuster. This concept had its origins in a huge hit directed by Yash Chopra, Waqt. And Waqt was known as much for its story by Akhtar Mirza, as for its memorable, oft-quoted dialogue lines. Who can forget Raaj Kumar’s, ‘Chinai seth, jinke apne ghar sheeshe ke ho, voh doosron par paththar phainka nahin karte!’ Those lines came from the inimitable pen of the talented Akhtar-Ul-Iman.

When Sunil Dutt wanted to make his solo starrer, Yaadein, which had one long monologue spanning the entire film, he chose none other than Iman saab to write the soliloquy. But, obviously.

Akhtar-Ul-Iman wrote mostly dialogue for 43 films, from 1948-83, and had some truly clap-worthy credits to his name, including Kanoon, Dharmputra, Gumrah, Hamraaz, Ittefaq, Daag and Roti. All of them were not just stellar successes but are still remembered for their dialogue.

Iman saab showed his versatility by penning the story, screenplay and dialogue of gripping thrillers like Apradh and Dhund.

Arjun Dev Rashk

Another writer with a strong pen! He is not widely known, perhaps because he wrote only seven movies in 26 years! But look at the line-up – Naya Daur, Amrapali, Dil Ek Mandir, Oonche Log, Amber and Ashiana. And, to cap it all, he was the solo story, screenplay and dialogue writer of Jis Desh Men Ganga Behti Hai.

He was a specialist dialogue writer, with a wide spectrum of styles, from the melodramatic to the heroic, from the political and moral to the sensual and seductive. He seemed to revel in giving voice to the angry young woman as well as the brave young man with sharp and incisive phraseology. It was a delight to listen to his heroes, Raj Kapoor, Nargis, Dilip Kumar, Vyjayanthimala, Raaj Kumar, Meena Kumari and Rajendra Kumar perform to his lines with all the aplomb that they were known for.

CJ Pavri

As an ardent student and follower of screenwriting, I believed that I was aware of most significant names of Indian screenwriters. But, one’s ignorance never fails to surprise, and I have to admit that this is one name that I was completely unfamiliar with.

However, when I looked up the list of films that he had written, it was a humbling experience. Turns out he was a very popular and highly sought-after screenplay writer in mainstream Hindi cinema, at a time when screenplay wasn’t really the centre of much attention, ceding prominence to story and dialogue.

While he did also write films, like Tawaif, Mazdoor and Zameer that tackled a couple of other genres, thrillers seemed to be his forte – Kanoon, Hamraaz, Raaz, Hulchul and the very gripping Dhund being among the ones that he wrote.  

Dhruva Chatterjee

I doubt if too many of today’s film buffs, or even insiders, have heard of this prolific screenplay writer’s name. With 23 films in as many years, mainly screenplay credit, he has a very delightful slate. No wonder that he was commissioned by big directors to do screenplays for their films.

From 1954, when he wrote his first film, the tear-jerker Ferry, to 1978, when his last one, Mukti released, Hindi cinema saw a clear and noticeable change in sensibility. And, yet, Dhruva Chatterjee succeeded in straddling all kinds of genres and changing sensibilities.

His stories seemed to have either roller-coaster emotional twists or chills and thrills. Even though people may not necessarily know his name as the screenplay writer of these films, it is likely that they’ve nonetheless enjoyed his work, including Hariyali Aur Raasta, Bees Saal Baad, Saanjh Aur Savera, Woh Kaun Thi?, Gehra Daag, Gumnaam, Shikar, Intaquam, Kab? Kyoon? Aur Kahan?, Ganwaar, Chor Machaye Shor, Fakira and Mukti.

Each one of them was either an emotionally satisfying watch or a delightfully amusing one.

Ehsan Rizvi

And here was another specialised dialogue-writer with versatility as his middle name. One can only marvel at the enviable range of his work, most of which includes memorable films.

Ehsan saab’s spectrum of films went from the epic Mughal-E-Azam to comedies like Albela, Bhagam Bhag, Chori Mera Kaam and Gopichand Jasoos, to swashbuckling adventures like Azaad, Jugnu and Barood, to composite action thrillers like Victoria No. 203 and Aan Milo Sajna, to intense romance dramas like Abhinetri and Talash, to mystery thrillers like Jaal and Woh Kaun Thi?. And, in each one, his work stands out.

