Writer, producer and director, Ramanand Sagar is perhaps best remembered for his 78-part TV adaptation of the ancient Indian epic Ramayan, which had a viewership of 82 per cent, a record high for any Indian television series. Rising from humble beginnings as a clapper boy for the silent film Raiders of the Rail Road, he made a mark as a writer before going on to found Sagar Films, directing and producing films such as Ghunghat (1960), Arzoo (1965), Ankhen (1968), Geet (1970) and Charas (1976). He also produced serials based on Indian mythology and history, including Krishna, Luv Kush, Vikram Aur Betaal, Alif Laila and Sai Baba. Awarded the Padma Shri in 2000, he also won the Filmfare Best Dialogue Award for Paigham (1959) and the Filmfare Best Director Award for Ankhen (1968).
Born Chandramauli Chopra in Asal Guru Ke near Lahore, now in Pakistan, he was adopted by his maternal grandmother, who gave him the name Ramanand. He worked as a peon, truck cleaner, soap vendor, and goldsmith apprentice even as he studied for his degree. A gold medallist in Sanskrit and Persian from the University of Punjab in 1942, he was also editor of the newspaper Daily Milap, also penning several short stories, novels, poems, and plays as well as a column in the magazine Adab-e-Mashriq in Lahore.
Starting his career in films in 1932 as a clapper boy in the silent film, Raiders of the Rail Road, he shifted to Bombay in 1949 after India's Partition. Working as an assistant stage manager in Prithviraj Kapoor’s Prithvi Theatres, he also went on to direct a few plays under Kapoor’s guidance. His first real break came writing the story, screenplay and dialogue for Raj Kapoor’s hit, Barsaat (1949). In 1950, he set up Sagar Films Pvt Ltd, also known as Sagar Arts, producing and directing Bazooband (1954) and Mehmaan (1953), which did not succeed at the box office. He achieved success with his directorials Ghunghat (1960), Zindagi (1964), and Arzoo (1965). His award-winning Ankhen, a spy-thriller starring Dharmendra and Mala Sinha, was rated among the top 10 Hindi films of 1968. Again, his Charas (1976) starring Dharmendra and Hema Malini, made it to the top five grossers of the year. Prem Bandhan (1979) in which he directed Rajesh Khanna, Rekha and Moushmi Chatterjee was also a big hit as was Bhagavat (1982) starring Dharmendra, Hema Malini and Reena Roy.
Sagar made films with leading stars like Rajesh Khanna and Jeetendra, enjoying his most successful association with Dharmendra. In 1985 post the floundering of his last directorial Salma, he switched to the small screen, exploring the realm of television with mythological epics and fantasies. He produced Dada Dadi Ki Kahaniyaan, which was directed by Moti Sagar. He then went on to direct Ramayan, the first episode of which aired on 25 January, 1987. Initially conceptualised to run for 52 episodes of 45 minutes each, it was extended thrice due to popular demand, concluding after 78 episodes. This was followed by Krishna and Luv Kush, both of which were produced and directed by him. He also directed Vikram Aur Betaal in 1988, as well as the fantasy drama Alif Laila and Sai Baba. He also published a Hindi-Urdu book Aur Insaan Mar Gaya in 1948, based on his experiences of the Indo-Pak Partition.
Ramanand Sagar passed away on 12 December, 2005 aged 88. His biography, An Epic Life: Ramanand Sagar, From Barsaat to Ramayan, unveiled in 2019, details his journey from a clerk to being a successful filmmaker.
Image Courtesy: Filmfare 1967