Pt. Mukhram Sharma

Old is Gold
Pt. Mukhram Sharma: Our first Star-Writer!
(May 29, 1909 - April 25, 2000)

(Compiled from conversations with Mr. Vishnu Mehrotra, Mr. Vinay Shukla, Mr. Kamlesh Pandey & Panditji's family)

Film distributors from all over India phoned him to know which was the next film being written by him and for whom. His reply insured that the rights for that project were sold overnight. Distributors and producers made a regular beeline to his home to keep track of what he was writing currently. He had the prerogative to sell his stories to producers and directors of his choice. The era? 1950’s. Unbelievable but true. The name of the writer? Pandit Mukhram Sharma.

He was the only writer whose name appeared in all publicity material and in fact many of the film’s written by him were also presented by him. So you had the posters reading: “Pandit Mukhram Sharma presents…” When the Filmfare instituted their awards in 1954, they overlooked the contribution of writers. They realized their oversight because of Pt. Mukhram Sharma’s overwhelming popularity. The very next year they introduced the category for the Best Story and Panditji, as he was popularly known, walked away with the first Filmfare trophy to a writer for the film Aulaad in 1955.

Born in a simple farmer's family in 1909 in Poothi village of Uttar Pradesh, he wrote for noted directors like Mahesh Kaul, BR Chopra, his younger brother Yash Chopra, and several others A learned scholar in Sanskrit, Panditji was born and brought up in Meerut. He was a teacher; but despite the fact that he loved teaching, it did not fill the vacuum he felt within. He realized that teaching was not his true vocation. Panditji loved watching films and was an ardent admirer of the films made by Prabhat Film Company and New Theater. Having written a number of short stories and poems for magazines, he decided that he wanted to write for films. He approached one of his friends in Meerut who was associated with the Hindi Film Industry and narrated one of his stories to him. The friend was so impressed that he asked Panditji to come with him to Mumbai and thus in 1939 he landed in the city of his dreams. 

Even then, Bombay Film Producers did not welcome the writers of substance and Panditji had to shift to Pune in sheer desperation as his wife and kids had also come to live with him. He approached Prabhat Films (owned by V. Shantaram) and accepted a job, at Rs. 40 a month, to teach Marathi to the artistes and correct their expression. 

In 1942, he was asked to write the dialogue and lyrics for Das Baje directed by Raja Nene, starring Urmila and Paresh Banerji which became a super-hit. The initial success brought him the opportunity to write Taramati (based on the love-story of Raja Harishchandra and Taramati) again for Raja Nene, starring Shobhna Samarth. This film also went on to become a raging hit. Success followed Panditji in his next two films, Vishnu Bhagwan and Nal Damyanti . Panditji wanted a change of scene. He wished to write about social problems.

He got a chance when Raja Nene made another film on one of his early stories with unknown Marathi stars but it flopped. But his next film, Stree Janma Tujhi Kahani (Marathi) bought him success. His next film was with Director Datta Dharmadhikari. He adapted one of his own short story, Aaj Ka Sawaal. The film was a roaring success. He later remade the film in Hindi as Aurat Teri Yehi Kahaani. At a time when producers had started flocking to his house in Pune, he returned to Mumbai. Pandit Mukhram Sharma was now unstoppable.

In Mumbai, Panditji first film was Aulaad and once it was released in 1954 there was no turning back for Panditji. After getting his first Filmfare award for the story in 1955, he wrote notable films like Vachan, Ek Hi Rasta, Dushman, Sadhana, Santaan, Do Behneh Talaaq, Dhool Ka Phool, Samadhi and Humjoli. He turned a producer in 1958 with Talaaq and produced about half a dozen films including Santaan.

His penchant for addressing social causes worked as the driving force behind his writing. Almost all of his films were acclaimed for their social commentary and the initiatives, which he suggested to rectify prevalent problems. 

Ek Hi Rasta dealt with the problems faced by widows. Vachan was about an unmarried daughter who supports her family. Sapan Suhaane was the story of step-brothers and their interpersonal relations, while Patanga sensitively outlined the relationship between a master and his servant. One of his most celebrated films, Sadhana, detailed the life of a prostitute with a deep insight. It looked at the issue of prostitution as a social practice where the man was equally responsible; and advocated that a prostitute is as much a woman as anyone else. Panditji suggested that they should be accepted socially and in the film convinced his viewers that this was not only possible but also the fair thing to do. Sadhna’s success at the box office proved that Panditji was with the times and had the pulse and understanding of his audience.

