Kidar Sharma, the dream merchant from Amritsar

BySurinderjit Singh Sandhu
May 19, 2023 12:45 AM IST

Filmmaker Kidar Sharma was a hunter of novel ideas and new talent. He gave a break to Raj Kapoor, Madhubala, Geeta Bali (originally Harikirtan Kaur of Amritsar), Rajendra Kumar, Mala Sinha, Bharat Bhushan, and Tanuja besides music directors Roshan and Snehal Bhatkar

As student of PBN School in Amritsar, our headmaster Pandit Pran Nath would sometimes mention the name of famous alumnus Kidar Sharma in the morning assembly. The greatness of this legendary filmmaker dawned upon me only when I watched his films, Jogan, Chitralekha, Bawre Nain, and Geeta Bali’s first film, Suhag Raat.

Filmmaker Kidar Sharma (Sourced)
Filmmaker Kidar Sharma (Sourced)

Sharma, now a forgotten son of Punjab, was a multi-faceted genius, an accomplished photographer, actor, producer, director, editor, screenplay writer, dialogue writer, sound recordist, painter and lyricist.

Of humble origins, he was born on April 12, 1910, and studied at PBN School, Hindu Sabha College and did his post-graduation in English literature from Khalsa College, Amritsar. At Hindu Sabha College, he founded the dramatics club, which was his first step towards reaching the pinnacle of glory in the golden era of Hindi cinema.

The family’s economic hardships made a young Kidar do the work of a bookbinder at his school to pay the fee. He was barely 15 when he sold his painting of Lord Rama in the Namak Mandi area, away from his school and house, to arrange money for the family to celebrate Diwali. At 18, he wrote and directed a 16mm short film on the evils of alcohol. The film was shot on the terrace of Temperance Hall, Amritsar, and won applause when screened.

In the early 1930s, Kidar Sharma was impressed by the film, Pooran Bhagat, made by Devaki Bose. He had once admitted that this film had a lasting impact on him. He went to Calcutta, stayed with his friend Thakur Singh, an artist from Amritsar, for some time and joined New Theatres as a painter.

When PC Barua made Devdas in 1935, he made Kidar Sharma write the lyrics and dialogues for the film. Another great, Bimal Roy, was the photographer of this film.

Devdas won him fame and a lifelong friend in KL Saigal. Prithviraj Kapoor and Durga Khote also befriended him in Calcutta. His film, Chitralekha, made in 1941 and remade in 1964, was a classic example of finer sensibilities. Jogan made in 1950, starring Nargis and Dilip Kumar, was a blockbuster and 1.25 crore tickets of the film were sold. Its bhajans, Jogi matt ja, mein to Girdhar ke ghar jaun, and Ghunghat ke patt khol, rendered by Geeta Dutt (nee Roy) still reverberate in our memory. Nargis had said, “I touched my best in the movie Mother India, yet I think I gave my best-ever performance in Jogan.”

His films Aulad, Suhag Raat, Gauri, Bawre Nain, Hamari Yaad Aayegi, and Rangeen Ratein delved deep into India’s cultural ethos. He made art films with a difference and was a hunter of novel ideas and new talent. It was he who gave a break to Raj Kapoor, Madhubala, Geeta Bali (originally Harikirtan Kaur of Amritsar), Rajendra Kumar, Mala Sinha, Bharat Bhushan, and Tanuja besides music directors Roshan and Snehal Bhatkar.

Prithviraj Kapoor was correct in his judgement when he entrusted his son Raj Kapoor to Kidar Sharma as his assistant director. As a clapper boy, Raj mischievously clapped around the artificial beard of an actor and dragged it away. It amused others, but infuriated Kidar Sharma, who gave him a tight slap. Everyone on the set was surprised as he had slapped Prithviraj Kapoor’s son.

Raj Kapoor acknowledged candidly that Kidar Sharma was “a one-man institution who taught me all I know about film-making.”

His greatness as filmmaker is matchless. He had said, “I am, and shall be a dream merchant.”

He died on April 29, 1999. People have forgotten this genius. He was aware of such a scenario and had written in his anecdotal autobiography, One and Lonely Kidar Sharma, “I would rather have men ask, after I am dead, why I have no monument than why I have one.”

He deserved the Dadasaheb Phalke Award, the highest award in cinema. He did not get it. But he was above all such recognitions. It was only he who ignited the flame of love and passion for the new art form, cinema, that later produced legends from Amritsar, such as Rajesh Khanna, Jeetendra, Vinod Mehra, Raj Babbar, Akshay Kumar, Ajay Devgan and Deepti Naval.

The writer is an Amritsar-based freelance contributor

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