An Interview With Aghajani Kashmeri Reveals the Source of the Golden Pen’s Title

Our one-hour documentary on legendary film writer AGHAJANI KASHMERI has been officially titled THE GOLDEN PEN — Following the footsteps of a Bollywood scriptwriter — The previous working title was Bollywood or Bust.

 

The Golden Pen - documentary on the life of Aghajani Kashmeri

THE GOLDEN PEN is being produced with funding from OMNI-TV under its independent producers program. It will be aired later in 2011, exclusively on OMNI-TV in Canada for one year. We have begun to market the documentary in India, England, America and other parts of the world.

The title, The Golden Pen, is taken from the last interview that Aghajani Kashmeri gave in Bombay (now Mumbai), India, in March 1991. The journalist was the veteran writer, Rafique Baghdadi. It was published in Mumbai Daily, Mid-Day, and we reproduce it below.

A callout in the article reads: ‘Savour the memories with the man who scripted the memorable Taqdeer, Najma, Love in Simla…’ For graphic it featured the film poster of Mehboob Productions’ Taqdeer, which was the first film of one of Bollywood’s most famous actresses, Nargis. Her film, Mother India, produced by Mehboob Khan, was the first Indian film to be nominated for an actor. She was picked and trained by Aghajani Kashmeri, the same as he trained Saira Banu and Joy Mukherjee.

Rafique Baghdadi, by the way, is a Film Critic and the Convenor of the Mumbai Press Club Film Study Group. He can be reached at rafiquebadhdadi@hotmail.com.

Here is the text of the artricle:

MAN WITH THE GOLDEN PEN…
By Rafique Baghdadi

(Reprinted courtesy of MID-DAY, Mumbai. Published on Friday, March 8, 1991; Page VI – MID-DAY SECTION TWO)

In the autumn of his life, the veteran screenplay writer Aghajani Kashmeri plans to leave the country of his birth, the land that saw him rise to dizzying heights as the premier scriptwriter of the Golden age of Indian cinema. In his 80s now, as he sat packing for his imminent departure to Canada, Kashmeri spoke at length about his career that spanned four decades, and saw him rubbing shoulders with cinema greats like Himanshu Rai, Mehboob Khan, S. Mukherjee, among others.

How did you get into films?

 

Newspaper Clip of Man with the Golden Pen…

I started as an assistant to Debaki Bose during the silent era.

 

Next you came to Bombay Talkies?

And soon left it. I was getting only Rs. 125 per month and Himanshu Rai asked me to earn more money somewhere else, for my own good.

After leaving Mehboob Khan somewhere in 1949-50 – Andaz was the last film, what did you do?

I began freelancing. I think with Gope. I wrote Magroor and then Love in Simla…

Manto (Sadat Hassan) was also there?

Not in Bombay Talkies. He was a very good literary writer, but he did not understand the film script.

In that sense, many good literary writers have limited understanding of cinema!

And that is why they flop. In a screenplay, one should not beat around the bush, as many tend to do. To come to the point swiftly is an art in itself. Every dialogue should follow the screenplay. Himanshu Rai always insisted that I should read books on screenplay and dialogue writing. He used to ask me whether I had read Francis Marion on the subject. Himanshu Rai’s collection of books was huge. He would ask me to write on any subject, as many as 40-50 pages, everyday. And when I would submit the bulk to him, he would throw it away, and offer me yet another subject to write on.

In an interview, Ashok Kumar revealed that he did lots of homework on the script, to prepare himself thoroughly.

He was correct. (Recalls the anecdote with a chuckle): you know Ashok Kumar was a good boxer and was a strong man, too. Kushti-busti ladta tha, woh. (He used to wrestle.) One day, as soon as I entered the studio, he started a match. Main nay bhee usko do teen phatkay lagaa diyay and woh har gayaa. [I gave him two or three punches and he lost.]

You were also connected with Anmol Ghadi?

