•  Team SWA
    •  02 August 2019
    •  3263

    The Ganga-Putra who became the 'Samay' of our times

    A tribute to the literary legend Dr. Rahi Masoom Raza (1st August 1927 - 15th March 1992) - Compiled from conversations with his wife Nayyar Apa, Mr. Nadeem Khan, Mrs. Parvati Nadeem Khan, Mr. Javed Akhtar, Mr. Hassan Kamal, Mr. Mukesh Khanna and Mr. Goofy Paintal

    “Main Samay Hoon (I am time)!” – Time would be the Sootradhar (Narrator) of Mahabharat said Dr. Rahi Masoom Raza as he rejected all other avenues that were being explored. It became a catch phrase which remains engraved in the psyche of an entire nation. Rahi saab was a popular dialogue writer in Hindi films, but he was much much more than that. He was a Shayar, a storywriter, a lyricist, a novelist, a writer par excellence with a mind bestowed with free thinking and liberal ideology. He was a dreamer that dreamt of a entire new era in writing and the same reflected in himself and his sartorial style.

    In his career spanning 35 years, Rahi Masoom Raza enriched the literary world with books like Adha Ganv, Katra Bi Arzoo and Topi Shukla, which remain sparkling gems of Hindi literature. Film-buffs know him for writing dialogues of films like Main Tulsi Tere Aangan Ki (1979) which got him the Filmfare Best Dialogues award, Alaap (Lyrics & Dialogues, 1977), Gol Maal (1979), Hum Paanch (1980), Karz (1980), and Lamhe (1991) Apart from the massive hit Mahabharat, a series named Neem Ka Ped is also famous as Raza Sahab’s contribution to the Indian Television.

    Rahi Masoom Raza was born in the year 1927 in a village named Gangauli in the district of Ghazipur, in eastern Uttar Pradesh. It was an association which remained with him life long. After his early education, he went to Aligarh Muslim University from where he did his doctorate in Hindustani Literature.

    Mr. Javed Akhtar shares his own fond memories of Dr. Raza and says, “I knew Rahi Sahab since my childhood when I attended school in Aligarh. He was at the Aligarh University for his Phd and later started teaching there itself. The city had a culture of Bentbaazi (Antakshari in Urdu) competitions where the contestants would recite verses and Shers of Shayars like Mir, Momim, Ghalib, Faiz and Firaq instead of film songs. Incidentally, I had memorized about thousands of Shers by the age of 13 or 14 and thus, would represent my school in such competitions where I and my team would at least make it to the semifinals. I cherish the memories of receiving many awards from Rahi Sahab who had become a professor by that time. He would be one among the two or the three judges. Apart from that, Rahi Sahab was a cult figure. He enjoyed a huge fan following among the students, girls and boys both, owing to his charming and stylish persona. His admirers would walk by his side whenever he roamed in the campus. He would limp a bit, for he was affected by Polio in his childhood, but his elegant Sherwani, which he would never button, and the classy Kurta would make it clear that he was no ordinary man. He was a star.”


    Rahi Masoom Raza Sahab met his would be wife Nayyar Aapa in 1963-64. The pop sensation of yesteryears Parvati Khan is married to his son Nadeem Khan, director and cinematographer.

    Mr. Nadeem Khan shares - “I had a very strange, semi-formal kind of relationship with him because he was my step-father. I always called him Rahi Sahab. He loved me and my younger brothers Irfan and Aftab like his own sons while our sister Mariyam remained the apple of his eye. He gave us a lot of love.”

    There is an interesting story when it comes to Rahi Sahab and Mushayras (poetry sessions). He had stopped attending them once he got married. Nayyar Aapa shares the reason for this: “I was very fond of (horse) riding but Masoom would not like this. He would urge me to put an end to my hobby and I told him – If you will go to the Mushayras, I will go horse-riding. So that is why he stopped going to the Mushayras.”

    Nadeem Khan confirms the same, “Yes, my mother had broken her bones and teeth three- to four times falling off horses and therefore Rahi Sahab wanted her to discontinue her riding. In return, she asked him not to go to the Mushayras. I have seen how both of them stuck to their guns till the very end. He would even turn down invitations of Mushayras coming from America and England.”

