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Remembering the maestro of words, Agha Jani Kashmiri — death anniversary special

On his 20th death anniversary today (he died on 29 March 1998), we remember the timeless works of the writer, who gave us films like Chori Chori (1956), Love In Simla (1960), Junglee (1961), Mujhe Jeene Do (1963) and Love In Tokyo (1966), among others.

Agha Jani Kashmiri in Shimla during the shooting of Love in Simla (1960)

Sukhpreet Kahlon

In Subodh Mukerji's Junglee (1961), when Shammi Kapoor yelled the now iconic, "Yahoo", little did he know that the film would change his fortune as a film star and also usher in a new kind of romantic hero for the 1960s. But the visionary writer of the film, Agha Jani Kashmiri, who offered an unusual and fresh story in the film could perhaps foresee the way in which the audience would react to the serious, stuffy businessman breaking out of his mother's (Lalita Pawar) stranglehold when he falls in love with Rajkumari (Saira Banu).

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The making of film stars and their shining careers is celebrated in film lore but we often forget the writers, who give us the memorable punch lines that are spoken by ordinary folk like us and become canonized, allowing a bit of drama to creep into our otherwise largely dull, boring lives.

Kashmiri was one such writer. He never really intended to be a writer, but eventually became one par excellence. Born Syed Wajid Hussain Rizvi, Kashmiri had an adventurous beginning in the world of cinema when at the age of 19, he was offered the protagonist's role in the film Shah-E-Subhan (1933).

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He grabbed the opportunity and ran away from his home in Lucknow, to join the seductive world of films and ended up acting in three films before becoming a dialogue writer. He also assisted Debaki Bose during the silent era and joined the legendary Bombay Talkies studio.

Agha Jani Kashmiri with the trophy of Junglee

In an interview with film critic Rafique Baghdadi in 1991, Kashmiri spoke of how at the iconic studio, Himanshu Rai made him hone his writing skills by insisting that he read books on screenplay and dialogue writing.

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"He [Rai] would ask me to write on any subject, as many as 40-50 pages, everyday. And when I would submit the bulk to him, he would throw it away, and offer me yet another subject to write on," Kashmiri said. He wrote the story for his first film for the studio, Vachan (1938), which was directed by Franz Osten and had Devika Rani and Ashok Kumar play the lead roles.

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Thereafter, he wrote the dialogues and screenplays for several successful films, including many of Mehboob Khan's hit films. The 1943 Mehboob Production, Najma — starring Ashok Kumar, Veena and Sitara — was a big hit and completed a Golden Jubilee.

His next film for Khan, Taqdeer (1943), was Nargis Dutt's debut film and also a big hit. Subsequent films included Humayun (1945), Anmol Ghadi (1946), Anokhi Ada (1948), Chori Chori (1956), Love In Simla (1960), Junglee (1961), Mujhe Jeene Do (1963), Love In Tokyo (1966) and others, for which he wrote the dialogues or screenplay or both.
There was something exemplary in Kashmiri's writing which enabled him to prosper through five decades of work in the industry, wherein he wrote 22 Silver Jubilee hits and 9 Golden Jubilees out of a total of 40 films.

In the documentary about his life narrated by his son, Zuhair Kashmiri, and titled The Golden Pen, Shammi Kapoor recalls how the writer always kept an open mind and was never unwilling to take the actor's suggestions and rethink the dialogues.

Kashmiri was also much loved by Sunil Dutt and in Mujhe Jeene Do (1963), which was produced by Dutt's Ajanta Arts, Kashmiri offered a unique take on the imagining of a dacoit, hitherto portrayed as a menace to society with a degree of glamour. The gripping story of the love between a dacoit (Dutt) and a courtesan (Waheeda Rehman) offered a fresh and compassionate take on both characters ousted by society, which found immense success with the audience and critics.

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In the documentary, actor Joy Mukherjee reminisces about the writer, who wrote the actor's debut film Love In Simla and even recommended him for the role. Recalling Kashmiri's "God given instinct" for writing films, Mukherjee appreciates the writer's immense contribution in making him a star and recalls how he made him feel at ease in front of the camera, saying, "He was my guru. He taught me how to talk, walk and act." In fact, a lesser known fact about the writer is that he trained several actors including Nargis and Saira Banu and also spotted Nimmi as a 9-year-old child and convinced Mehboob Khan to cast her in his film!

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Talking about Kashmiri's vision as a writer, his son emphasizes the lengths to which the scripts written by his father included descriptions of the ways in which shots were to be taken. Although he helped several directors make memorable films, the only film that he produced and directed, Tohfa (1947), was a flop.

The legendary host of the radio show 'Binaca Geetmala', Ameen Sayani, also recalls his meetings with the writer in the documentary and draws attention to Kashmiri's finesse with the Urdu language wherein he was equally comfortable with classical Urdu as well as colloquial language spoken in the streets, which became popularized in films.  

In his interview, speaking about the qualities of a good screenplay Kashmiri said, "In a screenplay, one should not beat around the bush, as many tend to do. To come to the point swiftly is an art in itself. Every dialogue should follow the screenplay." Golden words that bear testimony to the reason why his films live on.