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The Man behind the Ramayan

Last updated on: December 14, 2005 19:03 IST

For millions of Indian television viewers in the late 1980s, Sunday mornings were a celebration viewing Ramanand Sagar's epic serial Ramayan.

Sagar, 87, who died on Monday from complications caused by old age in Mumbai, was born in December 29, 1917 at Asal Guru Ke near Lahore into one of the region's wealthiest families.

He showed striking literary precocity, inheriting the faculty from his father Dinanath Chopra who wrote under the pseudonym Taj Peshawari.

Ramanand was adopted by his maternal grandmother, who changed his original name Chandramauli. Later, he often confessed to have missed the love of his real parents. His childhood was responsible for the emotional note consistent in his work.

He first published a piece of prose-poetry, Pritaam Pratiksha, in 1933 when he was just 16 for the Srinagar-based Shri Pratap College magazine. The editor was impressed but was not convinced Ramanand had authored the work and so wrote as a footnote that 'the editor could not vouch for the originality of the article.'

Ramanand was thrown out of his house after he refused to accept dowry and struggled to make a living. In turn, he worked as a peon, truck cleaner, soap vendor and apprentice to a goldsmith during the day, studying for his degree at night.

He won a gold medal from Punjab University and the title of Munshi Fazal in Persian.

He joined the Daily Pratap newspaper and rose to become the news editor of the Daily Milap, a leading newspaper in Punjab.

Alongside his journalism, he continued to write prodigiously, and authored 32 short stories in 12 years, three novellas, one novel, two serials and two plays.

He wrote under the name 'Ramanand Chopra,' 'Ramanand Bedi,' 'Ramanand Kashmiri,' and finally settled on 'Ramanand Sagar.'

In 1942, he was afflicted by tuberculosis and fought death in a sanitarium. It was there that he wrote Diary of a TB Patient, which was serialised in Adab-e-Mashriq, a highly rated magazine in the 1940s.

It caught the fancy of the literary world, including the writer Krishen Chander, and won him acclaim.  

He made a significant contribution to the literary world between 1943 and 1949 with Jwaar Bhata in 1943, Ainey the next year; Jab Pahle Roz Baraf Giri, Goura in 1948 for a play enacted by Prithviraj Kapoor among others.

In 1947, Sagar fled Lahore to India with his family.

Penniless, his only possessions were five annas and a trunk full of manuscripts that described the horrors of Partition.

These manuscripts were the basis for Aur Insaan Mar Gaya, his life's masterpiece. Acclaimed as a classic in Urdu and Hindi literature, it was translated into several Indian and foreign languages. The English version And Humanity Died was published in 1987-1988.

In 1943, he was invited by film director Mehboob Khan and by writers Krishen Chander and Sadat Hassan Manto to come to Bombay. His debut in show business came via the story and screenplay for Raj Kapoor's superhit Barsaat.

In 1950, Sagar launched his production company Sagar Arts. Its first film was Mehmaan.

In 1957, his film Paigham (starring Dilip Kumar, Raaj Kumar and Vyjayantimala) won the Filmfare award for best dialogue.

His touch as producer and director was felt in his musical score, massive productions, spectacular locales and big star casts.

His group of companies produced over 25 motion pictures till 1984 with over 15 of them being box office hits; some of them crossed 75 weeks theatrically.

The blockbusters include silver jubilees -- six in a row -- Ghunghat, Zindagi, Aarzoo, Geet, Lalkar, Hamrahi, Charas, Pyaara Dushman, Ram Bharose, Bhagawat and the diamond jubilee Ankhen.

In 1985, Sagar and his sons entered television production, making Vikram aur Betaal, Dada Dadi Ki KahaniyanRamayan, Shri Krishna, Alif Laila, Jai Ganga Maiyya, Gurukul and Aankhen.

The Sagars logged 2,000 hours of television software in 15 years.

Their most recent venture Sai Baba went on air two months ago.

In 1996, he was honoured with the title Sahitya Vachaspati (Doctor of Literature) by the Hindi Sahitya Sammelan in Allahabad.

The government conferred the title of Padma Shri on Sagar in 2001.

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