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Walking With The Greats

Here are some personal nuggets and cherished memories of writers whose work, but not their names, have made it to Hindi cinema’s hall of fame

This list could be endless as India has produced so many talents in the past and it will continue to. But the big question is – when we enjoy and appreciate a movie, do we scour the credits for the name of the film’s writer? Sadly, most people would have to answer in the negative.

At times, I see a young writer fumbling to remember the name of a senior. They may name a film as their favourite or that they have watched umpteen times or one that they were inspired to become a writer because of a particular film but they will not mention the name of the film’s writer. That’s because even an aspiring writer doesn’t bother to look at the credits to find out who the person behind the film he fell in love with was.

It’s a sorry state of affairs but then – as we all believe – the show must go on. Here are a few names that are immortal through their work. Whether or not we remember them, they will live forever.

Khwaja Ahmad Abbas

He was a great man. There are a handful of writers in cinema who are equally well known in literary circles as well. He was a director as well. He has also won three National Awards. He introduced Amitabh Bachchan. From Awaara to Bobby, his work is so great and we are too small in stature to talk about a personality like him.

Do you know who the first writer I met was?  It was Abbas saab. I was very young, living in Bhopal. It was an award function and Abbas saab and Faiz Ahmad Faiz had been invited. Faiz Ahmad Faiz’s 65th birthday was celebrated. In a magazine article during the release of Deewana, Rishi Kapoor had said, ‘After several years, I found a good director and his name is Raj Kumar Santoshi and a good writer in Rumy Jafry who reminds me of my guru Khwaja Ahmad Abbas.’ I benefitted from that a lot. I was very young and people would not take me seriously. Now, suddenly, they started to wonder who Rumy Jafry was. So, I benefitted due to Abbas saab.

Pandit Mukhram Sharma

He won the first Filmfare Award for story when the award for that category was started in 1955. In Bhopal, I didn’t know about him, but after I educated myself about the film industry, I came to know what a great writer he was. He had given so many hits. Distributors used to sign films immediately after finding out that the writer of a film was Mukhram Sharma or Rajinder Krishen.

Gulshan Nanda

There is no greater novelist in India than Gulshan Nanda. His novels used to be translated into Chinese as well, not just Indian languages. Let me tell you one more interesting thing. All these writers we are talking about were all Urdu writers. When his novels used to be translated into Hindi, he wouldn’t even read them. He used to say, ‘It felt as though my novel is being murdered’.

But so many of his novels have been made into Hindi films – Kati Patang, Sharmeelee, Daag… around 20 films. I asked his son Rahul Nanda if there are any novels of his that are unpublished for me to read. LV Prasad’s Khilona was also based on a novel he wrote. Patthar Ke Sanam and Hanste Zakhm were also his stories. There was no one who could think and write with the kind of depth that he had.

Sachin Bhowmick

Another writer who has given genuine super hits and whom I have been influenced by is Sachin Bhowmick. I have worked with Sachinda and also shared a close friendship with him. He was a great character. He was an assistant with Mohan Segal. Prakash Mehra, Mohan Kumar, Sohanlal Kanwar and J Om Prakash worked with Mohan Segal. Sachinda was in the writing department and used to pursue Hrishikesh Mukherjee and even narrated a story to him. He liked it and he told him that if his Anari film became a hit, he would make a film with Sachinda. Anari became a hit and Sachinda went to Hrishikesh Mukherjee. They made a film together. It was a disaster at the box office but it won a National Award. The film was Anuradha.  So, whenever Sachinda approached people for work and told them about this film, they said they wanted a hit film, not awards. So, he stopped mentioning that he had written Anuradha!

I worked in several films with him. He had a terrific memory and I got to learn many things from him. He read a lot. You could ask him for one scene and he would write 25 scenes, and if you didn’t like any, he would come back with more. He was not an original writer. He once met Rahul Rawail for a narration. He gave him a book and asked him to read the eighth story in the book. Rahul said to him, ‘If the story is from the book, why am I paying you?’ Sachinda replied, ‘Have you read this book? I read 500 books and chose two books for you. You are paying me for that.’

Sachinda kept a very low profile but I was always surprised by his work. Once I asked him about the climax in Khel Khel Mein, as to how he got the idea of the single bullet. He told me, ‘I was in Pune for the story sitting. Every evening, I would go to this theatre to watch films. There was an English film, The Last Bullet, running. There were just seven people including me for the show and post-interval, I was the only one left. The usher told me to leave so that they could shut the theatre. But I refused as I had paid for the show. He said they would refund my money but I refused. The climax of that film had that punch.’ So I learnt from him that no matter how bad a film is, watch it till the end. You might get something interesting and unique out of it!

Rahi Masoom Reza

He was a great writer and another well-known name in literary circles. He is from Aligarh and studied there as well. He wrote Mahabharat, the TV serial, really well. He used to write such amazing dialogues. Someone told me that when Nargisji passed away, Sunil Dutt saab performed the rituals according to Hindu customs and then handed over her body for Muslim rituals. At that point, Rahi saab apparently said, ‘You will not get to see this again… the religion of a dead body being changed.’ Only a writer like him could say something like that.

Prayag Raj

He was a true-blue commercial writer. All the writers mentioned till now, except Sachin Bhowmick, had a literary background. Prayag Raj always gave us hardcore commercial films. There was no thought-provoking writing from him. When I was new to cinema, David (Dhawan) saab called me. Prayag Raj was to write his film but he wanted me to write it. I told him that when he had a film for me, he could call me. I would not want to replace a senior writer, especially someone as senior as Prayag Raj.

Kader Khan

We all know he was a great actor but he was a fantastic writer too. The dialogue he wrote for some of Amitabh Bachchan and Jeetendra’s films was amazing. He wrote the dialogue for so many of Prakash Mehra’s films. He wrote some really kamaal ki lines. He was such a respected writer that when he would step out of a plane in Madras, there would be six to seven Ambassador cars waiting for him. Producers would be waiting for him to step out. They all wanted to work with him.

Rajinder Krishen

Javed Akhtar saab used to say that one of the biggest writers of that generation was Rajindra Krishan. He was probably one of the highest-paid ones too. He used to insist that if he wrote the film, he would write the songs as well. And he did write the songs for all the films he wrote the stories for. Like for Padosan, he wrote the script and songs as well. Khandan starring Sunil Dutt, was another film he wrote the story and the lyrics of the songs for. He was such a good shayar. Unko yeh shikaayat hai ke hum kuch nahi kehte, apni toh yeh aadat hai ke hum kuch nahi kehte. These songs, these words are of Rajindra Krishen.

Nasir Husain

Nasir Husain, who was an IFS officer, actually started his career in this industry as a writer with S Mukherjee. And from there, he got his first break as a director. He also wrote Aamir Khan’s very first film, Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak. He wrote the entire script. And it was such a huge hit. Then a few years later, he wrote Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar. Imagine him being so senior and still being able to pen a story which is so youth-centric. Unbelievable!

I would like to mention a few more names; Inder Raj Anand, Ismat Chugatai and Akhtar-Ul-Iman. This list would not be complete without these names.

- Rumy Jafry

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