Balraj Sahni

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Balraj Sahni
Balraj Sahni in Lajwanti.jpg Balraj Sahni in Lajwanti.jpg
Balraj Sahni in Lajwanti (1958)
BornYudhishthir Sahni
(1913-05-01)1 May 1913
Rawalpindi, Punjab, British India (present-day Punjab, Pakistan)
💀Died13 April 1973(1973-04-13) (aged 59)
Bombay, Maharashtra, India (present-day Mumbai)13 April 1973(1973-04-13) (aged 59)
💼 Occupation
Actor, writer
📆 Years active  1946–1973 (his death)
🏛️ Political partyCommunist Party of India (1943–1973)[1]
👩 Spouse(s)Damayanti Sahni (1936–1947; her death)
Santosh Chandhok (1949–1973; his death)
👶 Children3, including Parikshit Sahni

Balraj Sahni (1 May 1913 – 13 April 1973), born Yudhishthir Sahni, was an Indian film and stage actor, who is best known for Dharti Ke Lal (1946), Do Bigha Zameen (1953), Chhoti Bahen (1959), Kabuliwala (1961) and Garam Hawa (1973).

He came from Rawalpindi, now in Punjab, Pakistan and was the brother of Bhisham Sahni, noted Hindi writer, playwright, and actor.[1]

Early life[edit]

Balraj Sahni with his wife Damayanti, 1936.

Sahni was born on 1 May 1913 in Rawalpindi, Punjab, British India.[2] He studied at Government College University (Lahore), Punjab, British India. After completing his master's degree in English Literature from Lahore, he went back to Rawalpindi and joined his family business. He also held a Bachelor's degree in Hindi.[3] Soon after, he married Damayanti Sahni.

In the late 1930s, Sahni and his wife left Rawalpindi to join Tagore's Visva-Bharati University in Shantiniketan in Bengal as an English and Hindi teacher. It is here that their son, Parikshit Sahni was born, when his wife Damayanti was earning her bachelor's degree.[4] He also collaborated with Mahatma Gandhi for a year in 1938. The next year, Sahni, with Gandhi's blessings, went to England to join the BBC-London's Hindi service as a radio announcer. He returned to India in 1943.


Sahni was always interested in acting, and started his acting career with the plays of the Indian People's Theatre Association (IPTA).[3] Incidentally, his wife Damayanti became well known as an IPTA actress much before Sahni made a name for himself in films.[5] He started his film career in Bombay with the film Insaaf (1946), followed by Dharti Ke Lal directed by KA Abbas in 1946, Damayanti's first film, Door Chalein in 1946, and other films. But it was in 1953, with Bimal Roy's classic Do Bigha Zamin, that his true strength as an actor was first recognised. The film won the international prize at the Cannes Film Festival.

He followed it up with an encore in the 1961 classic Kabuliwala penned by Tagore.

Sahni's wife Damayanti, who was the heroine of his 1947 film Gudia, died at a young age that same year. Two years later, he married his first cousin, Santosh Chandhok, later known as an author and television writer.

He acted opposite heroines such as Padmini, Nutan, Meena Kumari, Vyjayanthimala and Nargis in films such as Bindya, Seema (1955), Sone Ki Chidiya (1958), Sutta Bazaar (1959), Bhabhi Ki Chudiyaan (1961), Kathputli (1957), Lajwanti (1958) and Ghar Sansaar (1958). His character roles in films such as Neelkamal, Ghar Ghar Ki Kahani, Do Raaste and Ek Phool Do Mali were well received. However, he is perhaps best remembered by the current generation for his picturisation of the legendary song "Ae Meri Zohra Jabeen" from the movie Waqt (1965). Sahni appeared opposite Achala Sachdev in the number.

He also starred in the classic Punjabi film Nanak Dukhiya Sub Sansar (1970) as well as the critically acclaimed Satluj De Kande.

His role as the angst-ridden, but stoic Muslim man who refuses to go to Pakistan during partition, in his last film Garam Hawa, has often been called his best performance by critics. Balraj, however, could not see the completed film to rate his own performance, as he died the day after he finished dubbing work. The last line he recorded for the film, and hence his last recorded line is Hindustani: "Insaan Kab Tak Akela Jee Sakta Hai?" which can be translated to English as: "How long can a man live alone?"

Later life[edit]

Sahni was a gifted writer; his early writings were in English, though later in life he switched to Punjabi, and became a writer of repute in Punjabi literature.[6] In 1960, after a visit to Pakistan, he wrote Mera Pakistani Safarnama. His book Mera Rusi Safarnama, which he had written after a tour of the erstwhile Soviet Union in 1969, earned him the "Soviet Land Nehru Award". He contributed many poems and short stories in magazines and also penned his autobiography; Meri Filmi Aatmakatha. Sahni was an extremely well-read and politically conscious person.

He and P K Vasudevan Nair worked on the idea of All India Youth Federation with firebrand Delhi communist, Comrade Guru Radha Kishan to organise the first national conference of AIYF in Delhi. Their wholehearted efforts were visible as more than 250 delegates and observers representing several youth organisations of various states of India attended this session. Balraj Sahni was elected as the first president of All India Youth Federation, the youth wing of Communist Party of India. The organisation was a huge success and strong presence of the organisation was noticed by other political groups and the senior communist leaders everywhere.

Sahni also dabbled in screenwriting; he wrote the 1951 movie Baazi which starred Dev Anand and was directed by Guru Dutt. He was also a recipient of the Padma Shri Award (1969). Balraj Sahni also wrote in Punjabi and contributed to the Punjabi magazine Preetlari.

