I was a fan of Sagar Sarhadi’s writing. Mellow, mordant and modern, his perception of love and related issues was unique and yet so inured in a tradition that a film like Kabhi Kabhie which Sagar Sarhadi wrote, almost seems like romantic confection until you peer into its heart. A noted Urdu short story writer, Sagar Saab started his writing career in films with the dialogues of Basu Bhattacharya’s Anubhav which were so real, they seemed to have been thought up by the protagonists played by Tanuja and Sanjeev Kumar. The stardom of a kind came to Sagar Saab when Yash Chopra took him under his wings.
For Yashraj Films Sagar Sarhadi wrote the memorable Kabhi Kabhie, Doosra Aadmi, Silsila, Faasle, Chandni. Sagar Saab also directed the stunning social critique Bazaar about an underage girl (Supriya Pathak) being sold to an old Sheikh in the Gulf and the pricks of the conscience that the other characters suffer at this heinous crime. Among its other great virtues Bazaar also had Khayyam’s best music score ever. Songs like Dikhayee diye yun ke bekhud kiya, Phir chidi raat, Dekhlo aaj humko jee bhar ke and Karoge yaad toh har baat yaad aayegi are going to be remembered for as long as cinema exists.
Sagar Saab also directed Agla Mausam and Chausar (the latter featuring Nawazuddin Siddiqui) which never got properly released. Shabana Azmi who knew Sagar Sarhadi closely recalls, “I seem to have known Sagar Sarhadi forever. My mother (the great Shaukat Azmi) worked with him in a play called Tanhayee. He used to come to our house regularly from a young age. Of course, I knew him as someone who supported the IPTA. But to me, he was one of the great supporters of the slum-dwellers rights association the Nivara Haq of which I used to be the President. He used to come to all meetings by train. He never bought a car because he always said, ‘Mujhe bus aur train mein insanon ki khushboo aati hai aur wohi mera inspiration hota hai mere writing mein.’
She further added, "He was a free bird. He never wanted to get trapped in a marriage or any kind of relationships. The only focus of his life was writing. In his death, we’ve lost a powerful voice that had the guts to show a mirror to society. His plays were thought-provoking By telling it like it is, he wanted to rip aside social hypocrisy. I mourn his loss. I was speaking to his nephew filmmaker Ramesh Talwar. Rameshji said the lockdown took away Sagar Sarhadi’s energy to fight. He lost the will to live. My condolences to his family…why should we say his family? We of the IPTA were his family. So we’ve lost one of us.”
The great Naseeruddin Shah whom Sagar Sarhadi directed in Bazaar says, “I knew him only as a dialogue and scriptwriter of big-budget movies. Until I met him and he confessed to his disgust with mainstream cinema and talked about making films he believed in did I realise the extent of his commitment to meaningful work. On a personal level, I didn't know Sagar Sahab at all except for the fact that he used colourful language and was very affectionate to me whenever we met. His unit also served the best meals I've ever eaten on an outdoor shoot. I also believe that till age caught up with him he'd walk from Sion where he lived to Juhu where he had his office. His film Bazaar though justifiably popular is unevenly made and too influenced by the kind of films he was used to doing. But it succeeds in packing a punch while delivering its disturbing message. His subsequent experiences with using the popular format to present unconventional ideas, Agla Mausam (incomplete), and Tere Sheher Mein (never released) were heartbreaking enough to discourage him from making any more films. It's a classic example of how the system devours its own and it's a tragedy. But Sagar Sahab did enough to ensure immortality for his writings.”
Nawazuddin Siddiqui who had the privilege of being directed by Sagar Sarhadi in Chausar recalls, “The first thing that comes to my mind when I think of Sagar Sarhadi Saab is books. When I had gone to his house in Sion for the first time the entire large house was filled with shelves of books in every room. I had seen so many books only at the NSD library in Delhi. I couldn’t imagine any individual would possess so many books. Sagar Saab was a well-read, learned articulate writer. The dialogues that he wrote for Bazaar which he directed, give me goosebumps even today when I think about them. Not too many people saw Chausar the film which he directed with me in the lead. But I’m very proud of having worked with one of the finest minds of India and Indian cinema.”
Adds Rakesh Shrivastav general secretary of the Indian People’s Theatre Association, “National committee of IPTA condoles the sad demise of veteran playwright, film scriptwriter, theatre and film director Sagar Sarhadi yesterday at Mumbai. He was 91. Known for scripts of films like Kabhi Kabhie, Silsila, Chandni, Fasle, Anubhav he wrote and directed the classic film "Bazaar" which was another milestone in the series of realistic films. His other films "Tere Shahar Me"and "Chausar" could not get a place in the commercial Bollywood market. A true Marxist, Sagar Sarhadi was averse to any compromise. His plays on Bhagat Singh and Ashfakullah Khan were performed by Mumbai IPTA and other groups many times. His famous play "Raj Darbar" has been performed by various theatre groups throughout the country. I had about four decades-long association with him. He wished to make a film on my play"Ram Leela" and we had several interactions but it could not materialize. He was a close relative of noted film and theatre director, NC member of IPTA Ramesh Talwar. Paying our richest tributes we share the grief of family, friends and his countless admirers.”
Image source: Youtube/RajyasabhaTV
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