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Balraj Sahni in Garm Hava (1973)
1 May 1913
Rawalpindi, British India
|Died||13 April 1973
Mumbai, Maharashtra, India
|Years active||1946–73 (his death)|
Balraj Sahni (Punjabi: بلراج ساہنی (Shahmukhi) ਬਲਰਾਜ ਸਾਹਨੀ (Gurmukhi) (1 May 1913 – 13 April 1973), born Yudhishthir Sahni, was a noted Indian film and stage actor, who is best known for Dharti Ke Lal (1946), Do Bigha Zameen (1953), Kabuliwala (1961) and Garam Hawa (1973).
He belonged to a Punjabi Khatri family from Bhera now in Punjab, Pakistan. He was the brother of Bhisham Sahni, noted Hindi writer, playwright, and actor. It is quite surprising that such a great actor did not receive even a single award for his memorable roles.
Sahni went from his native Rawalpindi to study at Lahore University. He completed his Masters degree in English Literature from Lahore and then went back to Rawalpindi and joined his family business. He also held a Bachelor's degree in Hindi, followed by a Masters in English from Punjab University. Soon after, he married Damayanti Sahni.
In the late 1930s, Sahni and his wife left Rawalpindi to join Tagore's Visva-Bharati University in Shantiniketan in Bengal as an English and Hindi teacher. It is here that their son, Parikshit Sahni was born, when his wife Damayanti was doing her Bachelors degree. He also went to work with Mahatma Gandhi for a year in 1938. The next year, Sahni, with Gandhi's blessings, 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 the Indian People's Theatre Association (IPTA). He started his film career in Mumbai with the film Insaaf (1946), followed by Dharti Ke Lal directed by KA Abbas in 1946, Door Chalein in 1946, and other films. But it was in 1953, with Bimal Roy's classic Do Bigha Zameen, that his true forte as an actor was first recognised. The film won the international prize at the Cannes Film Festival.
He followed it up with an encore in the 1961 classic Kabuliwala penned by Tagore.
Sahni's wife Damayanti died at a young age in 1947, who was the heroine of his film, Gudiya (1947) and two years later he married his first cousin, Santosh Chandhok, later known as an author and television writer.
Sahni's acting was very well liked and appreciated in all his films. He acted opposite top heroines like Padmini, Nutan, Meena Kumari, Vyjayantimala, and Nargis in films like Bindya (1960)Seema (1955), Sone Ki Chidiya (1958), Sutta Bazaar (1959), Bhabhi Ki Chudiyaan (1961), Kathputli (1957), Lajwanti (1958) & Ghar Sansaar (1958). However, he is perhaps best remembered by the current generation for the picturisation of the legendary song Ae Meri Zohra Jabeen from the movie Waqt (1965) on him. Sahni appeared opposite Achala Sachdev in the number.
He also starred in the classic Punjabi film Nanak Dukhiya Sub Sansar (1970) as well as the critically acclaimed Satluj de kande.
His performance 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. Balraj, however, could not see the completed film himself to rate his own performance, as he died just the next day after he finished dubbing for Garm Hava. The last lines he recorded for the film, and hence his last recorded lines are, Hindi:- "Insaan Kab Tak Akela Jee Sakta Hai?" which can be translated in English as:- "How long can a man live alone?"
Sahni was a gifted writer; his early writings were in English, though later in life he switched to Punjabi, and became a writer of repute in Punjabi literature. 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. Sahni was an extremely well-read and politically conscious person.
He and P K Vasudevan Nair worked on the idea of All India Youth Federation with firebrand Delhi communist, Comrade Guru Radha Kishan to organise the first national conference of AIYF in Delhi. Their wholehearted efforts were visible as more than 250 delegates and observers representing several youth organisations of various states of India attended this session. Balraj Sahni was elected as the first president of All India Youth Federation, the youth wing of Communist Party of India. The organisation was a huge success and strong presence of the organisation was noticed by other political groups and the senior communist leaders everywhere.
Sahni also dabbled in screenwriting; he wrote the 1951 movie Baazi which starred Dev Anand and was directed by Guru Dutt. He was also a recipient of the Padma Shri Award (1969). Balraj Sahni also wrote in Punjabi and contributed to the Punjabi magazine Preetlari. Very few people know about his love for the books, In 1950's he was first to inaugurate the Library and study centre for underprivileged class in Delhi.
Sahni was undoubtedly one of the greatest actors ever to come on the Indian screen: a highly natural actor who reminded the audience of the actors like Motilal because of his simple persona and a sophisticated style of acting. He was looked up to as a role model as he was never involved in any scandal. His acting in Do Bigha Zameen and Garam Hawa were the highlights of his career. He believed in what is known as Neo-Realistic cinema.
