He was the unsung hero of the celebrated filmmaker Yash Chopra’s timeless romantic classics like Kabhi Kabhie , Noorie , Silsila and Chandni . Even as Chopra himself, his music director Khayyam and the films’ stars were feted and showered with accolades, Sagar Sarhadi, the films’ seasoned story, screenplay and dialogue writer, stayed on the sidelines. Except for connoisseurs, not many gave him credit for the films’ success. This was in part because of the nature of the trade, where hero worship has been the bane of countless others associated with films. Sagar though did not complain.
Essentially an Urdu short story writer and a playwright whose one-act plays were much appreciated, he decided to turn director to make films from his own independent perspective. Thus came about his directorial debut Bazaar in 1981. And what a debut it was! Laced with melody, seeped in Urdu, the language of love, Bazaar had what a true lover of cinema could ask for: ensemble cast of Naseeruddin Shah, Farooq Sheikh, Smita Patil, Supriya Pathak, and Khayyam as the music directorwith the evergreen song “Phir chhidi raat”. Bazaar was all about the little triumphs and long trials of love. The audiences loved it. And Sagar carved out a niche all his own in Hindi cinema. Even as the masses waited for more offerings from the director, he, however, let the screenplay and dialogue writer in him rule the roost for the next several years. He gave us films such as Rang, Deewana and Kaho Na Pyar Hai . The films were raging hits and helped the likes of Divya Bharti, Shah Rukh Khan and Hrithik Roshan build an abiding relationship with cinegoers.
Sagar, the director, had almost faded from memory. He was not done though. He gave us Chausar and earlier Agla Mausam too. Neither had the melody of Bazaar or love’s abiding ache. But both had Sagar’s integrity of vision and the ability to relate a story without commercial compromises.
Sagar remained a much-loved man in Hindi cinema. Hailing from the frontier village Bafa, situated off the township of Abbotabad in undivided India, Sagar had to migrate to India in 1947 when he had hardly entered his teens. From prancing around the rivers and the vast green fields of his village, he was reduced to a refugee in Delhi, where his family got a foothold in Kingsway Camp. The experience shook him and the pain of displacement and dislocation remained with him until the end. After his schooling in Delhi, he came over to Bombay where he met the likes of Jan Nisar Akhtar and Kaifi Azmi who shared his concerns and his angst; he later worked with both of them. It was, however, the illustrious Urdu writer Sajjad Zaheer who helped him hone his craft. He understood the art of the unsaid, mastered understatements. Slowly, Sagar began to be taken seriously for his Urdu writings.
It, however, was not enough to pay the bills and keep the kitchen fire burning. Hence, he took recourse to cinema. “Films gave me recognition, name, fame and money. I travelled the world. But they ruined the Urdu writer in me. Otherwise, I would have had some 10-20 books under my name,” he once said in an interview with The Hindu . The sense of loss never left him. Born as Ganga Sagar Talwar in 1933, Sagar Sarhadi adopted the second part of his name to remind him of his origin in the frontiers of India. He managed to carve out his own little rivulet of success in cinema. What he yearned for was an ocean in the world of letters and literature. Alas! Not to be. Urdu’s loss was Hindi cinema’s gain. And sadly, cinema’s gain was literature’s loss. His departure reminds of another poet’s famous lines, Kabhi kisi ko mukammal jahan nahin milta .
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