No. There was some problem between me and Mehboob. He remarked that it was the director who created the writer. I said, my art was God’s gift. Probably annoyed, he took Zia Sarhadi. Mehboob later came back to me on my terms! [Aghajani did end up writing Anmol Ghadi, which was a super hit.] We did Najma.

Najma was a big hit!

It completed a Golden Jubilee; Taqdeer too. [Golden Jubilee = running for 50 weeks straight; Silver Jubilee = running for 25 weeks straight] I have written 22 Silver Jubilee is and nine Golden Jubilee’s out of the 40 films that I wrote. Junglee too was a Golden Jubilee.

In Taqdeer, Nargis looked extremely young, barely 14-15.

Yeh to woh ajeeb wakiyaa hai. (That is a strange incident.) I don’t exactly remember how, but we had reached Jaddanbai’s [the mother of Nargis] place at Marine Drive on a rainy day – myself and Mehboob. We saw her daughter, Nargis, whom we liked immensely. The next day, we invited her for a screen test. She was signed up for Taqdeer. What a woman she was! When she died my heart was broken. She used to say, “if someone wants to become a director, take Agha Sahib.”

Zuhair Kashmeri and journalist Rafique Baghdadi in Mumbai

 

How was the atmosphere at Bombay Talkies?

There was a lovely atmosphere. I have never again seen that sort of discipline that one found at the Bombay Talkies.

Do you recall the shooting of Humayun, Vachan or Najma?

The atmosphere was excellent. The director was everything, besides the writer – in their presence, even the walls could act. Among the actors, I think it was Motilal who was genuinely great. He started this trend of natural acting which nobody could do better. Not even Dilip Kumar. Motilal was the pioneer of natural acting.

Ashok Kumar perhaps learnt from him?

No. You cannot compare Motilal to anyone on the earth. Yes, there was Chandra Mohan and my brother [first cousin], Nawab Kashmiri, they were artistes, you see.

How about your other writings?

I have written my autobiography [Sahar Honé Tak in Urdu, Subha Honé Tak in Hindi], have you read it? It is a psychological book too, and might help you. It is not a joke to write everything about yourself. I never wrote any other book. It is a sin to write a book in this country. I don’t know how I got Rs.14,000-15,000 out of that book, and you know, it is being sold at Rs.150 a copy in Dar es Salaam, lakhs and lakhs of copies in Pakistan.

You observed the Hindi film industry for about 35 years from 1940 to 1970! What were the changes you witnessed since you first began as a freelancer? [In reality, Aghajani joined the movie industry in about 1932 and his last film was written in 1972. – Zuhair Kashmeri citing from the autobiography.]

No change and if there had been any change, it has been for the worse.

How did you get along with Mehboob Khan?

Mehboob Khan was peculiar, you see. Not educated at all. Absolutely illiterate. He would say, he wanted something, like this, like that. Annoyed, I used to ask him to articulate his view point. He could not, but he knew exactly what he wanted and he would succeed in obtaining that “something,” he was really unique.

You seem to have adapted so well to the new system of the film industry, away from the good old days of the studio system!

Everything is so routine now. No new ideas. 40 years ago we had tried all that – all so-called modern subjects. Perhaps, I was born much earlier – Pahelay paidaa ho gayaa.

Where do you hail from?

Several generations of my forefathers were in Mashad [Iran] – [then] in Kashmir. My great-grandfather went to Lucknow, you know, when Motilal Nehru decided to settle down in Allahabad. All of this is written in my autobiography. I stayed and studied in Lucknow.

From Lucknow, where did you go?

I was in Calcutta. I worked as a hero for some time. But when I saw Rameez, who was an immensely handsome fellow, I asked myself not to act. He told me that I was a good poet and persuaded me to write. I was a good poet, those days. I began to write dialogues.

For which films?

I don’t remember. Zubeida was there, and I wrote beautiful dialogues. More and more writing offers came my way. I left acting. I was a hero in three films. I acted with Akhtaribai (Begum Akhtar) and Sajan.

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