Bhisham Sahni

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Bhisham Sahni
Born (1915-08-08)8 August 1915
Rawalpindi, British India
Died 11 July 2003(2003-07-11) (aged 87)
Delhi, India
Occupation Author, playwright
Period 1955–2003


Bhisham Sahni (8 August 1915 – 11 July 2003) was a Hindi writer, playwright, and actor, most famous for his novel and television screenplay Tamas ("Darkness"), a powerful and passionate account of the Partition of India. He was awarded the Padma Bhushan for literature in 1998, and Sahitya Akademi Fellowship in 2002.

He was the younger brother of the noted Hindi film actor, Balraj Sahni.


Bhisham Sahni was born on 8 August 1915 in Rawalpindi. He earned a master's degree in English at Government College in Lahore, and also attended Khalsa College, Amritsar.

He joined the struggle for Indian independence, and was jailed for his participation in the Quit India Movement of 1942. Upon Partition, he and his Punjabi Hindu family were forced to move to Amritsar.

In the late 1940s, he worked with his brother as a stage performer in Mumbai with the Indian People's Theatre Association (IPTA). In 1950, he became a lecturer in English at The Delhi College.

From 1957 to 1963, he lived in Moscow and worked as a translator from Russian to Hindi, during the period he translated twenty-five books from Russian into Hindi, including Tolstoy's Resurrection. In addition to those languages, Sahni was fluent in English, Urdu, Sanskrit, and Punjabi.

He was general secretary of the Progressive Writers Association, and was the founder and chairman of 'SAHMAT', an organisation promoting cross-cultural understanding, founded in memory of the murdered theatre artist and activist Safdar Hashmi.

Acting in films[edit]

Late in life, he appeared in several films, including Saeed Mirza's Mohan Joshi Hazir Ho! (1984), Tamas (1986), Kumar Shahani's Kasba (1991), Bernardo Bertolucci's Little Buddha (1993) and Aparna Sen's Mr. and Mrs. Iyer (2002).

Literary works[edit]

Bhisham Sahni's epic work Tamas (Darkness, 1974) is a novel based on the riots of the 1947–48 Partition of India which he witnessed at Rawalpindi.[1] Tamas portrays the terror-stricken Hindu exodus from Muslim majority areas, though the overall theme remained the human-story behind the carnage. It has been translated to English and several Indian languages including Gujarati, Malayalam, Kashmiri, and Manipuri. Tamas won the 1975 Sahitya Akademi Award for literature and was later made into a television film in 1987 by Govind Nihalani. Two of his masterpiece stories, 'Chief ki davat' and 'Amritsar Aa Gaya Hai', are also based on the Partition.

Sahni's prolific career as a writer also included five other Hindi novels, over hundred short stories spread over nine collections of short stories, (including Bhagya Rekha (1953), Pahla patha (1956), Bhatakti rakha (1966), and Nischar (1983)); a collection of children's short stories Gulal ka khel and The train has reached Amritsar.But his novel named 'Mayyadas Ki Mari' (Mayyadas's Castle) was one of his finest literary creation,The backdrop of this narrative is historical and depicts the age when the Khalsa Raj was vanquished in Punjab and the British were taking over. This novel is a saga of changing social order and decadent set of values.[2]

Bhisham Sahni wrote his autobiography Aaj ke Ateet (Pasts of the Present) and the biography of his brother Balraj Sahni, Balraj My Brother, (English).[3]


  • Hanush (1977), staged by theatre director Rajindra Nath and Arvind Gaur (1993). it was adapted into Kashmiri as "Waqtsaaz" by Manzoor Ahmad Mir and was performed by the Artists participating in month-long Educational Theatre workshop organised by National School of Drama,at srinagar Kashmir under the Direction of Sh. M. K. Raina in the year 2004.
  • Kabira khara bazar mein'(1981): Many Indian theatre directors like M.K. Raina and Arvind Gaur performed this play
  • Madhavi (1982): First staged by theatre director Rajendra Nath. Later US-trained actress Rashi Bunny performed Madhavi as a solo play.[4][5] This solo won many awards in international theatre festivals
  • Muavze (1993): First performed by National School of Drama rep. with Bapi Bose. This is a very popular play among theatre groups.

Literary style[edit]

Bhisham Sahni was one of the most prolific writers of Hindi literature. His command over local dialects and to the common languages such as Urdu and Punjabi has enabled him to attach his writing to the hearts and minds of common people. Most of his short stories are the stories about the common people who are toiling under the brutal cog-wheel of the socio-political-economic bitterness. A reader can feel the emotional bond with the characters of his stories, and that makes him able to charicate the hardship of his time.


During his lifetime, Bisham Sahni won several Awards including Shiromani Writers Award,1979, Uttar Pradesh Government Award for Tamas, 1975,Colour of Nation Award at International Theatre Festival,Russia for Play Madhavi by Rashi Bunny,2004, Madhya Pradesh Kala Sahitya Parishad Award, for his play 'Hanush', 1975 the Lotus Award from the Afro-Asian Writers' Association, 1981 and the Soviet Land Nehru Award, 1983, and finally the Padma Bhushan for literature in 1998, and India's highest literary award the Sahitya Akademi Fellowship in 2002.[6]


  1. ^ Tamas
  2. ^
  3. ^ Bhishma Sahni at U.S. Library of Congress
  4. ^ Mita Kapur. "Madhavi solo by Rashi Bunny: The story of every woman". Hindustan Times. Retrieved 10 May 2010. 
  5. ^ Drama Critics. "Bhisham Sahni's Madhavi by Rashi Bunny at British Council". Anand Foundation. Retrieved 23 December 2008. 
  6. ^ Sahitya Akademi Fellowships

External links[edit]