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BALRAJ SAHNI and his autobiography "Meri Filmi Aatamkatha" - A burning tale of many blunt truths. (Did You Know - 50)

07 May, 2013 | Articles on Cinema / Did You Know! / NOSTALGIA, BOOK REVIEWS, VINTAGE MAGAZINES & MORE

Balraj Sahni Autobiography

BALRAJ SAHNI, one of the most gifted, yet misfit personalities of Hindi Cinema is the one I admire dearly, right from the days I began watching films as the food for my thoughts.

The term ‘Most Gifted’ used above doesn’t need any explanation to anyone who is even vaguely familiar with the Golden Era of our Hindi films. And ‘Yet A Misfit’ is added, because that’s what the maestro reveals very honestly in his autobiography called “Meri Filmi Aatmkatha” which was earlier published by Hind Pocket Books in the 70s and is quite difficult to find at the present in its original edition.

Nevertheless, here I am not writing this just to praise my beloved actor-thinker-writer-poet-activist and much more, quoting many of his famous films and performances as a routine article. But I am writing this as I really wish that both the older and the present ‘cinema loving’ generation of this net-age should positively read this precious autobiography, which is sure going to be a big eye-opener for them (particularly the youngsters) undoubtedly. And which would probably open many new doors of creative thinking, creative living and creative values in their life, like nothing else.

His personal experiences in the field, as written by himself, show you many new facets of Hindi Cinema which are both ‘dark’ as well as ‘bright’, ‘open’ as well as ‘hidden’, without any holding back or hesitation of any sort. In other words, its only the burning truth poured on the pages by the veteran Balraj Sahni in his book and the following excerpts would clearly tell you what I am actually talking about.

Excerpt 1 :

“This meeting of four years ago with the versatile V. Shantaram was very much in my thoughts when I went to see ‘Shakuntala’. That a man of Shantaram’s calibre should be directing a film based on Kalidas’s classic drama was, I felt, a unique combination. You can well imagine then the high hopes I must have entertained, when I went to see that film.

But, Shantaram let me down badly, very badly indeed! At one stroke he shattered all the confidence and faith I had come to place in him, the supreme artiste! Shakuntala jarred on my nerves so very thoroughly that my soul cried out in anguish!” Balraj Sahni Autobiography

Excerpt 2 :

“Our producers and directors are given to doing everything on the spur of the moment. For instance, everything hinges on the OK from a ‘Star’. The moment that is obtained, the producer, will set about planning the other details of the film in a tearing hurry. And one never knows when the ‘star’ will say that magic word. A meeting is then convened hastily in the producer’s office and whoever may happen to loiter about in the studio compound is caught hold of and given a role, and that is that!

Moreover, in this celluloid world, every man looks down upon everyone else. True, a fllmwallah will be all smiles and kindness when talking to you, but you can be sure, in his heart of hearts, he will be wishing plague on your house! The moment you are out of his sight, you cease to exist for him, and he heaves a sigh of relief and happiness! Consequently, if you are a successful film actor, you must see to it that your friends and colleagues are denied this ‘pleasure’.”

Excerpt 3 :

“My wife had only recently come from England. Once, while I was directing a play, she had told me not to behave towards the artistes like a dictator. She had said, ‘A director is not supposed merely to make his artistes dance like so many marionettes. An artiste’s inspiration must come from within himself and in support of her argument, she quoted Stanlslavski, whom I used to consider a bourgeois upstart!

I had shouted at my wife and told her to shut up. Today, I bow my head in shame at my stupidity.”

Balraj Sahni Autobiography

Excerpt 4 :

“In Hindi films, the writing of a screen play has always been treated on an ad hoc basis, which is the very antithesis of the way films are planned in foreign countries. In the titles of these films the pride of place is given to the screen play and its writer, followed by the name of the story on which it is based and the name of the story-writer.

The Hindi films, on the other hand, set great store by the story. It is only after the general outline of the story has been laid down that the screen-play writer comes into the picture. And all he does is to write a ‘scene’! After all the ‘scenes’ have been written, the dialogues of the players are ‘filled in!’ Indeed, our producers have come to place so much faith in the story that more often than not the ‘scenes’ and dialogues are left unwritten till the very day a particular set is to be erected.

It is not, therefore, a rare thing to find the cameraman ready with his lighting, while the dialogue is still being improvised! No wonder, then, character portrayal is relegated to a backseat in our films.”

Excerpt 5 :

“Finally, I hit upon a novel idea which I explained carefully to Badru. Next day, as we - Chetan, Dev, Guru Dutt and I sat in Chetan’s cabin, discussing “the script of Baazi, there was a commotion in the outer office.