    Mumbai & Friends

    According to Mr. Javed Akhtar - “Rahi Sahab couldn’t mix too well with all the people in Allahabad and Aligarh who probably belonged to different schools of thought. He was always frank while sharing his opinion. You could have agreed or disagreed with him but that would never change his way of thinking. He was a liberal and progressive writer and had some clashes of opinion with certain sects. Thus around 1964-1965, he came to Mumbai, the city which has always welcomed all kinds of writers and have provided them with an upright livelihood.”

    He continues, “Rahi Sahab stormed into the cosmopolitan city with the same vigor and style he was known for. Many people suggested to him that he change his dressing style because he had moved to a different city but Rahi Sahab never gave up on his Sherwanis, Agrakhas & Kurtas. In due course of time, his sartorial style became known and started being admired for its uniqueness.”

    Rahi sahab’s friend Ashok was the nephew of Bharat Bhushan and had studied with him at Aligarh University. Ashok’s father, who had made films like Barsat Ki Raat, offered Raza Sahab to write a film named Mushayra but unfortunately it never took off. Bharatji got him to meet other directors and producers before Rahi Sahab finally tasted popularity as a film writer with Patthar Aur Payal (1974) which starred Hema Malini, Vinod Khanna & Dharmendra.

    Dr. Dharamvir Bharati and Kamleshwar were two friends of Rahi Sahab who helped him the most when he came to Mumbai. As editors of newspapers and magazines, they would pay Rahi Sahab to write articles in advance. Sunil Dutt was also a much cherished friend. Majrooh Sultanpuri, (with whom he played Chess and always fought) Raj Khosla, Krishan Chander, Javed Akhtar, Manas Mukherjee (father of singer Shantanu Mukherjee) and B.R. Chopra were also among Rahi Sahab’s close friends.

    Unusual Working Style

    Dr. Raza would always write from home. Once the Actor Raj kumar who wanted to make a film named Galiyon Ka Raja, took him to Pahalgam to get a story written but even after fifteen days, Rahi Sahab could not write a single line. He could never write anywhere else but in his own house in Bandra Band Stand and never went to hotels to write. He would write very fast, lying reclined by a pillow on a carpet in his drawing room and would not get affected by people dropping in to meet him or

    any such commotion.

    Mr. Nadeem Khan says: “It was a very fascinating sight to see Rahi Sahab write. In that same small hall, my mother would be listening to Qawwali,s my son Jatin would be playing atop his grandfather’s stomach who would be peacefully writing with scripts scattered all around him.”

    Masoom had got so used to working in such a fashion that he would often say, “If I don’t get to hear the voices of my family members I can’t write.” He would usually write 2 to 3 scripts at the same time and if it was some story or article which needed more of his concentration he would pen it after 1 o’clock at night.

    Goofy Paintal, one of the main actors on the show Mahabharat and Mr. B. R. Chopra’s assistant says: “I remember I was often sent to collect the dialogues from Rahi Sahab. He would make me sit down in front of him on the same carpet, then offer me something to drink and say – Why don’t you speak while I write? I like listening to what you speak.”

    As A Person

    Rahi Masoom Raza was a very low-profile, unassuming person but at the same time, he was also very affectionate and full of life. His friends also remember him as a person with a great sense of humor who would crack sidesplitting jokes and laugh wholeheartedly. Besides, Rahi Sahab was a very hardworking man who would write for 8 to 10 hours every day.

    But Rahi Sahab was not mellowed down as a person. He was frank and authoritative when it comes to sharing an opinion. Directors and producers, asking him to plagiarize a scene or a line from other films would often end up getting scolded by him.

    Rahi Sahab was also very fond of food and had a sweet tooth. If nothing else, he would end up eating sugar! He had given a nickname to Goofy and would call him Sardara. He loved the Bhuna Gosht cooked by his wife and would say “So sweet of my daughter Sardari to cook such delicious meals for me!”

    Mukesh Khanna fondly remembers another attribute of Rahi Sahab’s personality, and says “His mouth would always be outlined with the crimson color of the paan that he would be chewing.” He remembers what he would often hear from Rahi Sahab - “Mukesh, I have crossed sixty and now what I am living are my bonus years!”

