I enjoy celebrating the “behind the scenes” contributors to Hindi cinema history as much as I do the actors (and dancers). One such person is Vrajendra Gaur, who wrote dialogues and screenplays for such favorites of mine as Howrah Bridge, China Town, Teen Deviyan, Kati Patang, and Sharmilee. His career spanned the 1940s through the 1970s, ending with The Great Gambler in 1979. Recently his son Suneel Gaur reached out to me asking if I wanted to see a photograph of his father with Rajesh Khanna; of course I did, and of course I pestered him for more. There is always more, and indeed that is the case here. And I must just add that I think the photograph above left, of Mr. Gaur with Dilip Kumar, is one of the sweetest pictures I have ever seen. They look so young, so full of promise, and like fast friends indeed.
The prolific writer-lyricist-director-author-poet-journalist died 32 years ago on August 7th 1980, and his sons Suneel and Rajesh Gaur pay tribute to their father on his death anniversary (and all of the photographs are courtesy of them too).
From his generation, Vrajendra Gaur was one of the few very writers who came into the industry from literature and made it big. Born in Etawah, a small town placed between Kanpur and Lucknow in Uttar Pradesh, Gaur lost his father when he was seven but managed to complete his education. His first published work came at the age of 15 in the Hindi magazine Maya, and from then on he was a regular at writing stories and poems. By the time he was 20, he had moved to Lucknow and published six volumes of his numerous short stories, beginning with “Atript Manav” followed by “Bikhri Kaliyan,” “Andheri Raat,” “Kaagaz Ki Nao,” “Sindoor Ki Laaj,” “Yuddha Ki Kahaaniyan,” “Kalkatte Ka Qatl-e-Aam” and “Parole Par.” He also started writing radio plays that were hugely popular.
“Kalkatte Ka Qatl-e-Aam” and “Parole Par” were about the Quit India movement and banned by the then British government or their patriotic themes. Another novel, “Manzil,” was made into a popular Hindi film starring Dev Anand and Nutan during his peak time as a writer.
Gaur’s literary bent was not restricted to these achievements. He also came out with a collection of songs and books for children. He edited the magazines Prakash, Jai Hind, Trishak, Pratibha and Gram Sudhar and served as a translator in the Civil Secretariat, Lucknow, for two years. Even for radio he wrote talk shows and plays. His play “Dhai Lakh” was to change his life. After hearing the play, actor Motilal summoned Gaur to Mumbai to write the Motilal-Shanta Apte film Saawan (1945).
The film was a hit, but Gaur in his zeal wrote long and flowery dialogues, and Motilal (a pioneer of natural acting in Hindi cinema) had to teach him that film dialogues should be natural, crisp and pithy.
After this, Gaur began writing lyrics too, for films like Sardar, Sangram and Kaafila. But he found himself disillusioned by the film world and went back to Lucknow twice, returning whenever a good and lucrative offer was made. His career was made with the dialogue he wrote for the above mentioned Ashok Kumar films: 1950’s Sangram followed by Sardar, Kaafila and Bimal Roy’s Parineeta (1953). Parineeta and Sangram became super hits and he finally settled down in Mumbai, writing for over 70 more films until his death in 1980.
Gaur had a lot of principles that he always followed. He had an aversion to overt depiction of sex, violence and any form of crudity. He hated artistes changing his lines and also never indulged, as was the norm with so many writers then, in luxury and even worse at the expense of the producer’s money. Strong characterisations, as brought out through appropriate lines, were his forte. Gaur believed in multiple characters adding colour to a film with their diverse intellectual levels and origins that needed variegated dialogues, all apt for him or her.
Vrajendra Gaur was rarely credited with the screenplay of a film. Most of his films credited him with “Dialogue”, a terminology peculiar to Indian cinema meaning the lines actually spoken by the characters in the film. But just as the screenplay writer abroad also writes the lines spoken by the characters, Gaur always had a hand in the screenplay, as the two aspects could not be isolated from each other. He would never get the right lines unless there was a fluidly conceived situation and thus participated in a big way in the screenplay.
His favourite comparison of a film writer was to Draupadi with five husbands or a “nagar vadhu” (bride of the entire town). “A writer has to please the producer, director, hero, heroine and storywriter and often even the financier and distributor!” he would say.
Vrajendra Gaur always said his wife Meena was his lucky mascot (she passed away a few years ago) as his greatest success came after his marriage. Among his best-known movies are Shakti Samanta’s Kati Patang, Anuraag, Insan Jaag Utha, Singapore, Howrah Bridge, China Town, Sawan Ki Ghata, Jaane Anjaane, The Great Gambler, and Kishore Kumar’s Jhumroo, Naughty Boy and Jaal Saaz; along with films like Passport, Shikari (1963), Apna Banake Dekho, Resham Ki Dori, Pocketmaar, Jyoti, Pyar Ka Sagar, and many others.
But from the vast galaxy of stars he was to collaborate with, Gaur developed a deeper friendship with Dev Anand, whom he met on the steps of Bombay Talkies studio in Malad. A long conversation on those steps about mutual interests became grounds for a professional and personal alliance that saw Gaur work on an enviable part of Dev Anand’s repertoire. He wrote Dev Anand’s Jaali Note, Manzil, Baarish, Sarhad, Teen Deviyan, Baat Ek Raat Ki, Mahal, Duniya, Pyar Mohabbat, Warrant, etc. He also wrote the lyrics for the Dev Anand starrer Zalzala.
Though writing remained his first love, he never broke away from journalism, contributing to periodicals in Mumbai like Dharmayug, Madhuri and Saptahik Hindustan.
In 1954, Vrajendra Gaur decided to direct the film Kasturi starring Nimmi and Sajjan, for which he also wrote the lyrics. He always thought that he was best at lyrics for some reason, but after these early 1950s films like Kaafila and Zalzala, he never wrote lyrics in movies again. Nor did he direct a film after Kasturi, though he came close to it once or twice. Kasturi was a success, but its remarkable feature was that Shakti Samanta, Guru Dutt and Govind Saraiya, later to become eminent filmmakers, worked as assistants to Gaur in this film! And Guru Dutt assisted even after his independent debut as director, purely out of regards for Gaur.
One of Gaur’s biggest successes as well as most critically-acclaimed movies remains the much-awarded 1968 film Saraswatichandra, which saw Gaur excel in a story that revolved around the Gujarati culture.
In his later years, the biggest hit was Sharmilee, and he also wrote the acclaimed Lal Patthar, the comic Jungal Mein Mangal and Trimurti (1974). Later he went on to do hits like Geet Gaata Chal, Dulhan Wohi Jo Piya Man Bhaaye (for which he won the screenplay and dialogue Filmfare Awards) and Ankhiyon Ke Jharonkhon Se. His last release was The Great Gambler which starred Amitabh.
Gaur was also the President of the Film Writers Association and was on the panel of judges for selecting films for International film festivals. He was also a member of PEN (Poets, Essayists, Novelists), situated in Great Britain, and his achievements have found him a place in Britain’s “Who’s Who” biography of famous people.
UPDATE: I have a few more photos from Suneel and Rajesh to share. Looks like everybody loved him!
I received more photos, including this one of Gaur Sahab with the Hollywood actor Kirk Douglas. Suneel tells me that Gaur was friends with both Kirk and actor Gregory Peck, whom he met on that same visit when Suraiya famously got to meet Peck too (he was her idol). He is also seen in these photographs with luminaries of the Indian political landscape!
And finally, another favorite for me: