'House needs a woman': Legendary 'Silsila' writer Sagar Sarhadi died a lonely man

·8-min read
'House needs a woman': Legendary 'Silsila' writer Sagar Sarhadi died a lonely man

“Tumhara intezar na karte huwe bhi

Har modh par tumhara intezar kiya,

Tumhari umeed na rakhte hue bhi

Maine har kadam par tumhari tamanna ki…(Sagar Sarhadi for Silsila)”

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Who understood loneliness and waiting better than the late writer/filmmaker Sagar Sarhadi? 

However, the self-professed romantic, given his Marxist ideals, chose never to get into a commitment. Having written several romances from Kabhi Kabhie, Doosra Aadmi, Chandni, Silsila and even Bazaar, having been in several intense relationships himself, he never sought permanence. “German psychologist Wilhem Reich says that no marital relationship really lasts more than four years… Filmein shaadi se zyada chal jaati hain,” the sensitive Sarhadi once explained his aversion to the institution.

Also was the trauma of Partition that coloured (or discoloured) his views. “Bedar (displaced), beghar (homeless), bhooke (hungry)... we lost our home, our fields. That sense of being uprooted never left me. The negativity coloured the way I viewed marriage later,” he said about being an emotional refugee all his life.

Being ‘left alone’ was the ‘high price’ he paid for his idealism. “A friend rightly remarked, ‘You can remain with your idealism. A girl won’t’,” said Sarhadi sorely missing a companion later in life.

Though self-confessedly suffering from a depression of sorts, Sagar Sarhadi had the courage to stand by his choices. “Bahut paaya, ussey bhi zyaada khoya. But I have lived it all... the pagalpan, the masti... I’ve had enough alcohol. But now the body has given up. Phir jeeunga toh yehi haraamzaadi karoonga,” the stalwart said with candour in an interview to Filmfare…

Born as Ganga Sagar Talwar on May 11, 1933 in Baffa, Abbottabad, Pakistan. He changed his name to Sagar Sarhadi, as a tribute to his homeland – the North West Frontier Province, the Urdu name for which is Sooba Sarhad. It was also in honour of screenwriter, Zia Sarhadi, who also hailed from NWFP.

Sarhadi lost his mother when he was six. 

“She used to gaze at me from her bed. She was suffering from TB... For the fear of passing it to me, she desisted from holding me in her arms even as she lay dying,” he reminisced in an interview to Scroll.in

Sarhadi was 12 when the Partition happened. One night his father and he almost got killed by a rioter. Fortunately, a Muslim excise inspector, saved them. They escaped in a truck first to Srinagar and then to Delhi.

After school, he came to Mumbai. Sarhadi lived in a single room in Koliwada, Sion with his elder brother (director Ramesh Talwar’s father), his Bhabhi (who’d nursed him his mother being unwell) and their children. With no toilet, they had to walk three kilometres in the salt fields to relieve ourselves.

Studying in Khalsa College, he was impressed by the literary knowledge of Gulzar, his senior. Sarhadi began reading Urdu extensively. To enhance his English, he migrated to St Xavier’s College.

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He switched several jobs to maintain himself – from being a teacher, a taxi driver, a typist… only to realize that writing was his calling. “The river (Siran) and the rivulet that flowed in my hometown, the surrounding hills, my childhood friends, the market – they haunted me day and night… To give vent to my anguish, I began scribbling… My friend exclaimed, ‘Issmein to aag hai!’” (scroll.in)

His thirst led him to the Progressive Writer’s Association. Urdu stalwarts like Sajjad Zaheer, Rajinder Singh Bedi, Ismat Chugtai, KA Abbas, Sardar Jafri, Kaifi Azmi, apart from teaching him the ‘nuances’ of writing, also underlined that without compassion, art and existence had no meaning.

During his stint with IPTA, he grew familiar with the works of Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Kishen Chander. His collection of short stories, Jeev Janawar, and plays like Bhagat Singh Ki Waapsi, Khyaal Ki Dastak, Raj Durbar and Tanhai won him applause.

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Teaming up with Kapil Kumar, Sarhadi wrote the dialogue of Basu Bhattacharya’s sensitive Anubhav (1971). It was followed by Savera (1972) and Alingan (1974). Sarhadi’s Urdu play, Mirza Sahiban, impressed Yash Chopra, who offered him Kabhie Kabhie (1976). Sarhadi’s writing expressed the delicate nuances of love and estrangement beautifully and won the Filmfare Award for Best Dialogue.