    Bad At Business

    Dr. Rahi Masoom Raza could never play his cards well when it came to business. He could never demand his price or rather, never cared to. He never went after money. In fact, he never even discussed it with producers and would write for whatever they offered him. This was not good for the household and therefore, once Aapa got angry and said “If today somebody comes to get something written from you, I will negotiate the money.” Co-incidentally, a producer came just that day and Rahi Sahab guided him towards Aapa to talk about the money. The producer gave excuses for not having enough money with him and Aapa ended up finalizing the deal with even lesser amount than what Rahi Sahab used to charge.

    Aapa further says: “Masoom would not charge anything from technicians and FTII pass outs who wanted him to write for them. He would accept just anything which they offered. There was a gentleman who would get him two paans from the Banarasi shop in Khar every time there was a sitting and that was all for which Masoom wrote his film! On another instance

    he ended up writing a superhit film for just ten bucks.”

    She further shares a couple of amusing notes. “My mother had told when I was getting married to Masoom – Never let him posses the money, he has a hole in his hand! I also remember that once Masoom asked me in how much time, if I were to get it, could I spend Rupees 5 Crores? I took a second and replied - 3 hours! He was surprised and asked me how. I told him, 1 hour would be spent in driving to the Taj Jewellers, another would be spent in coming back from there and the remaining 1 hour would be enough for me to buy jewellery worth Rupees 5 Crores!”

    Nadeem Khan tells “After Mahabharat, I once suggested Rahi Sahab to start asking for a bigger amount from producers. I was sure no one would refuse to pay him what he demanded.” Rahi Sahab’s reply reveals another layer of his personality, “I have a roof over my head. I have a house which never closes its front doors. Everyday 10-15 people come and have lunch & dinner at the dastarkhaan. I have so much wealth given by Allah, what more do I need?”

    Film Writing

    Dr. Rahi Masoom Raza was proficient in Hindi, as well as Urdu. Most of his novels are in Hindi while his poetry is in Urdu. He knew how to play with words and would juggle Urdu and Hindi words for maximum effect. For films, he mostly wrote dialogues and was again prolific at that. Industry people share the opinion that Rahi Sahab was the key to success for many of the films he had written.

    Hassan Kamal says: “Film writers should have a command on both Urdu and Hindi, the way Dr. Raza had. By watching his films and TV serials one can learn how beautifully languages can be used and interplayed with. He was also an ardent reader of literature which worked in his favor. I have learnt from him that it is of utmost importance to read a lot in order to become a writer. I believe he was precious to the Film Industry.”

    Mr. Paintal says: “When it comes to film writing, be it story, screenplay, dialogues or lyrics, he was terrific in all departments. How can one forget the songs he penned for Mahabharat or the one he wrote for the film Alaap (1977) which is sung by Jagjit Singh – Hum Toh Hain Pardes Mein, Des Mein Nikla Hoga Chaand.. ?”

    Mr. Javed Akhtar says: “Being a genius storywriter, a great poet and Shayar of Ghazal and Nazm both; and a profound journalist; Dr. Rahi Masoom Raza had multiple talents as a writer. He was a harfanmaula (all-rounder) and whatever he wrote had the stamp of his personality. He had a sharpness arising out his distinct style, the uniqueness of his opinion and a novel point of view. His take on things, be it literature, language, cinema or life; was unlike anybody else’s.”


    Rahi Sahab’s literature is marked with intense storylines told with a disarming straightforwardness and in the easiest of words. Most of his works are based on the themes related to nostalgia, villages and small towns. Apart from that, politically created tensions among different social groups, especially Hindus & Muslims; turmoil of the 1947 partition and the life in feudal India have also been the reoccurring themes of Raza Sahab’s literature in which, at times, he himself is the narrator.

    Adha Gaon (The Divided Village), the most popular Hindi novel penned by Dr. Raza, tells the story of two opposite landlord Muslim families of village Ganguali and their rivalry in 1940's rural India. The novel stresses the fact that before the partition, Hindus & Muslims were one nation.

    Another one of his novels, Neem Ka Ped is based on the edgy relationship of lower caste tenants with their landlords. It was also adapted into a very popular television series in which Pankaj Kapoor depicted the landless laborer.

