Star of the week - BALRAJ SAHNI


Name: Yudhishthir Sahni
DOB: 1 May, 1913
Star sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Rawalpindi, Punjab, British India
Occupation: Actor and writer


• Balraj Sahni was a noted Indian film and stage actor who believed in what is known as Neo-Realistic cinema. He is best known for Dharti Ke Lal (1946), Do Bigha Zameen (1953), Kabuliwala (1961) and Garam Hawa (1973).

• He was a recipient of the Padma Shri Award (1969). A postage stamp bearing his likeness was released by India Post to honour him in 2013.

Interesting facts:

• Sahni was the brother of Bhisham Sahni, noted Hindi writer, playwright, and actor. He studied at Government College University (Lahore). After completing his master's degree in English Literature, he went back to Rawalpindi and joined his family business. He also held a Bachelor's degree in Hindi.

• In the late 1930s, Sahni and his wife left Rawalpindi to join Rabindranath Tagore's Visva-Bharati University in Shantiniketan in Bengal as English and Hindi teacher. He also went to work with Mahatma Gandhi for a year in 1938. The next year, Sahni went to England to join the BBC-London's Hindi service as a radio announcer. He returned to India in 1943.

• Sahni was always interested in acting and started his acting career with the plays of Indian People's Theatre Association (IPTA). He started his film career in Mumbai with Insaaf (1946). But it was in 1953, with Bimal Roy's classic Do Bigha Zameen, that his true strength as an actor was first recognised. The film won the international prize at the Cannes Film Festival.

• Sahni followed it up with an encore in the 1961 classic Kabuliwala penned by Tagore. He acted opposite top heroines such as Nutan, Meena Kumari, Vyjayanthimala and Nargis. His character roles in films such as Neelkamal, Ghar Ghar Ki Kahani, Do Raaste and Ek Phool Do Mali were greatly appreciated. However, he is perhaps best remembered for his picturisation of the legendary song Ae meri zohra jabeen from Waqt (1965).

• He also starred in the classic and critically acclaimed Punjabi films Nanak Dukhiya Sub Sansar and Satluj De Kande.

• His role as the angst ridden, but stoical Muslim man who refuses to go to Pakistan during partition, in his last film Garam Hawa, has often been called his best performance by critics. Sahni, however, could not see the completed film to rate his own performance, as he died just the day after he finished dubbing work.

• Sahni was extremely well-read and politically conscious. He was also a gifted writer; his early writings were in English, though later he became a writer of repute in Punjabi literature. Sahni also dabbled in screenwriting; he wrote the 1951 movie Baazi.

• In 1960, after a visit to Pakistan, he wrote Mera Pakistani Safar. His book Mera Rusi Safarnama, which he had written after a tour of the erstwhile Soviet Union in 1969, earned him the Soviet Land Nehru Award. He contributed many poems and short stories in magazines and also penned his autobiography; Meri Filmi Aatmakatha.

• Along with others, he worked to organise the first national conference of All India Youth Federation in Delhi. More than 250 delegates and observers representing several youth organisations of various states of India attended this session. Sahni was elected as the first president of AIYF, the youth wing of Communist Party of India which was a huge success.

• In the 1950s he was the first to inaugurate the Library and study centre for the underprivileged class in Delhi. Punjabi Kala Kender, founded in 1973 in Mumbai by Balraj Sahni, and the All India Artists Association give away the annual Balraj Sahni Award.