With his wavy, silvery mane and erudite wit, Anil Dharker, who passed away late Thursday night, was an essential fixture at literary events in the city, was a promoter of New Cinema, a film critic of note, and as a journalist, was the editor of some of India’s best known publications.
“I may sound pompous when I say I’m multi-faceted, but I have worn many caps. The list is pretty long. I have headed a TV channel, written scripts for audio-visuals. I have also written books. Basically, I do a lot of different things,” he once famously said.
Those various things began with an academic position at the University of Glasgow after obtaining degrees in Mathematics and Mechanical Engineering from the University of London.
On his return to India, he became a Senior Consultant to Pheroze Kandianavala & Associates, one of India’s leading architectural practices, where he pioneered the concept of fire safety in multi-storied buildings.
As a journalist, Dharker was the editor of some of India’s best known publications, like The Illustrated Weekly of India, The Independent and Mid-day, India’s largest evening newspaper. He was also a columnist for many of India’s leading newspapers such as The Times of India, The Economic Times, The Hindu and DNA as also for Gulf News and Khaleej Times, The Independent (London), The Scotsman (Edinburgh), The Glasgow Herald, and Foreign Policy (Washington).
As a writer, he was much sought-after for his no-holds-barred commentaries on contemporary issues. Take, for instance, this excerpt from Open magazine, titled “Masks – A Big Cottage Industry” at the height of the coronavirus pandemic:
“WHEN IS BAD news not bad news? When the bad news is not as bad as the bad news you expect. The bad news may be bad news in an absolute way, but the bad news may not be bad news in a relative way. These headlines from a few days ago illustrate what I mean: ‘State logs fewest (3,645) cases in 124 days, least deaths (84) in 146 days’; ‘Active Covid 19 cases dropped to lowest (17,860) in past two months’; ‘Dip in Covid cases over last week, pvt hospitals record vacant ICU beds, allow walk-in patients’.
“This must make everyone happy, particularly 3,645; 17,860; and the families of 84 people, as they realise the statistics they are part of are cheerful ones. What makes me particularly buoyant, yet slightly puzzled, is the news about vacant ICU beds: if patients can walk in, why do they need to be in Intensive Care?
“The big cottage industry is in masks. It started off with conventional ones being imported, some impregnated (if that’s the word) with Covid warriors and costing over Rs 2,000 each. Pretty soon, everyone and their neighbour were making them: 3-tier ones; no-tear ones; N-95s with two elastic bands, one of which went around your neck and one around your ears. These were regarded as the most efficient in stopping aerosol dispersion, probably by the simple expedient of suffocating the wearer,” Dharker wrote as he went on to decry the wanton commercialisation that had erupted in dealing with the different aspects of the disease.
Dharker was also a Film critic (Debonair) and a TV critic (The Sunday Observer).
His articles on cinema led to an appointment to the Board of Film Censors where he proposed a simplified and liberal censorship code which would be adaptable to changing times and moral values. He then became a promoter of New Cinema in India by first being in charge of Scripts and Production, and then heading the Film Finance Corporation which then became the National Film Development Corporation. During this period many young film-makers made their first films.
Notable amongst them are Govind Nihalani, Vidhu Vinod Chopra, Saeed Mirza, Ketan Mehta, and Aparna Sen, amongst others. It was also during his time that NFDC became the co-producer of Sir Richard Attenborough’s multiple Oscar-winning film “Gandhi”.
Anil Dharker’s interest in the medium of television led to him becoming President of Dalal Street Journal’s channel India TV, then poised to take off. He was later briefly Creative Director of the Zee Television Network and Chairman of Kaarnik Communications, a TV software company.
Over the years, he conducted hundreds of TV interviews with well-known people from India and abroad, including Prime Ministers, Governors, Nobel Prize winning writers, film directors, actors and cricketers.
At the bottom line, his abiding interest lay in writers and writing, as manifest in the Mumbai Literature Festival Director, of which he was the Founder-Director.
What better way can there be to pay tribute to Dharker than in his own words: “I am happiest when I am writing. I can write anywhere. When I write people, might be shouting around me but I can’t hear them.
RIP Anil Dharker, your oeuvre will resonate for a long time to come.