Director, writer and producer Anil Sharma is known for films such as Gadar: Ek Prem Katha (2001) which is a milestone in his career, as well as Apne (2007), Hukumat (1987), and Veer (2010). As a writer, he has penned films such as Shradhanjali (1981), Bandhan Kuchchey Dhaagon Ka (1983), and Tahalka (1992), while he has produced the films Maa (1992), Ab Tumhare Hawale Watan Saathiyo (2004), and Policewala Gunda (1995). He has also appeared onscreen in films such as Kahani Kismat Ki (1973), Ladki Bholi Bhali (1976), The Burning Train (1980), and Dushman Devta (1991). Making his directorial debut with the Raakhee-starrer Shradhanjali in 1981, he went on to work with several popular actors such as Dharmendra, Sridevi, Zeenat Aman, Akshay Kumar, Karisma Kapoor, Preity Zinta, Govinda, and Manisha Koirala. He is known for his multiple films with the Deol family—namely Dharmendra, Sunny Deol, and Bobby Deol.
Born on 7 March, 1958, his grandfather and father were astrologers. His grandfather, who practised in Mathura, would apparently be visited by special clients like Geeta Dutt, to seek his advice in the 1960s. His father practised in Bombay, and reportedly his client list included key filmmakers like Raj Kapoor. Growing up in Mathura, he learnt the Bhagvad Gita by heart by the age of 13, and would recite stories on his grandfather’s request. This was the start of his fascination with story-telling.
His interest in films was triggered after he watched Ganga Ki Lahren (1964), while attending a wedding in Meerut. It starred Dharmendra; interestingly, in time he would go on to work with the star multiple times. Smitten by cinema, he would thereafter skip school to watch films with friends.
Starting to write plays as a youngster, he would stage them with the help of his friends, acting in plays on Bhagat Singh or episodes from the Bhagvad Gita. After his father K C Sharma produced his first film Meera Shyam (1976), he also moved permanently to the city. While his parents wished him to pursue Medicine, he nursed the ambition of becoming an actor, but soon realised his real interest and strength lay in writing and directing. Seeing his flair for scriptwriting, Pandit Narendra Sharma, the writer of Satyam Shivam Sundaram (1978), advised his parents to allow him to enter films.
Learning that B R Chopra was making films like Pati Patni Aur Woh (1978), The Burning Train (1980) and Insaaf Ka Tarazu (1980), he convinced his father to arrange a meeting for him with the filmmaker. Just 18 at the time, he narrated a script to Chopra that he had penned within two days! Revealing that the reason he wrote the script was to impress Chopra so he could assist him, the latter agreed and thus did he come onboard as an assistant director for the three films. He also took up a few acting offers that came his way.
Towards the end of the shooting of The Burning Train, he gained Ravi Chopra’s confidence and was allowed to shoot with Vinod Mehra, who was impressed by his work. Meanwhile, his father was producing a film, Aap Ki Pehloo Main with Vinod Mehra. Experiencing problems with the director, Vinod Mehra suggested to K C Sharma that he give his own son a chance instead.
It was while working on Insaaf Ka Tarazu, that he started his first film as a writer-director— Shradhanjali (1981). He wrote the story on the lines of the tale of Satyavan and Savitri based in today’s times. He decided on making it a female-oriented film in order to keep the budget low. Keen to cast Raakhee, who was a leading actress, she was initially surprised to see him—he was 21 at the time. The 10-minute slot she had assigned to him for the story narration stretched to three full hours, and she gave the newcomer the nod, as well as 40 days of her schedule. Lacking the money to sign her on, he borrowed Rs.1001 from his aunt for the same—this when Raakhee’s regular signing amount was Rs.51,000!
With his father deciding to produce the film, he added Suresh Oberoi, Deepak Parashar and Arun Govil to the cast. Completing filming in a little over 40 days, the film became a super hit at the box office. His debut directorial brought him recognition and acclaim.
In 1983, he made Bandhan Kuchchey Dhaagon Ka, again with Raakhee, as well as Zeenat Aman and Shashi Kapoor. With Aman, he strove to expose her personality as opposed to her glamour quotient. The critically acclaimed film was based on the intriguing relationships of married life.
His third film was made in 1987 with Dharmendra, namely Hukumat. The actor agreed to come on board within 10 minutes of the story narration. The film proved to be a super hit and ran in theatres for 75 weeks. An action-packed entertainer, the film found a wide audience.
Delivering seven back-to-back hits in the beginning of his career, he made films such as Tahalka, Farishtay, and Elaan-E-Jung, with Dharmendra, as their professional as well as personal equation further improved. He also worked with Govinda, a newcomer at the time, in Maharaja (1998). It was not a success. Post this film, he started working with writer Shaktimaan. Prior to this, he penned the scripts of his directorials himself. He also became a full-fledged film producer with Elaan-E-Jung (1989).
In 2001 came perhaps the best known film of his career—the critically acclaimed and commercially successful Gadar: Ek Prem Katha. A romantic period action film, it was set during the Partition of India in 1947. Loosely based on the life of Boota Singh, the film starred Sunny Deol and Amisha Patel in lead roles alongside Amrish Puri and Lillete Dubey. Enjoying a global cinema release, it hit the screens alongside Ashutosh Gowariker's sports drama Lagaan. Gadar went on to emerge as one of the highest-grossing Indian films of all time.
His The Hero: Love Story Of A Spy (2003), again featured Sunny Deol, along with Preity Zinta and the then newly crowned Miss World pageant winner, Priyanka Chopra. The film was largely filmed abroad, including at Buckingham Palace, and was among the most expensive films to be shot. Even though it was apparently the third highest grosser of the year, it did not cover its high costs.
The patriotic flavoured Ab Tumhare Hawale Watan Sathiyo (2004) saw him directing a cast comprising Amitabh Bachchan, Akshay Kumar and Bobby Deol, along with newcomer Divya Khosla.
During Gadar, it was decided that the three Deols would work together and after looking at many scripts, he ultimately decided on the story of a fallen boxer who wants his son to do well in the field. The film Apne, which released in 2007 starred Dharmendra, and sons Sunny Deol and Bobby Deol. It was critically praised for its depiction of family emotions and values, and also garnered box office success. It remains memorable as the first film starring all three Deols.
He went on to make Veer with Salman Khan, based on the latter’s story idea. It was talked-about for its massive scale and depiction of the Indian state Rajputana’s war with the British. It was followed by another film with Sunny Deol - Singh Saab The Great (2013), which revolved around corruption in the system and channeled the message of change and not revenge. Neither film was successful at the box office.
After the success of his film Tahalka (1992), he had taken a break from filmmaking for a few years to focus on starting a Studio City in India on the lines of Universal Studios in LA. However, the project did not materialise, and he returned to filmmaking.
More recently, he launched his son Utkarsh in the lead role in his directorial Genius (2018). As a child artiste, Utkarsh had made his mark in Gadar. The action-thriller also featured Nawazuddin Siddiqui along with veteran Mithun Chakraborty.