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Balraj Sahani: The most gifted actor-writer of Indian cinema

Balraj Sahani was one of the most noted Bollywood actor and writers of his time. His simple persona and sophisticated demeanour rules million hearts even today.

Balraj Sahni was born in Rawalpindi, Punjab on May 1, 1913. He had a deep love for language. He held a graduate degree in Hindi and a masters degree in English literature from Punjab University. Being an extremely well read and politically conscious intellectual, Sahni was a writer of great repute in English and Punjabi literature. He also taught English at Shantiniketan, where his son was born.

Balraj Sahni worked with Mahatma Gandhi for a year in 1938. He also worked with BBC London’s Hindi service as a radio announcer.

Though poet at his heart, Sahani gave film industry 125 films in a career spanning 25 years. He acted opposite top heroines like Padmini, Nutan, Meena Kumari, Vyjayantimala, and Nargis.

He starred in many successful films which include Dharti Ke Lal, Do Bigha Zameen, Kabuliwala. He is remembered best today for his last film, Garam Hawa.

Do Bigha Zameen (1953) established his potential and dedication as an actor. For the film Sahni reportedly practiced pulling a rickshaw with passengers on it, in the scorching heat of Kolkata. And he did it with bare feet!

Sahani was awarded with Padma Shri Award in 1969 for contribution to cinema.

In 1970, he worked with P.K. Vasudevan Nair to create a new Leftist youth organisation, the All-India Youth Federation, the youth wing of the CPI, with him as its first president. In 1972, he was invited by the student’s union of Jawaharlal Nehru University, a leftist stronghold, to address the annual student’s convocation. His speech is considered a landmark event in the University’s campus politics.

Depressed over his daughter’s untimely death, his health was deteriorating. He suffered a massive heart attack from the compounded stress. As he lay on his deathbed, Balraj asked his wife to get a copy of Das Kapital, the communist movement’s bible and put it beside his pillow. The same night, that is April 13, 1973, Balraj died of a broken heart.

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