Scripting Success!

Starting out as a peon, truck cleaner, soap vendor and clapper boy, 86-year-old Ramanand Sagar went on to become a doyen of the Indian film industry. "I'm still enthusiastic about making films," he tells HUBERT VAZ as he enters the twilight of his life

When Raj Kapoor's Barsaat released in 1949, a new talented writer shot to fame... When Gemini released, Zindagi, the biggest blockbuster of the 60s, a new producer-director had arrived... Ramanand Sagar, is not just a filmmaker, he has been described as one of the greatest success stories in Bollywood, where a clapper boy grew from strength to strength to finally become a thespian by sheer hard work.

At the age of 86 today, Mr. Sagar, who is considered as an institution in filmmaking and script writing seems as enterprising as before. "I'm still enthusiastic about making films," he says explaining his unceasing love and dedication to the film industry which elevated his status from a 'pauper prince' to a 'media Moghul'.

To acknowledge the great filmmaker's contribution to Bollywood and to mark his 86th birthday (December 29), the House of Sagars has come out with a twin video CD which provides glimpses of his glorious work spanning five decades. The VCD not only portrays his growth as a journalist, writer to filmmaker but also contains a preview of the best of Sagar Group's work, including songs and scenes from different films and TV serials made by him.

Ramanand Sagar was born in 1917, in a village called Asal Guru Ke near Lahore, to one of the most aristocratic and wealthiest families of Kashmir. His great grandfather, Lala Shankar Das Chopra, migrated from Peshawar to Kashmir and by his own strength built an empire. His grandfather, Lala Ganga Ram had his own export trade. His father, Lala Dinanath Chopra wrote poetry for personal satisfaction.

Ramanand was adopted by his childless maternal parents. Though he had been named 'Chandramouli' at birth, he was later named 'Ramanand' by his foster parents. Missing out on the love of his real parents, Ramanand's childhood was said to be filled with agony and suffering, which is probably why his creations on screen are always filled with emotion.

Ramanand was by and by thrown out of his home by his adopted parents due to his principle against the dowry system. He had to do a whole lot of odd jobs to study for his degree and worked as a peon, truck cleaner and soap vendor. He later joined Daily Milap, in Punjab, as a reporter and soon grew to become its news editor.

His film career started as a clapper boy in 1936 in Lahore with the silent film Raiders of the Rail Road. However, he actually shot to fame with an excellent script for Raj Kapoor's Barsaat in 1949. In 1950, he established Sagar Arts and has since written, directed and produced a string of big hits which soon made him a household name in filmmaking. Films like Arzoo, Ankhen, Geet, Lalkar, Charas catapulted him further ahead until he finally arrived on the small screen with the epic teleserial Ramayan and was showered with adulation from audiences in millions of homes.

The Sagars had a 5-decade long association with the industry. Now an octogenarian with five decades of expertise behind him, Ramanand does not believe that it's time to pull his chariot to a halt. "Filmmaking is in my entire being.

I have to still to handle many big projects and I already have some very big plans. These include bringing a technologically-splendid Ramayan on the silver screen. Earlier, mythological films had very backward forms of animation and effects. Today, it can be done in a superb fashion. The project would soon be taken up," he said.

Bubbling with enthusiasm even now (age has not been a deterrent in his career), Mr. Sagar says he also has an international film on hand which is to be shot in south east Asia. The speciality of this movie is that it would see three generations of the Sagars working together on the film. His two grandsons, Shakti and Amrit would be assisting him with the direction of the film, he said adding that it would be a confluence of his creative skills and the latest technological prowess of the third generation of his family.

Mr. Sagar is also on the way to completing his trilogy for the small screen which he had planned in 1983. While Ramayan was a roaring success, netting a record Rs. 130 crore for Doordarshan, Krishna is currently on air while the next in line is Jai Durga. Drawing all his inspiration and dedication from his firm faith and deep understanding of the holy scriptures, Mr. Sagar wants to convey, as far as possible, some values to the audiences through the audio-visual media.

He also believes in living out what he has learnt from the scriptures and it is best seen in his friendly and compassionate nature with all his staff on the sets. Such values of brotherhood, he says do not exist in the corporate world, but it has place in the film industry. "This is a very emotional industry," he adds.

When asked about which medium he preferred, having done enough for films as well as for television, Mr. Sagar said he was equally comfortable with both the mediums. "Television and films might look the same but they are like two forms of art, like the work of a sculptor and painter," he said adding that he has had 100 per cent success with television, unlike films, since it has a vast viewership. He, however, pointed out that with television, the work was ten times more while the money was ten times less.

After fifty years of filmmaking, if there's something about the industry which makes Mr. Sagar frown, it is the disunity among producers which has been best witnessed during the past 15 years. Each one seems to be bothered only about his own projects and thereby the common interests of producers suffer, he said adding that there are several issues that dog producers including piracy, film financing, stars' tantrums, underworld threats, etc.

Mr. Sagar, who has represented numerous film organisations of producers/directors, including NFDC, writers' guild, etc. believes that the future for Indian producers would be bleak unless they unite and jointly tackle their problems.

About the absence of proper sources of finance for films, he said many persons take on a double role of producer-director even though they are not equipped to do so. "Laxmi and Sarasvati cannot stay together," he said explaining that if the director represented Saraswati (the goddess of art), the producer stood for Laxmi (the goddess of wealth). If adequate institutional finance is available through simpler processes, good directors would have a proper source of revenue," he said.

Mr. Sagar has a vision of Bollywood seeing real bright days ahead provided the filmmakers do not run in different directions but tread a common path with mutual trust and support. This would not only refine and discipline the process of filmmaking but also give birth to some real good films which have a lasting effect.