Orson Wells, great American filmmaker, once said, “The writer should have the first and the last word in filmmaking.” Unfortunately in Bollywood today, the opposite holds good. Writing has gradually taken a backseat to other aspects of filmmaking. With the exception of Salim-Javed duo, most Indians would be hard-pressed to remember the names of screenwriters who were behind the success of many blockbusters. It is not that Hindi cinema has dearth of talent but due recognition to writers has been lacking lately. Bollywood needs to revive the idealism of the past when producers put their full faith in the screenwriters and gave them the honor they deserved for giving them a hit film. Bollywood can boast of writers who appealed and reached out to different sections of society, minds that explored something we had not heard before, stalwarts who gave recognition, respect and dignity to the craft of screenwriting. Here is a tribute to some of the greatest screenwriters of Hindi cinema.
Wajahat Mirza: The famous producer-director Mehboob Khan’s right hand man, Wajahat Mirza was one of the earliest screenwriters who was highly acclaimed by critics and the audiences for his contribution in making Mehboob’s Aurat (1939) a classic. Mirza again gave his best when Mehboob wanted to revive Aurat in the fifties to produce Mother India (1957), Mehboob’s all time best movie that won Hindi cinema its first Oscar nomination.Besides Mother India, Wajahat Mirza was associated with Mehboob as screenwriter for Watan (1938), Hum Tum Aur Who (1939), Ek Hi Raasta (1939) and Behen (1941). His other notable films are Mughal-E-Azam (1960), Ganga Jamuna (1961), Leader (1964), Shatranj (1969), Ganga Ki Saugandh (1978) and Love and God (1986).
Khwaja Ahmad Abbas: Renowned journalist and writer, K. A. Abbas gave some of the greatest Hindi films as a screenwriter – Naya Sansar (1941), Dr. Kotnis Ki Amar Kahani (1946), Dharti Ke Lal (1946), Awara (1951), Anhonee (1952), Munna (1954), Shri 420 (1955), Jagte Raho (1956), Pardesi (1957), Char Dil Char Rahen (1959), Shehar Aur Sapna (1963), Sapnon Ka Saudagar (1968), Saat Hindustani (1969), Mera Naam Joker (1970), Do Boond Pani (1971), Zindagi Zindagi (1972), Achanak (1973), Bobby (1973) and Henna (1991). As a producer-director Abbas gave a break to newcomer Amitabh Bachchan in Saat Hindustani. His film Pardesi was nominated for Golden Palm at the Cannes. Abbas also had the honor of becoming Member of the Jury at the Berlin International Film Festival in 1966.
Pt. Mukhram Sharma: The most famous writer of stories with social themes in the fifties, Pandit Mukhram Sharma had a long association with B. R. Chopra. He had written stories for many of his hit films. Some of his notable films are Ek Hi Raasta, Aulad, Sadhna and Dhool Ka Phool. Pt. Sharma had also won Filmfare awards for Sadhna, Vachan and Aulad. His other hit films include Santaan, Do Kalian, Jeene Ki Raah, Raja Aur Rank, Dadi Maa, Gharana and Talaq. Pt. Mukhram Sharma won Sangeet Natak Academy Award (1961).
Gulshan Nanda: Darling of the 60s, 70s and part of 80s, Gulshan Nanda was indeed the most sold writer of his time. He was also one of the most successful writers from the point of view of Hindi cinema on whose novels many hit movies have been made. He worked with some of the best known and widely respected banners and directors in Bollywood – L. V. Prasad, Ram Maheshwari, Shakti Samant, Subodh Mukherjee, Yash Chopra and Chetan Anand. Many of the films written by him directly or based on his novels were not only commercially successful but also remembered as all time great films – Kaajal, Neel Kamal, Ajnabi, Khilona, Kati Patang, Pathar Ke Sanam, Sharmilee, Hanste Zakhm and Jheel Ke Us Paar. These films have absorbing plots and are benchmarks for healthy entertainment.
Sachin Bhowmick: A screenwriter with Mida’s touch, Sachin Bhowmick was associated with the maximum number of blockbuster movies made by Bollywood – Lajwanti (1958), Anuradha (1960), Ziddi (1964), Ayee Milan Ki Bela (1964), Janwar (1965), Love in Tokyo (1966), Aaye Din Bahar Ke (1966), An Evening in Paris (1967), Brahmchari (1968), Aradhna (1969), Aan Mili Sajna (1970), Caravan (1971), Andaz (1971), Dosti (1974), Khel Khel Mein (1975), Zindagi (1976), Hum Kisi Se Kam Nahin (1977), Azaad (1978), Gol Maal (1979), Do Aur Do Panch (1980), Karz (1980), Bemisal (1982), Nastik (1983), Zameen Aasman (1984), Jhoothi (1985), Saudagar (1991), Karan Arjun (1995), Koyla (1997), Dushman (1998), Aa Ab Laut Chalen (1999), Koi Mil Gaya (2005), Kisna (2005) and Krrish (2006). He won Filmfare Award for Brahmchari.