Balraj's brother Bhisham Sahni was a well-known writer who wrote the book Tamas. His son Parikshit Sahni is also an actor. Balraj Sahni died on 13 April 1973, of a massive cardiac arrest, less than a month before his 60th birthday. He had been depressed for some time by the untimely death of his young daughter, Shabnam.Noted writer and editor of Hindi weekly Dharmyug Satyakam Vidyalankar was married to Balraj's sister.
|Dharti Ke Lal|
|Do Bigha Zamin||Shambu Maheto|
|1958||Sone Ki Chidiya||Shrikant|
|Black Cat||Agent Rajan|
|1960||Dil Bhi Tera Hum Bhi Tere||Panchu Dada|
|Anuradha||Dr. Nirmal Chaudhary|
|Bhabhi Ki Chudiyan||Shyam|
|Kabuliwala||Abdul Rehman Khan|
|1964||Punar Milan||Dr. Mohan/Ram|
|Haqeeqat||Major Ranjit Singh|
|1966||Pinjre Ke Panchhi||Yaseen Khan|
|Neend Hamari Khwab Tumhare||Khan Bahadur|
|Aasra||Surendra Nath Kumar|
|Aaye Din Bahar Ke||Shukla|
|Ghar Ka Chirag|
|Hamraaz||Police Inspector Ashok|
|Neel Kamal||Mr. Raichand|
|Duniya||Public Prosecutor Ramnath Sharma|
|Nanha Farishta||Dr. Ramnath|
|Ek Phool Do Mali||Kailash Nath Kaushal|
|Do Raaste||Navendru Gupta|
|Nanak Dukhiya Sab Sansar|
|Holi Ayee Re|
|Ghar Ghar Ki Kahani|
|Jawan Mohabbat||Dr. Sarin|
|1972||Shayar-e-Kashmir Mahjoor||Ghulam Ahmed Mahjoor|
|Jawani Diwani||Ravi Anand|
|Jangal Mein Mangal||Thomas|
|1973||Pyaar Ka Rishta|
|Hindustan Ki Kasam|
|Hanste Zakhm||SP Dinanath Mahendru|
|Garam Hawa||Salim Mirza|
|1977||Jallian Wala Bagh||Udham Singh|
- Balraj Sahni: An Autobiography, by Balraj Sahni. Published by Hind Pocket Books, 1979.
Mera Pakistani Safarnama (Punjabi), Mera Russi Safarnama (Punjabi). Kamey (Labourerers) (Punjabi) Ek Safar Ek Daastaan (Punjabi)
Works based on his life
On the occasion of May Day 2013, Bahroop Arts Group, New Delhi organised A tribute to Balraj Sahni on his birth centenary at Jawaharlal Nehru University, in form of a dramatic reading from a play based on the life of Balraj Sahni by Shahid Anwar. The programme also had speakers- Dr. Kalpana Sahni (Professor emeritus, CRS,SLL &CS, JNU)and Dr.Chaman Lal (Professor emeritus, CIL,SLL&CS, JNU). Followed by a screening of the Film Do Bigha Zameen (1953), directed by renowned director Bimal Roy. Balraj Sahni and Nirupa Roy in lead roles.
A postage stamp, bearing his face, was released by India Post to honour him on 3 May 2013.
- Balraj Sahni: An Intimate Portrait, by Puran Chandra Joshi. Published by Vikas Pub. House, 1974.
- Balraj, my brother (National biography series), by Bhishma Sahni. National Book Trust, India, 1981.
- Stumbling into films by sheer chance The Tribune, 2 September 2001.
- Parikshit Sahni turns producer Mid Day, 4 May 2006."..My dad came from a literary background and taught English Literature at Shantiniketan. My mom who was doing her Bachelor's degree there, was expecting me then, and was about to give her exams. Tagore told her that I should be called Parikshit as she was giving pariksha, while I was still in her womb.
- In Jhang Manghiane, an article by Balraj Sahni Modern Indian Literature an Anthology: Plays and Prose, by K. M. George, Sahitya Akademi. Published by Sahitya Akademi, 1992. ISBN 81-7201-783-9.Page 605.
- Balraj Sahni awards announced Indian Express, 25 November 2003.
- Prem Chopra, Bollywood's good old bad man talks about his nomination for the prestigious Balraj Sahni Award Times of India, 10 July 2006.
- Balraj Sahni at the Internet Movie Database
-  Balraj Sahni's Convocation Address at Jawaharlal Nehru University in 1972