While it is true that K Asif had a team of extremely well-regarded writers penning the dialogue of Mughal-E-Azam (Vajahat Mirza, Aman, Kamal Amrohi, and Ehsan Rizvi), such was the writing quality of that film that even if a writer wrote just one scene of that epic, s/he’d be regarded as a giant among dialogue writers!

GD Madgulkar

Gajanan Digambar Madgulkar continues to be a deeply loved, multi-talented personality by those who have experienced his work or even just know of it.

Ga-Di-Ma, as he was fondly referred to, was a prolific poet, lyricist, short story writer, screenwriter and actor. While death took him away at the untimely age of 58, according to Wikipedia, he was credited with having written 157 Marathi and 23 Hindi films, in just 20 years of his screenwriting career. Unfortunately, IMDB shows up only 13 of those.

And yet, even among those, there are those that we remember with such love. Each one of those where he has been credited with the story too, carries as its pivot an intense moral dilemma for its central character, and a dramatic journey that that propels him/her on to.

Who doesn’t remember his work with V Shantaram? Take just these two films. Do Ankhen Barah Haath centred on the radical decision that a jailor takes, propelled by his faith, that even in the most hardened criminals there lies potential for reform and goodness which can be evoked with love and trust. The second film was Navrang, with its obsessive poet protagonist and the wife that he adores but who is forced to contain his fantasy. And, then, Bharat Milap, which focuses on the most painful episode of the Ramayana, the banishment of Rama to the forest, from Bharat’s point-of-view exploring his unbearable anguish.

Apart from his work in the movies, this giant left behind a humungous body of work, including the best-loved Geet Ramayan, which narrates the entire story of the epic via 56 songs written by Ga-Di-Ma.

One can only be inspired by and salute such talent.

Ramanand Sagar

This is yet another name, for which I am grateful to Vinay Shukla.

Like most of us, one only knew of Ramanand Sagar as a producer-director, and the maker of the TV serial version of the Ramayana. However, discovering his screenwriting credits has been nothing short of startling. And, this work is not just for himself.

Raj Kapoor’s Barsaat owes its story, screenplay and dialogue to Mr Sagar! This was quickly followed up by the Dilip Kumar and Madhubala-starrer, Sangdil, inspired by Jane Eyre.

And, then followed a series of written works for various directors including the radical-for-its-day Mem Sahib and Paigham (set against the turmoil of millworkers, starring Dilip Kumar and Raaj Kumar), the enjoyable Rajkumar, the racy spy-thriller Ankhen, the romantic melodrama Aarzoo, and then Lalkar, Charas etc. which he wrote for himself.

Ramesh Pant

And, last in alphabetical order, and as striking as the others above, is another writer whose name may not be widely recognised but much of whose work will find its mention in the list of favourite films of many of us.

While he too specialised in dialogue-writing, of his 35 listed credits, in a career spanning 34 years, about 10 films are those for which he also wrote the screenplay.

A quick glance at some of his films brings a surprised smile to all our faces. Who doesn’t remember laughing at the crackling lines of the rollicking Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi, every time of the numerous times that one has seen it? Well, the dialogue was by Ramesh Pant! Quickly followed up by Half Ticket, for which he wrote the dialogue and the screenplay. Then the tense and enjoyable Ustadon Ke Ustad, which he comprehensively wrote.

And, here come some of the rest: Kashmir Ki Kali, Bheegi Raat, An Evening In Paris, Aradhana, Do Bhai (the emotionally taut story of which was written by Salim Khan, credited as Prince Salim!) and Adhikar (Salim-Javed are rumoured to have ghost-rewritten its screenplay).

Enjoyable work with well-remembered lines followed like Raakhi Aur Hathkadi, Jheel Ke Us Paar, Aap Ki Kasam, Kaala Sona, Ek Se Badhkar Ek, Surraksha, Aasha, etc.

And, yes, Ramesh Pant obviously hates tears. Well, so he told us repeatedly in Amar Prem!


There are so many others who have given us really enjoyable narratives, based on out-of-the-box plots and characters, but whose names we never bothered to find out or remember, obsessed as we have been with stars and, at best, directors.

Perhaps this edition of Box Office India will kick off a series of discoveries about the quality work that so many screenwriters have done, and are doing, but whose names remain unrecognised. 

- Anjum Rajabali

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