Apparently, a drunkard had forcibly entered the office and was bothering the clerks. Presently, the intruder appeared at the door of the cabin. Walking right in, he went straight to Dev Anand and started talking nonsense to him. All of us there found the way the man was making a fool of himself excruciatingly funny and we burst out laughing For well over half an hour he entertained us and the rest of the office staff with his pranks.

At last, Chetan decided that enough was enough. He ordered that the man be thrown out bodily! At that point, I asked Badru to offer a ‘salaam’ to his ‘audience’!

And lo! The Sharabi sobered down instantly! The change in the man was so sudden that my colleagues could hardly believe their eyes! It is a measure of Badru’s acting talent that he keeps the bottle, which is such an inseparable companion of his on the screen, miles away from him in private life! I found Chetan looking askance at me! When I told him that Badru’s performance was a ‘make-believe’ and that the whole thing was ‘stage-managed’ by me, he gave the role to Badru without the slightest hesitation. That was the beginning of Badru’s glorious screen career.

His millions of fans, however, know him by the name Johnny Walker!”

Excerpt 6 - (On his world famous act in DO BIGHA ZAMIN) :

“Whatever success I could make of my role in “Do Bigha Zamin” is thus the result of this study I had made of the way of life of the Bhaiyyas.”

“I shall always look upon my role in “Do Bigha Zamin” with a sense of pride. Indeed, I shall cherish the memory of that role till I breathe my last.

Balraj Sahni AutobiographyAfter having made this confession, I become entitled to air my views on a few points of a technical nature. The film was based on Rabindranath Tagore’s well-known poem of the same name, and yet nowhere has Bimal Roy expressed his gratitude to the poet. I feel that in the name of justice and fairplay, such an acknowledgement was called for.

“’Do Bigha Zamin’ gave me too a good deal of fame and publicity. All of a sudden people woke up to the fact that I had been a professor at Shantiniketan and an announcer on the B.B.C. A few wise men even went to the extent of decking me in revolutionary plumage. They put about that I was out to lead the Indian Cinema on a revolutionary path! They hailed me as an actor, who chose to work only in those films which championed the cause of the toiling masses.
‘Look,’ they said, ‘here is a millionaire’s son, who has taken to acting, not for making money but out of sympathy for the poor.’ Interestingly enough, I began modeling myself on this image of mine, built up by the press!

The truth is, as in the case of the earlier ‘Hum Log’, ‘Do Bigha Zamin’ too did not exactly improve my financial position. I remained as ‘broke’ as ever.

I was jobless for the following six months.”


The above excerpts are just the tip of the ice-berg (a really hot ice-berg indeed) as the book contains many more ‘at-the-face’ truths not only about the film-world but also about the pre and post independence era of India, the changing social structure of the country before the 60s and much more.

Sadly, Balraj Sahni later didn’t write about the time around his final cinematic achievement GARAM HAWA in the early seventies. Still, I hope someday we will get to read about those days too in some other similar memoirs of a veteran, just interested in telling the blunt truth about his life and nothing else.

Now coming to the good news here, the valuable autobiography is now available online (for free) in its English translated - PDF format which can easily be downloaded from the links given below.



But its my humble request that don’t let this downloaded file remain in your hard disks for months & years in the list of ‘to be read soon’…………., since it does have the power to change your thinking patterns both about Hindi Cinema as well as about LIFE in a truly worthy manner.
So just get it from the link and begin your enlightening read.


Tags : BALRAJ SAHNI and his autobiography, BAlraj Sahni's autobiography, Meri Filmi Aatamkatha, Meri Filmi Atamkatha, Did You Know facts about Hindi Films by Bobby Sing, Unknown Trivia on Hindi Cinema, Books On Indian Cinema, Books on Hindi Films, Books on Hindi Movies, Books by Indian Actors, Books on Boolywood Stars, Books about Bollywood.
07 May 2013 / Comments ( 4 )
jyotika badyal
dear bobby ji,
i am reading the e-book right now and cannot thank you enough for connecting me to it..\'sher ki kahani sher ki zubaani\' agar sunne ko mile toh sunne ka anand hi kuch aur hota hai.. :)
and i am going to share it with other film enthusiast as well..

thank you once again.

Bobby Sing

Dear Jyotika,
Really glad to know that you are reading it with such interest and truly loved the expression, "Sheri Ki Kahani, Sher Ki Zubaani".

Keep it up and do share the book with all your movie loving friends too, as it does have many valuable lessons of life in it by the master himself.


Sudeshna Ruhhaan
I am so grateful to you for such a phenomenal and altruistic job. You are such a gifted person.

Sudeshna Ruhhaan
Bobby Sing

The pleasure is truly mine Sudeshna Ruhhaan.
Glad that you found the article useful.
Hope it reaches many more like minded friends too with

Do Keep Visiting and Writing in,

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