Ramanand Sagar: An Obituary

Last Updated: Wed, Dec 14, 2005 07:26 hrs

At 88, Ramanand Sagar died a full life. For the first ten years of his working life the prolific writer-director was a journalist.

The keen eye for detail which served him in good stead as a writer also gave him the sharpness of vision that translated into a string of hits in the 1960s including the twin blockbusters Aarzoo and Aankhen, said to be among the biggest successes of the era.

Ramanand Sagar migrated from his home town Lahore to Mumbai in 1947. Once in the city of dreams Sagar wrote novels and short stories including a first-hand account of the trauma he suffered during the partition of India into two countries.

During this period Sagar also turned into a scriptwriter. His first career-making break came when he wrote Raj Kapoor's 1948 hit Barsaat. The film made Sagar a much sought-after screen -writer. Among the successful screenplay Sagar wrote there were the three films directed by Tamil maverick S.S. Vasan's Insaniyat, Raj Tilak and Paigham.

Such screenwriting established Sagar's name in the Hindi film industry. By the time he directed his first film Mehmaan in 1953 he was well on the road to fame.

As a director Sagar would be considered not excessively prolific as compared with his colleagues like B.R. Chopra, Mohan Kumar and Devendra Goel. His films were mellowed down melodramas with an acute family appeal. He worked repeatedly with a close cluster of stars like Rajendra Kumar, Mala Sinha and the starlet Kum Kum who shot to fame through her association with Sagar.

The 1970s were a period of lull for Ramanand Sagar. Big-budget failures like the lavish 1982 Dharmemdra-Hema Malini costume drama Bhagavat and the 1979 adaptation of George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion entitled Hum Tere Aashiq Hain (directed by Ramanand's son Prem Sagar) put the illustrious Sagar Arts banner in the red.

Ramanand Sagar bounced back with a bang when he produced the mythological tv series Ramayan for the national channel Doordarshan. The uninterrupted two-year run of this mega-serial marked a turning point for Indian television. Roads all over the country went empty when the mega-mythological was telecast on Sunday mornings.

Sagar tried to encore the Ramayan success with another televised mythological Krishna two years later.

But he will be largely remembered as the filmmaker who precipitated a national bandh every Sunday morning by bringing the gods into every household in India.

The Best Of Ramanand Sagar

1. Aarzoo (1965): The Rajendra Kumar-Sadhana-Feroz Khan love triangle triggered mass hysteria. One of the biggest hits of the decade the film featured Kumar as the lovelorn Majnu who decides to keep away from lady-love Sadhana after he loses a leg. She convinces him their love needs no leg-room by offering to lose one of her own limbs.

The film's Kashmiri locales and Shankar-Jaikishan's super-hit songs (Bedardi balma, Ajee rooth kar ab, Ae nargis-e-mastana, Chlake teri aankhon se) added considerably to the film's repeat value.

2. Aankhen (1968): India's first bonafide spy thriller featured Dharmendra as the desi James Bond cracking China's spy network with the help of a love-lorn chirpy chinky Mala Sinha. Mehmood's beggar's song `Tujhko rahe raam tujhko allah rakhe` and Dharmendra's swaggering machismo did the trick.

3. Lalkaar (1972): A `Sangam-styled` love triangle set against a war backdrop, the film's amateurish war scenes took away from the emotional impact of two brothers (Rajendra Kumar and Dharmendra) in love with the same mademoiselle (Mala Sinha). The two male stars came together for the first time since the super-hit Ayee Milan Ki Bela. But Kumar had begun to lose his appeal. The film looked jaded.

4. Jalte Badan (1973): A rather startling departure from tradition for Sagar, this film featured Kiran Kumar and the Sagar favourite Kum Kum in a film that attempted to expose the hollowness of the drugs-dames-rock 'n' roll culture. Embarrasing, but nonetheless a departure from the norm.

5.Charas (1976): Dharmendra and Hema Malini in a sort of sequel to Aankhen. Though the pair was liked the film's convoluted plot made it less popular than expected. Laxmikant-Pyarelal's chartbusters `Aaja teri yaad ayee` and `Kal ki haseen mulaqat ke liye` are perennial favourites.

6. Ramayan(1986-1988): Arun Govil and Deeepika became household deities after they played Ram and Sita in Sagar's portable kitsch. The series revived hindutva in unexpected ways. Women burnt agar -battis before the tv screen, men gave up cricket matches on rival channels for the pleasure of re-visiting Tulsidas's tale on Doordarshan …The channel became so rich they could afford to make flop serials for the next decade. Prompted B.R. Chopra to do `Mahabharat`.