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Updated: August 30, 2012 19:10 IST

An ocean of difference

Deepak Mahaan
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His own man: Sagar Sarhadi. Photo: S. Subramanium
The Hindu
His own man: Sagar Sarhadi. Photo: S. Subramanium

Sagar Sarhadi, veteran screenplay writer of films like “Kabhi Kabhie” and “Silsala”, is both content and anguished

There are a few people on whom fame sits lightly. Not swayed by the trappings of showbiz, they remain unspoiled like the lotus in a dirty pond. In the cutthroat world of the Mumbai film industry, Sagar Sarhadi is a rare man.

For someone who wrote over 15 screenplays and dialogues for films like “Kabhi Kabhie”, “Silsila”, “Chandni” and “Kaho Na Pyaar Hai” and also created a masterpiece like “Bazaar”, Sagar leads a simple life, mingling with crowds on suburban trains and buses. It is not that he cannot afford a fancy car or an ostentatious flat. “Main ek sadhaaran dharti ka aadmi hun aur haqeeqat mein jeena pasand karta hun (I am a common man who likes to live in reality),” he expounds.

A great conversationalist, Sagar can relate to elderly citizens as well as denim-clad youngsters by sharing their dreams, aspirations and frustrations, though he is completely clueless about the world of smart phones and iPads. In a rare exposition of his writing process, Sagar discloses, “My conversations are an attempt to look into people’s souls and understand their unique responses.”

Ask him how he is able to impart sublime moments of romance in his stories despite being a bachelor all his life, and he breaks into a smile. “I may not have been married but it isn’t that I haven’t loved a woman,” he tells you. Sagar considers it foolhardy of people to expect romance in their lives when they aren’t willing to invest time and understanding in their relationships. A great admirer of his elder sister-in-law who nursed him after the death of his mother when he was just a child, Sagar yearns for respect for women and dislikes their “grotesque presentation” on screen.

Lamenting an industry that has become more star-centric than story-driven, he says, “Producers are slaves to stars and do not cater to stories anymore.” Though his last film, “Chausar”, couldn’t see the light of day due to a producer’s gaffe and he wasn’t able to create something as subtle and arresting as “Bazaar”, Sagar isn’t deterred in his resolve to create meaningful cinema. His skirmishes with powerful lobbies within the film world may have depleted his resources but they haven’t dampened his spirits. Instead, it is his vitality and humour that give strength to most strugglers who regularly throng his pad in Andheri. Upcoming actor Vikas Shrivastav, who has impressed in films like “The Dirty Picture” and “Shaitaan”, confesses, “Sagar Sahab is an inspiration to many like me, as his wisdom helped me understand life when I hadn’t a clue about anything.”

People recount various occasions when Sagar refused a fortune for writing just because the producer wasn’t on his wavelength or wished a plagiarised version of a Western pot boiler! Despite fond relations with Yash Chopra and Rakesh Roshan, he hasn’t worked with them for long as “they have crippled themselves despite enormous talent and resources to make great films.”

Ask him if this phase isn’t too painful and Sagar smilingly affirms, “Pain has always given rise to meaningful literary expressions.” Not many know that much before his sojourn in films, Sagar was a noted Urdu short-story writer, and it was his story titled “Raakha” (Saviour) that catapulted him to fame when it was made as “Noorie”. His book of short stories, “Jeev Janaawar,” is a bestseller, just as his Urdu plays like “Bhagat Singh ki Waapsi”, “Khyaal ki Dastak”, “Raj Durbar” and “Tanhai” are applauded by critics and the layman alike.

Torn apart on abandoning his birthplace Baffa in Pakistan, near the border, on account of the communal riots before Partition, Sagar adopted the pen name Sarhadi (border resident) instead of his surname Talwar as he wished to be a universal citizen. Like Manto, Sagar Sarhadi carries an ocean of pain and love in his pen and, who knows, his next work might just break all borders.

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