Ramanand Sagar was one of the most popular filmmakers in Hindi cinema in the 1960s and 70s with some extremely successful films like Ghunghat (1960), Arzoo (1965), Ankhen (1968) and Geet (1970).
Sagar was born on December 29, 1917 at Asal Guru Ke near Lahore into one of the region's wealthiest families. He was adopted by his maternal grandmother, who changed his original name Chandramauli to Ramanand. He initially toyed with the names of Ramanand Chopra and Ramanand Bedi using them as pseudonyms before settling on Ramanand Sagar.
It is said he inherited his talent for writing from his father - Dinanath Chopra. He first published a piece of prose-poetry, Pritam Pratiksha, in 1933 when he was just 16 for the Srinagar-based Shri Pratap College magazine. The editor was impressed but was not convinced Ramanand had authored the work and so wrote as a footnote that 'the editor could not vouch for the originality of the article.' Sagar went on to work as a Journalist with the Daily Milap and Daily Pratap in the period from 1936 - 1942. He also obtained a degree in Sanskrit in 1942. The same year, he caught tuberculosis and fought for his life in a sanitarium. It was there that he wrote Diary of a TB Patient, which was serialised in Adab-e-Mashriq, a highly rated magazine in the 1940s. It caught the fancy of the literary world, including the writer Krishen Chander, and won him great acclaim. Other Prose stories he wrote included Jawar Bhata (1943), Aine (1944), Jab Pehe Roz Barf Giri (1944) and Mera Hamdam Mera Dost (1945).
Sagar moved to Bombay in 1947 on Partition. He later recorded the communical holocaust in his classic Hindi novel - Aur Insaan Mar Gaya (1948). The novel was translated into several Indian and foreign languages. The English version And Humanity Died was published in 1987-1988. Sagar also wrote the stage play Gaura part of which the great Prithviraj Kapoor staged at Prithvi Theatres as Kalakar (1951).
Meanwhile, Sagar had also worked in films earlier assisting HS Thakur in the silent film Raiders of the Railroad (1936). In 1940-41, he was signed as a leading man for the film Koel and as Abhimanyu in an unfinished film, Krishna, at Shalimar Studios, Pune. However, Sagar's breakthrough in Hindi films came with Raj Kapoor's seminal romance Barsaat (1949) wherein he scripted the film. The film with its theme of love vs lust and shot with beautiful use of light and shade also proved to be the breakthrough films for Kapoor the Director, Lyricists Hasrat Jaipuri and Shailendra, Singer Lata Mangeshkar, actress Nimmi and Music Directors Shankar-Jaikishen whose evergreen Musical Score (Jiya Bekaraar Hai, Chhod Gaye Balam, Barsaat Mein Humse Mile Tum Sajan, Patli Kamar Hai, Mujhe Kisise Pyaar Ho Gaya etc.) was responsible in a big way for the film's success.
In the 1950s Sagar made his directorial debut with the Nimmi - Premnath starrer Mehmaan (1953). He still continued writing for films in particular for SS Vasan - Insaniyat (1955) - the only film to co-star Dilip Kumar and Dev Anand together, Raj Tilak (1958) and Paigham (1959), winning the Filmfare Award for Best Dialogue. He also went on to direct Ghunghat (1960), Bina Rai's comeback film which won her the Filmfare Award for Best Actress and Zindagi (1964) for Vasan's Gemini Studios.
The 1960s and 1970s was Sagar's peak period as a successful Filmmaker. The hits piled up with Arzoo, Ankhen, Geet, Lalkaar (1972) and Charas (1976). The lone flop in this period was Jalte Badan (1973) made 'specially' for actress Kum Kum who also had strong supporting roles in Geet and Lalkar. Sagar's films were known for their star casts, spectacular locales and tuneful music. Perhaps of this lot, Arzoo was Sagar's best film as a filmmaker though the biggest success was the James Bond type starrer Ankhen.
Arzoo, a take on the Cary Grant - Deborah Kerr starrer An Affair to Remember (1957) but with a gender twist - Rajendra Kumar has the accident is the quissential 1960s romantic film co-starring Sadhana. Rarely has Kashmir been exploited so beautifully as a locale and Sadhana, largely attired in her trademark churidars, too has never looked better. Shankar-Jaikishen's memorable Musical Score for the films includes hits like Ae Phoolon ki Rani Baharon ki Mallika, Bedardi Balma, Ajee Roothkar Ab Kahan Jayiyega and Nargis-e-Mastana. The film remains Sadhana's most popular film to date.
However in the 1980s, the flop of films like Romance (1983) and Salma (1985) saw Sagar entering the then relatively new medium of Indian Television. His greatest achievement on Television has been the serial Ramayan (1986 - 88). The 91 episode serial was a major success with a peak Sunday morning viewership of 78%!
In 1996, Sagar was honoured with the title Sahitya Vachaspati (Doctor of Literature) by the Hindi Sahitya Sammelan in Allahabad while the Indian Government conferred the title of Padma Shri on him in 2001.
Ramanand Sagar passed away in Mumbai on December 12th, 2005. He was 87 and had been unwell for some time. He is survived by his wife, five sons and a daughter.