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Later, he wrote for Yash Chopra’s hits Doosra Aadmi (1977), Noorie (1979, based on Sarhadi’s short story Raakha), Silsila (1981) and Chandni (1989). 

Sarhadi, a nonconformist, was willing to take risk with Silsila, an infidelity drama. But Yash Chopra, fearing audience rejection, was wary of breaking convention.

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An article in a newspaper, about destitute Indian parents marrying off their young daughters to affluent expatriate Indians/Arabs in the Gulf as a business transaction, left him disturbed. The hard-hitting Bazaar with Naseeruddin Shah, Farooque Shaikh, Smita Patil and Supriya Pathak was born.

Sarhadi resorted to traditional poetry to bring out the ethos and gravitas of the film. Like Dekh lo aaj humko was from the 200-year-old, Zehre-E-Ishq, by Mirza Shauq. Dikhaye diye yun is written by Mir Taqi Mir. Phir chiddhi raat is by Marxist poet Makhdoom. Khayyam’s music lent it the necessary pathos with Dekh lo aaj humko, sung by wife Jagjit Kaur, left women audiences sobbing.

In between he wrote the dialogue for Shah Rukh Khan’s Deewana (1992) and Rakesh Roshan’s Kaho Naa... Pyaar Hai (2000). His film Tere Shaher Mein with Naseeruddin Shah, Smita Patil and Deepti didn’t release given financial issues. Chausar, his last film starring Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Amruta Subhash, a contemporary take-off on Draupadi, remains in the cans. He was also planning a film on freedom fighter Ashfaqulla Khan and Bazaar 2.

Sadly, Sarhadi couldn’t sustain the success of Bazaar. Perhaps the commercialisation of the industry and his meandering personal life… led him to lose focus. Regretting the fading of parallel cinema, known for its realism, he once remarked, “We have faced Partition twice. First we were forced out of our motherland and now (offbeat filmmakers) we have been pushed away from the film industry (ww.thenews.com.pk).”

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In a recent interview he mentioned fighting ‘depression’. The advancing years and solitude were a heavy cross to bear. The writer, who had a copyright to romance, acutely missed a companion. 

“The house misses the presence of a woman... A woman who looks after you, smiles at you, fights with you… is necessary in the periphery of your life… Heartbreak and loneliness takes its toll. Twenty-four hours in the house will make you mad,” he shared his sense of desolation with Filmfare.

In fact, he reminisced when he was young, his father once wrote to him saying that he had fixed Sarhadi’s ‘shaadi’ with a girl back home. Sarhadi scribbled ‘120 gaalis’ on a postcard’ and sent it to him. So opposed he was to the thought of getting married given his financial instability.

What also influenced him was Marxism and Psychology. 

“That’s a deadly combination! Noted psychologist Wilhem Reich said that no marriage lasts more than four years. The couple ends up looking like brother and sister… Romance vanishes. It becomes a matter-of-fact existence more so after children,” he was quoted saying.

It’s not that Sarhadi didn’t have relationships. “Romanticism is in my veins. I’ve had around 20 affairs. I never left the girls, the girls left me. They wanted to settle down. But I was against marriage. One of them was a theatre actress. She was willing to ‘live in’ with me. But her family locked her up… A person waited on her even when she visited the washroom. I never saw her again,” he lamented in a chat with Filmfare.

He devised his own plan to fight the lows. From his quiet home in Koliwada, the 75-plus Sarhadi would make his way to nephew Ramesh Talwar’s suburban office every day. For that he’d change two trains. After which he’d take a bus. The undertaking was to ‘cut the depression’. “I see faces, I see trees, I interact with people in the office... it feels good,” he said.

His wanderings came to an end when Sarhadi breathed his last at his house in the non-descript neighbourhood of Sion on 22 March, 2021. “He wasn’t keeping well for some time and had even stopped eating. He passed away peacefully,” said nephew Talwar. It was a homecoming for the refugee.

More from Yahoo Tragic Tales series:

Unravelling the world of classic Bollywood cinema - here’s more from Farhana Farook.

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