Bhisham Sahni: Actor, Playwright, Teacher & Author Extraordinaire

On Bhishma Sahni’s death anniversary, here is a look at his illustrious life as an artist, author and playwright. 

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Video Editor: Varun Sharma

“When I was young, I witnessed the first Hindu-Muslim riot in my village. I was 11 then. The anaaj mandi was on fire. The flames went so high up that half the sky was red. It left an indelible impression on my mind. The city that I lived in, Rawalpindi, was a mixed town. Most of my friends were Muslims. When I look back, I realise that I was not aware of anyone’s communal identity. It was there, but in a very vague way.”
Bhisham Sahni

Actor, author, playwright, teacher translator and Padma Bhushan awardee Bhisham Sahni was born in Rawalpindi in 1915. He witnessed the partition first hand and wrote about it in Tamas, a novel that was later adapted into a TV series. He used literature to expose the divide and rule policy of the British when they were ruling India.

“The literary environment in which you live and breathe moulds your way of looking at things. Whether it was the freedom struggle or the the assertion of different ideologies, whatever it was, the atmosphere was charged with them. The history of India at that time was such that you could not mentally keep yourself aloof from it.”
Bhisham Sahni

Sahni worked in the Congress' relief committee in 1947 after riots broke out in Rawalpindi, his home town. However, he moved to India after partition. Later, he joined the Indian People's Theatre Association, IPTA as a performing artist under the guidance of his elder brother Balraj Sahni. He wrote Balraj Sahni's biography titled Balraj My Brother in English.

Sahni was proficient in English, Urdu, Sanskrit, Russian and Punjabi. In 1950, he started working as an English lecturer in Delhi University.

In 1957, Sahni moved to Moscow where he worked as a translator. He translated 25 books from Russian into Hindi including Tolstoy's, 'Resurrection'.

He was awarded the Padma Shri in 1969 and the Padma Bhushan in 1998. In 1975, Tamas won the Sahitya Akademi award. He was awarded the Sahitya Akademi fellowship in 2002.

He debuted in Saeed Akhtar Mirza's film Mohan Joshi Hazir Ho! in 1984. His last film, Mr and Mrs Iyer released in 2002.

He died on 11 July 2003 but is still remembered as one of the most important Indian writers.

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