    Another famous novel of Rahi Sahab’s, Katra Bi Arzoo (The Lady Arzoo Locality) is set in the city of Allahabad, in 1970's India and talks about the adverse situations arising in the period of emergency. In its foreword, Raza dedicates the novel to anti- emergency activists saying that the freedom of speech is the basic freedom. Dr. Raza’s famous novel, Topi Sukla revolves around the misconducts of politicians.

    Some of Dr. Rahi Masoom Raza’s most famous published works are:

    Hindi Novels: Adha Gaon, Dil Ek Saada Kaagaz, Topi Shukla, Os ki Boond, Katra Bi Arzoo, Scene No. 75 (Based on the Film Industry of the 70’s), Chotey Aadmi Ki Badee Kahaani (Based on Hawaldar Abdul Hamid’s life who was given the Paramvir Chakra in 1965)

    Published Poetry: Mauz-e-Ghul Mauz-e-Saba (Urdu), Ajnabee Shahar Ajnabee Raste (Urdu), Main Ek Feriwala (Hindi), Sheeshe Ke Makaan Wale (Hindi)

    The Poet

    He started writing poetry at a very young age. Initially, he never wrote by his real name but picked Shahid Akhtar and Ashfaq Haider as his pen-names.

    Mr. Hassan Kamal met Rahi Sahab when the latter was doing his Phd in Lucknow. Kamal who was one of his students, speaks of his charming personality - “He was my senior but then we found a common friend circle between the two of us. In those days Rahi Sahab was considered quite a romantic figure. A Shayar par excellence who was also a very handsome man! He would recite his poetry in a melodious Tarrannum (tune) making him very popular in the Mushayara circuit. In those days there were two monthly Urdu magazines being published from Allahabad, Romani Duniya and Ibn-e-Safi’s Jasoosi Duniya. Romani Duniya would publish romantic stories penned by various writers. We all knew that the writer writing his stories under the pen-name of Shahid Akhtar was none other than Dr. Rahi Masoom Raza.”

    As a poet Raza Sahab was a romantic and an intellectual Shayar. But even more than that, he was a nostalgic man. From a small village in Ghazipur to Mumbai, he had come a long way. But wherever he lived he could never move away from his roots. Mr. Javed Akhtar says: “Not only does his poetry speaks of his unbroken link with his village, but even if you were to discuss an issue like UN Security Council with him, he would somehow manage to make a mention of Ghazipur. I would find that very fascinating and at the same time, adorable. He would always say that he was a Ganga-Kiraane-Ka- Aadmi (a man born at the coast of the river Ganga) and that influence always dominated his literature. I don’t think anyone has written better Shayari than him, on that peculiar culture, of a place which is half a village and half a city. That flavor remained imprinted on whatever he wrote.”

    Nadeem Khan seconds Akhtar’s opinion and says, “Rahi Sahab’s heart was stuck in his village Gangauli in Ghazipur. All his poetry speaks of nostalgia. It’s total nostalgia.” Paravti Nadeem Khan, wife of Mr. Nadeem Khan stresses the same by quoting the writer himself:

    “Jinse Hum Chhoot Gaye, Ab Woh Jahaan Kaise Hain Shaakh-e-Gul Kaisi Hain, Khushbu Ke Maqaam Kaise Hain

    This can be taken as a romantic song or purely a nostalgic song and along with that it also has certain political tanz (sharp comment) in it. Rahi Sahab always had a bit of satire in his lyrics. He had the knack of hitting the nail on the head where relationships and social dynamics were concerned.” She further adds “He would ask me to composes and sing his ghazals. He would call me home every time he was to write a new one.”

    Another Anecdote

    Nadeem shares, “Raj Khosla had sent the one-line screenplay of the film Main Tulsi Tere Aangan Ki to Raza Sahab. After reading a particular scene, some heavy-duty confrontation, he thought that he would nail it with some extraordinary dialogues. That was an era when our cinema was predominantly melodramatic while that film itself had two actresses who were melodrama-queens, Nutan and Asha Parekh. So Rahi Sahab ended up writing 7 pages of dialogues for that scene and even went on to narrate it to me in excitement. When Raj Sahab visited our house and asked him to narrate what he had written, Rahi Sahab first gave him a kind of haughty look and then read out his scene. After 7 long pages he looked at Khosla Sahab and found that he wasn’t too impressed. Rahi Sahab got a bit nervous and asked – So what do you think? Khosla Sahab replied – It’s fine but can you read it the way I tell you? He asked Dr. Raza to put an aestrix after few lines on page number two and another one at the page number seven, somewhere in the middle. He asked him to skip everything which was there in between. Rahi Sahab reread the first page, beginning of the second and then the last bit on the seventh page. Khosla Sahab didn’t say a word but Rahi Sahab realized that it was all what the scene wanted to say. What he had filled in between was crude verbosity.” He never made the same mistake again.