Akhtar Mirza: A great writer of short stories, Akhtar Mirza was associated with Bollywood as a screenwriter in the 50s and 60s, winning Filmfare Awards for Best Story for Naya Daur (1958) and Waqt (1966). His other notable films were Bawre Nain (1950), Ab Dilli Door Nahin (1957), Mohabbat Isko Kehte Hein (1965) and Dhund (1973).
Ismat Chugtai: Eminent Urdu writer, a revolutionary feminist, Ismat Chugtai explored feminine sexuality, middle-class gentility and the evolving conflicts in the modern Muslim world. A great short story writer, she won Filmfare Award for Best Story of Garam Hawa (1975). Her other most memorable movies are Arzoo (1950), Sone Ki Chidia (1958) and Junoon (1978), in which she also had screen appearance.
Prayag Raj: Renowned and widely respected screenwriter, Prayag Raj had a long writer-actor association with Amitabh Bachchan since the 70s – Amar Akbar Anthony (1977), Parvarish (1977), Suhaag (1979), Naseeb (1981), Desh Premi (1982), Coolie (1983), Gereftaar (1985), Mard (1985), Ganga Jamuna Sarswati (1988), Ajooba (1991) and Zamaanat (2006). Prayag Raj’s other notable movies include Aa Gale Lag Ja (1973), Roti (1974), Ponga Pandit (1975), Dharam Karam (1975) and Deewana Mastana (1997),
Salim-Javed: The team of Salim Khan and Javed Akhtar brought the writer to the forefront as never before in Indian cinema. They were the first to make the writer as much a star in his own right and they commanded a fee often higher than the actors starring in the films they wrote. They were responsible for the phenomenon of the ‘angry young man’ in the 70s personified by Amitabh Bachchan. Zanjeer (1973), Deewar (1975), Sholay (1975), Don (1978) and Trishul (1978) owed a great deal of their success to the writing of Salim-Javed duo. They also brought about a major change in the Hindi film dialogue – hard-hitting dramatic dialogue became a fashion in films. Practically every dialogue of Sholay is remembered till today.
Gulzar: Writer, lyricist and director, Gulzar is known for films that are sensitive, lyrical and yet very successful. They were a welcome relief from the violent films that filled the 1970s and 80s. Starting as Bimal Roy’s full time Assistant, he became one of the finest screenwriters and lyricists of Hindi films, with a long list of memorable movies – Anand (1970), Mere Apne (1971), Guddi (1971), Koshish (1972), Parichay (1972), Achanak (1973), Namak Haram (1973), Khushboo (1975), Chupke Chupke (1975), Aandhi (1975), Mausam (1975), Kitaab (1977), Grih Pravesh (1979), Namkeen (1982), Angoor (1982), Masoom (1983), New Delhi Times (1986), Ijaazat (1987), Lekin (1990), Rudaali (1993), Maachis (1996) and Saathia (2002). Gulzar won Filmfare Awards for Saathia and Anand.
Apart from the above listed leading screenwriters of Hindi cinema, there are some more writers who have made a name for themselves for their significant contribution in making of great Hindi movies, and deserve to be applauded along with them: Shams Lucknovi (Andaz), Ritwick Ghatak (Madhumati), R. K. Narayan (Guide), Kaifi Azmi (Heer Ranjha), Sujit Sen (Arth, Saransh), Sudhir Mishra (Jeene Bhi Do Yaaro), Kamna Chandra (Prem Rog, Chandni, 1942-A Love Story), Honey Irani (Lamhe, Darr, Kya Kehna, Kaho Na Pyaar Hei, Koi Mil Gaya, Krrish). Besides, hats off to some very successful producer-directors who have proved that they were also great screenwriters – I. S. Johar, O. P. Dutta, Shyam Benegal, Govind Nihlani, Shekhar Kapoor, Subhash Ghai, Ashutosh Govarker, Karan Johar, Madhur Bhandarker, Rajkumar Santoshi and Vishal Bhardwaj.