On the Legacy of Literature.


On the Legacy of Literature.

Like most entrepreneurs who witnessed the partition of India, my father Mr. Ramanand Sagar rose up the hard way, working as a truck cleaner, manufacturing soap at home with his wife, studying and providing bread for the family in Lahore, to finally became an acclaimed media magnate, now known in every household in the country for his series adaptation of the Ramayana. However this space is not for that or any deification, but to showcase the legacy of literature that the man was.

Today after years of studying my father’s work, I wish to showcase, only his prowess as an Indian classical writer, and through his screenwriting style, let’s explore a craft that he truly kept closest to his heart, with the true literary reckoning that he deserves, for the artist that he was.

I quote a Sher by Faiz that he was most fond of:

Duniya Ne Teri Yaad Se Bhi Begana Kar Diya,
Tujhse Bhi Dil Fareb Hai, Gam Rozkar Ke

“This world has caused me to forget all thoughts of you.
Alas, the sorrows of a daily existence are even more deceitful than you”

It’s well known that his years of poverty and the partition, shaped his works as a bonafide writer, who then wrote stories and screenplay, known for his non-judgemental articulation, As Raza Naeem writes even compared to Guy De Maupassant. “Progressive writer Khwaja Ahmad Abbas, hailed Sagar’s humanistic voice as a declaration of war rather than an admission of defeat.” While describing the forward written by Khwaja in his partition novel Aur Insane Mar Gaya. Ramanand Chopra, (Sagar a ‘non de plume’ which was adopted later), began writing during his college years, starting with his collection of short stories, and editorials, gradually moving on to novels, and then screenplays. His collection includes Jwar Bhata(A collection of Short Stories), Aur Insaan Mar Gaya, and many more works which were quite popular amidst the literature aficionado in preparation India. Not known to many, his formative years of writing began as an editor in the Daily Milap in Lahore, seeing the fragility of the world through the time spent during his months in a TB sanatorium, he even wrote daily memoirs, assuming them to be his final works, titled “Maut Ke Bister Se” – (The Diaries of a TB Patient.)

Holding Tolstoy in high regard for his use of reflective language, the screenwriting style of Ramanand Sagar was to uphold fundamentally challenged yet moral arguments amidst his characters, where a theme of conflict was brought upon (most often due to occurrence rather than antagonism), which concluded with a play of reflective dialogue, up-till the end of the story. I often noticed his usage of themes of conflicted morals, that even the most famously vile antagonists as such were justified on screen for their actions (or realized the human err in judgment). With his use of wordplay through his signature dialogue, characters played out with almost Jungian archetypes, swinging to and fro in an argument of ethics. “The worse is seen in humankind due to situations, not their own doing, which makes both my characters right in what they stand for, and this my equalizing factor amidst a scene of two characters engaged in a heated dialogue” as he used to say.

Today, the world knows him as Ramanand Sagar, or the one who adapted the Indian Epic Ramayana for the screens, but the same artist also conceived Raj Kapoor’s most successful second directorial venture, a most picturesque, and in my opinion, an avant-garde film titled ‘Barsaat’ which again is a moral play based on the ideals of love. The film begins with two friends who are out on a typical 1940’s elite vacation in the mountains, one of them, out to sexually exploit local village damsels, only to realise the nature of true love, which is finally reflected in Prem Nath, the grey antagonist’s character arc. The same romanticism of dialogue I feel is seen in his early works such as Paigham, and Zindagi, where he lays emphasis on equality. If Freud were to be conjured, I believe that his deprivation of proper parentage and his early years of suffering, made him yearn for answers, which he sought for through his characters, across the spectrum of human emotion. I sometimes also ponder, he was more a romantic poet, who instead took to writing prose and then screenplay and dialogue. This literary reflection once can see through his characters, his muses – dwindled in their own moral dilemmas, conflicted with the so-called norms of ethics posed by both society or free will, caught in circumstance, reflecting this was the root of his romantic and poetic writing style, that ‘Sagar Sahab’ (As he is fondly called by his contemporaries) used through his scripts. With this, Ramanand Sagar was a celebrated screenwriter, known for his Drama / Romance, films where characters would often be tied into a play of moral conflict and emotional attachment.

Poster of Movie Barsaat

For me, it’s the journey of a wordsmith, a journey that began from a purely literary core, growing into a writing style that explored the very roots of human dilemma, which then went onto become a magnum opus, a series known as “The Ramayana”. And that is the ‘Sagar Sahab’, who we know, who is our inspiration, and the guiding light of our enterprise Sagar Pictures Entertainment.

(The Ramayana” aired in India on the Public Broadcasting Network Doordarshan in the year 1987, and went on the become the most viewed series in the country, and broke all viewership records again during a re-telecast in the year 2020.)

  • Moti Sagar
    Sagar Pictures Entertainment


The Offering

The servant fired from employment was pleading, his hands clasping seth Bari Lal’s feet.
“Seth sahib. You fed me for so many years. You did everything for me. Now please don’t deduct this fine from my salary.” Seth sahib was perusing the fresh newspaper with great nonchalance, deaf to reason, and the servant, was saying with tears in his eyes, “Maharaj, this is my entire capital. God knows how many days or months I will have to make do with this, until I find another job. You will not profit anything out of fining me seven rupees from my salary of eight rupees, but the coming months will be full of hunger and deprivation for me. My days will become as dark as the night.” But seth sahib was not moved even to the slightest degree. He said judiciously, “You damaged something of mine costing fifty rupees and I fined you seven rupees. What’s wrong with that?”
Now the tears brimming in Raldu the cook’s eyes began to flow. “Huzoor, where is the comparison between your fifty rupees and my seven rupees? For me the meaning of these seven rupees is going hungry for many months. If nothing else, consider it an offering to a poor man.”
“I have never considered making such an offering.” This dry response throttled the wretched man’s hopes.
After a few months, seth sahib met with a car accident. It was a serious mishap – his leg was fractured, and no one knew who took him to the hospital and left him there. It created a commotion afterwards. A crowd of cars began to form at the hospital doors, and the doctors’ eyes sparkled with joy. Finally seth sahib returned home after recovering.
The doctor’s bill arrived after a few days. Unfolding the bill, the munim was dumbfounded. Seth sahib inquired, “What’s the matter? How much is the bill?” The munim said slowly, “Four thousand rupees.”
“What about it? We will consider it an offering.”
The munim couldn’t believe his ears.
February 1939, Lahore.

- Ramanand Sagar
Translated by Raza Naeem.
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