    Dr. Raza wasn’t a newcomer or a struggling writer at that time but he took this learning in his stride with a positive attitude. He told Nadeem that day “Every writer loves his own writing and therefore it becomes hard to remain objective. But for the first time in my life I have realized that even a scene has a meter of its own. Sometimes a scene demands of only silence.”

    The Penman Behind Mahabharat

    B.R. Chopra’s 94 episodes long epic TV series Mahabharat (at Doordarshan, 1988- 1990), had its peak rating at around 86 percent. A lot of credit goes to Dr. Rahi Masoom Raza who wrote its dialogues.

    Rahi Sahab had joined the B.R. Chopra Camp very early and had written quite a few films with him. In 1984, when Mahabharat was being planned, it was no surprise that B.R. Chopra thought that Dr. Raza was the right person to do justice to its dialogues. Dr. Rahi Masoom Raza spent three laborious years in research and two more while penning the script. Initially, Rahi Sahab had a support system in Pandit Narendra Sharma, who was an encyclopedia on Vedas and Hindu mythologies; and to whom he would approach to clear any possible doubts or confusions. But Panditji passed away way too soon and then, Raza Sahab was left all by himself.

    Rahi Sahab’s biggest innovation in Mahabharat, the masterstroke of his creative genius, was the introduction of Samay (time) as the narrator. The myth of Mahabharat has Lord Ganesh penning down whatever Hrishi (sage) Ved Vyas would narrate. But the makers wanted a definite narrator who could speak to the audience and tried options like a king, a storyteller, or some historian who could act as the onscreen narrator. Nothing worked before Dr. Raza came up with this

    brilliant idea of having the entity of time telling its own story. It became a milestone. Nadeem Khan says: “Any cinema student will understand that it was a brilliant idea to have time as the narrator because that gives you freedom to cut to and fro enabling you to do any possible transition on the script level itself.”

    Mr. Nadeem Khan even remembers questioning Rahi Sahab about what he thought his biggest achievement in Mahabharat was. Rahi Sahab told him, “There are two things which cross my mind. The use of time as the narrator is surely an achievement. The other one is that, I could create a completely new language for its dialogues. I didn’t use Sanskritized Hindi for Mahabharat but borrowed words from Urdu and Hindustani and nobody seemed to mind it because it went so well with the flow.”

    Mr. Hassan Kamal throws more light on the language of Mahabharat, “I feel Rahi Sahab’s contribution to the TV series Mahabharat was at par with Hrishi Ved Vyas’s contribution to the original story. Roads would go empty when Mahabharat would air on TV. People would quote its dialogues in real life. Rahi Sahab had given new words like PitaSri, MamaSri, TayaSri etc. to the Hindi language which he had actually adapted from the tradition of the Urdu language where relatives are referred as ChachaJaan, AbbaJaan etc. His innovations were not only accepted but also marked new trends.”

    To say Dr. Rahi Masoom Raza penned exceptional dialogues for Mahabharat would be an understatement. Those lines were infused with such magical rhythm that they not only often echo in the memories of the viewers but even the actors of the show feel amazed that they still remember all those dialogues word by word. Mr. Goofy Paintal says, “Those dialogues were smooth as butter! We would have such ease while delivering them, as if they were our own words. That is how they are still glued to our tongues even after 25 years!”

    One of the other lead actors of Mahabharat was Mr. Mukesh Khanna who played the character of Bhishma Pitamah. That character got him popularity from all quarters and left such an influence on his career that he later named his own production company as Bhishma International. He speaks of Dr. Raza with reverence for the writer and the nostalgia for his own younger days. He says: “Mahabharat was the platform which got the two of us together. That association got me the opportunity to give my body and soul to that character which became legendary. The credit goes to Dr. Rahi Masoom Raza Sahab. I would always compliment him for such great writing. The dialogues he would write had a kind of wazan (robustness) in them.”

