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Filmmaker Sagar Sarhadi who wrote ‘Kabhi Kabhie’, ‘Silsila’ dies

Sagar Sarhadi, the director of Bazaar and the writer of Kabhi Kabhie and Silsila, died on Sunday in Mumbai. He was 88. His nephew, filmmaker Ramesh Talwar, told the PTI news agency, “He passed away shortly before midnight. He wasn’t keeping well for some time and had even stopped eating. He passed away peacefully.”

Before writing screenplays for Yash Chopra and other noted directors, Sarhadi wrote short stories and plays in Urdu. His story Raakha (Saviour) was the basis of the 1979 romance Noorie, starring Farooque Shaikh and Poonam Dhillon.

Sarhadi’s credits for either dialogue or screenplay include Basu Bhattacharya’s Anubhav, Yash Chopra’s Kabhi Kabhie, Silsila, Faasle and Chandni and Rakesh Roshan’s Kaho Naa… Pyaar Hai. In 1982, Sarhadi turned director with Bazaar, which examines forced marriages between young Muslim women from Hyderabad and elderly Arab men.

Bazaar was praised for its sensitive writing, direction, performances and Khayyam’s music. Sarhadi made a few more films, at least one of which wasn’t released.

Sagar Sarhadi and Smita Patil on the sets of Bazaar. Photo by Aditya Sharma.
Sarhadi was born Ganga Sagar Talwar on May 11, 1933, in Abbotabad in undivided India. His family was uprooted during the Partition.

“The river and the rivulet that flowed in my hometown, the surrounding hills, my childhood friends, the market – they haunted me day and night,” Sarhadi said in the interview. “To give vent to my anguish, I began scribbling.”

Sarhadi moved to Mumbai in the 1950s. He studied hard and later worked through various jobs to support himself and his family. By the early 1970s, Sarhadi got a break as a dialogue writer in Hindi films. After watching a performance of one of Sarhadi’s plays Mirza Saheban, Yash Chopra hired Sarhadi write Kabhie Kabhie. The movie’s massive success ensured a lengthy association between Chopra and Sarhadi.

Sarhadi’s own film Bazaar was inspired by newspaper articles about transactional marriages between impoverished Muslim women in Hyderabad and elderly men in Arab-speaking countries. Distributors initially didn’t care for the film, he said in the 2017 interview, but it went on to charm the box office.

Among the film personalities who encouraged Sarhadi was Shashi Kapoor. In a tribute after the actor-producer’s death in 2017, Sarhadi recalled that Kapoor loaned him Rs 20,000 to start working on a script and refused to take back the money after the project was shelved.

For Bazaar, Yash Chopra helped Sarhadi procure raw stock, while Kapoor loaned him shooting equipment for free.

Increasingly unable to keep up with the rapid changes in the Hindi film industry, Sarhadi retreated from writing filmmaking in the 2000s. His film Chausar, made in 2004 and starring Nawazuddin Siddiqui, was released only in 2018..

“Stories with substance and depth have been replaced with technical gimmickry and star-centric hokum,” Sarhadi said in the 2017 interview. “Good music and meaningful lyrics died long ago. Even then I hope I’d be able to make Bazaar’s sequel. We are living in bleak times but if we stop hoping, we’ll lose our will to live and work.”