There is an interesting anecdote about the making of Sadhana. After completing the story, Panditji went to Bimal Roy and ask him to make it. Bimal Roy suggested that they meet at the Mohan studio and asked Panditji to narrate the story to him as they were traveling in his car. Bimal Roy was impressed and fascinated by the story's bold theme and immediately agreed to make it. Bimal Roy was however skeptical if it would be accepted by the audience. He suggested a different ending. His claim was that since Rajini (aka Champabai, a character played by Vyjayanthimala) is a fallen woman, people will not accept her as the daughter-in-law and thus the ending can do better with her death. Panditji heard Bimalda and asked the chauffeur to stop the vehicle. He got out of the car. Bimalda assumed that Panditji was responding to a nature's call or something. To his surprise Panditji bid him good bye. He hired a cab and went straight away to B.R. Chopra who was more than happy to film the story as it is.

Dhool ka Phool revolved around an illegitimate child who's abandoned by his mother and brought up by a Muslim causing anger between Hindu and Muslim extremists. Burdened with the stigma of being an illegitimate child, Roshan stops going to school and meets Jaggu, a petty thief, who befriends him and introduces him to a life of crime. One day, he is caught by the police and is brought before a disapproving judge, who is none other than his biological dad!

Pandit Mukhram Sharma started a long term association with B. R. Chopra and the two were thickest of pals till Panditji's very last years. As a matter of fact, Chopra always swore by Panditji's contribution to his films calling him 'the author of our success'.

Pandit Mukhram Sharma achieved a magnificent star-status in the years to come and such was his importance that he would get credited for story, screenplay and dialogs separately in the credits of his films.

Panditji moved to the South for Naidu's film Devta and then went on to write a number of films for LV Prasad (Daadi Maa, Jeene Ki Raah, Mein Sunder Hoon , Raja Aur Runk) AVM Studio (Do Kaliyan) and Gemini Films (Gharana, Grihasthi) along with a couple of other films for other producers namely Pyaar Kiya Toh Darna Kya and Humjoli. All of these were mega hits. 

Inundated as he was by fame and fortune, Panditji decided to end his insatiable pursuit at the age of 70 and retired after the release of Naukar and Sau Din Saas Ke in 1980 and returned to Meerut.

Post retirement he continued writing stories and published half a dozen novels as well. In his later years, the man whose name the audience would search for on film-posters, was no longer interested in turning back to fame and money. He took his last breathe in peace in his hometown surrounded by his dear ones.

Though one of his sons Ramsharan did follow in his father's footstep producing films like Sapan Suhane, Devar-Bhabhi, Do Behene and Patanga; Panditji was not keen for his children to be associated with films because of the way he had struggled in the early years of his career.

As a person Panditji was down to earth, always appreciated hard work and valued time. He had a liking for cars and bought the latest Ambassador model in those days. Success didn't change this simple man. Though he mixed with the crème de la crème of Mumbai's film circuit, he never talked or acted big. His world was his office-cum-writing room. He would never go to a hotel or out of town to find his muse. Sitting in his room and joined by his long-term associate Vishnu Mehrotra (an eminent writer himself), Panditji used to write on a regular basis from 9:30 am to 12:30 pm every day. Then he would retire for lunch and post -lunch he liked to meet producers. Success only made him more modest and brought him closer to his roots. He donated the Rs. 5000, which he got when, he won the Filmfare for Sadhana, to the Kanya Pathshala in Poothi. 

Pandit Mukhram Sharma won many awards for his work. Amongst his notable awards were 3 Filmfare Awards, for Aulaad, Vachan and Sadhana; between 1950 to 1970. He was rewarded with the prestigious Sangeet Natak Academy Award in 1961, which he received from then president, Rajendra Prasad. Panditji also won the Meerut Ratna Award recognizing his 'distinguished service rendered to the people of Meerut.' There were other felicitation and awards from the Cine and TV Artistes Association and IMPAA as a tribute to his contribution to the films. In February 2000, a couple of months before his demise, he was awarded the Zee Lifetime Achievement Award.

[Panditji had written stories for over 150 films and also penned lyrics for mythological films like Krishna- Satyabhama, Taramati and Srikrishnavivah, but not all his films are listed in his available Filmography. 


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