    It would leave one with a feeling of incompleteness if a line or two are not quoted from Mahabharat in that regards. Mukesh Khanna takes up the case and delivers in his own engaging style, “I still refer to Mahabharat when I have to explain what exactly wazan in a dialogue means. There is an exchange of dialogues between Gandhari and Bhishma –

    GANDHARI: “Pitamah, Aap Dhritrashtra Ko Aadesh Kyun Nahin Dete (Pitamah, why don’t you order Dhritrashtra)?” BHISHMA: “Aadesh Dena Mera Dharm Nahin Hai, Putri! Parchhai Jab Shareer Se Badee Hone Lagei; Toh Samajh Lena Chahiye Putri Ki Surya Ke Ast Hone Mein Ab Adhik Samay Nahin Reh Gaya Hai. (My dharma is not to give orders, daughter. When the shadow starts to go longer than the body daughter, one should understand that there is not much time before the Sun will set.)”

    Due to his unapologetic attitude Rahi Sahab also ran into a few controversies in his lifetime. Even while speaking of Dr. Rahi Masoom Raza and Mahabharat, what is lamented by one and all were those absurd objections which were raised against a

    Muslim writer penning the adaptation of what was essentially considered a Hindu scripture. Few zealots from both the sides criticized this inimitable coupling. But Mahabharat’s success shut down every mouth. Rahi Sahab proved his mettle and talent along with the fact that as an Indian born with unified cultural ethos, he shared an equal right on the great Indian epic.

    Speaking of Rahi Sahab’s closeness with controversies; Mr. Javed Akhtar says: “The reason for controversies thriving around Rahi Sahab was that he would always listen to his heart. And then whatever his heart told him, he would tell it to others. Usually we filter our thoughts through a sensor board residing in our hearts before sharing them with others. Rahi Sahab wasn’t one of them. In fact, for me, the controversy which got built around Mahabharat was a petty one because Rahi Sahab had seen bigger turbulences.”

    However, Nadeem Khan also mentions, “The 5 years of writing Mahabharat sucked up Rahi Sahab completely. I still remember how his boyish face had aged by 15 years in those 5 years. Though it also immortalized him as a writer; that was actually what Mahabharat had done to him.”

    A Regret Which Could Not Die

    Dr. Rahi Masoom Raza was nominated for Sahitya Academy Award for his novel Adha Gaon but could not get the coveted award because his piece, however brilliant, had abuses. Missing out on the award for such an unimportant reason remained a painful woe for Raza Sahab. Mr. Javed Akhtar says in the same regards, “Life hardly offers justice. It may be because either people do not have right intentions or they don’t have a desire to see good. Sometimes injustice happens because someone did not have right intentions and sometimes it occurs because someone failed to see the truth the way it is. What happens as an outcome is that either people get more than what they actually deserve or vice versa. It rarely happens for someone to get exactly what he or she deserves. This is what happened with Rahi Sahab.”

    Dr. Rahi Masoom Raza passed away in the year 1992. For a writer who was nothing less than a national treasure, he died quite young at the age of 65. However, Rahi Sahab went away keeping intact his wealth of affection, respect and admiration that he garnered from family, friends, acquaintances and admirers.

    Javed Akhtar sums it up, “Though most of us are aware of Dr. Rahi Masoom Raza’s contribution to films as a dialogue writer, and of the fact that he wrote Mahabharat; his literary achievements are something the world has not taken a great notice of. I think it’s time we start acknowledging him and his literature, prose and poetry both; and give Dr. Rahi Masoom Raza his dues. That would be wonderful.”

    (Courtesy: SWA Archives Written by: Dinkar Sharma)


    Dr. Rahi Masoom Raza was awarded the SWA Award for exceptional contribution to television writing, on August 3rd 2018 - the 3rd day of the 5th Indian Screenwriters Conference (organised by SWA).

    WATCH: A Tribue to Dr. Rahi Masoom Raza! (by SWA): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x3yvKgvA6ls

    WATCH: A special feature on Dr. Rahi Masoom Raza (by SWA): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JZFkxwAc_XA

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