In the 1950s he inaugurated the Library and Study Centre for the underprivileged in Delhi.

Sahni was undoubtedly one of the greatest actors to ever grace the Indian screen, a highly natural actor who reminded the audience of actors like Motilal because of his simple persona and a sophisticated style of acting. He was looked up to as a role model as he was never involved in any scandal. His acting in Do Bigha Zameen and Garam Hawa were the highlights of his career. He believed in what is known as Neo-Realistic cinema.

Balraj's brother Bhisham Sahni was a well-known writer who wrote the book Tamas. His son Parikshit Sahni is also an actor. Balraj Sahni died on 13 April 1973 of a massive cardiac arrest, less than a month before his 60th birthday. He had been depressed for some time by the untimely death of his young daughter, Shabnam.

"Punjabi Kala Kender", founded in 1973 at Bombay by Balraj Sahni, gives away the annual Balraj Sahni Award,[7] and also the "All India Artists Association".[8]


Sahni on a 2013 stamp of India
Year Film Role
1946 Door Chalen
Dharti Ke Lal
1947 Gudia
1951 Maaldar
Hum Log Raj
Hulchul The Jailer
1952 Badnam
1953 Do Bigha Zamin Shambhu Maheto
Chalis Baba Ek Chor
Rahi Doctor
1954 Aulad
Bazooband Surajmal
1955 Tangewali
Seema Ashok "Babuji"
Garam Coat Girdharilal "Girdhari"
Taksaal Jatin Mukherjee
1957 Pardesi
Mai Baap Chandan
Lal Batti
Kath Putli Loknath
Bhabhi Ratan
Do Roti Shyam / Masterji
1958 Sone Ki Chidiya Shrikant
Lajwanti Nirmal Kumar
Khazanchi Radhe Mohan
Ghar Sansar Kailash
Ghar Grihasti
1959 Satta Bazaar Ramesh
Heera Moti
Chhoti Bahen Rajendra
Black Cat Agent Rajan
Chand Mr. Kapoor
1960 Dil Bhi Tera Hum Bhi Tere Panchu Dada
Bindya Devraj
Anuradha Dr. Nirmal Chaudhary
1961 Suhag Sindoor Ramu
Sapne Suhane
Bhabhi Ki Chudiyan Shyam
Kabuliwala Abdul Rehman Khan
1962 Shaadi Ratan
Anpadh Choudhary Shambhunath
1964 Punar Milan Dr. Mohan / Ram
Haqeeqat Major Ranjit Singh
1965 Dak Ghar Andhe Baba
Waqt Lala Kedarnath
Faraar Detective Officer
1966 Pinjre Ke Panchhi Yaseen Khan
Neend Hamari Khwab Tumhare Khan Bahadur
Aasra Surendranath Kumar
Aaye Din Bahar Ke Shukla
1967 Naunihaal Principal
Ghar Ka Chirag
Aman Gautamdas' dad
Hamraaz Police Inspector Ashok
1968 Sunghursh Ganeshi Prasad
Neel Kamal Mr. Raichand
Izzat Thakur Pratap Singh
Duniya Public Prosecutor Ramnath Sharma
1969 Talash Ranjit Rai
Nanha Farishta Dr. Ramnath
Ek Phool Do Mali Kailashnath Kaushal
Do Raaste Navendu Gupta
1970 Pehchan Ex-Firefighter
Pavitra Paapi Pannalal
Naya Raasta Bansi
Nanak Dukhiya Sab Sansar
Mere Humsafar Ashok
Holi Ayee Re Thakur Mangal Singh
Ghar Ghar Ki Kahani Shankarnath
Dharti Inspector General Chandrashekhar (Bharat's Father)
1971 Paraya Dhan Govindram
Jawan Mohabbat Dr. Sareen
1972 Shayar-e-Kashmir Mahjoor Ghulam Ahmed Mahjoor
Jawani Diwani Ravi Anand
Jangal Mein Mangal Thomas
1973 Pyaar Ka Rishta
Daman Aur Aag
Hindustan Ki Kasam
Hanste Zakhm S.P. Dinanath Mahendru
Garam Hawa Salim Mirza
1977 Amaanat Suresh


  • Balraj Sahni: An Autobiography, by Balraj Sahni. Published by Hind Pocket Books, 1979.
  • Mera Pakistani Safarnama (Punjabi),
  • Mera Russi Safarnama (Punjabi).
  • Kamey (Labourers) (Punjabi)
  • Ek Safar Ek Daastaan (Punjabi)
  • Gair Jazbaati Diary (Punjabi)


  1. 1.0 1.1 "Why we should remember Balraj Sahni". The Tribune India. 10 December 2016. Archived from the original on 11 January 2019. Unknown parameter |url-status= ignored (help)
  2. Singh, Paramjit (24 April 2010). "Born to act". The Tribune (Chandigarh). Archived from the original on 18 January 2017. Retrieved 18 January 2017. Unknown parameter |url-status= ignored (help)
  3. 3.0 3.1 Stumbling into films by chance Archived 6 March 2018 at the Wayback Machine The Tribune, 2 September 2001.
  4. Parikshit Sahni turns producer Archived 8 July 2012 at Mid Day, 4 May 2006."..My dad came from a literary background and taught English Literature at Shantiniketan. My mom who was doing her Bachelor's degree there, was expecting me then, and was about to give her exams. Tagore told her that I should be called Parikshit as she was giving pariksha, while I was still in her womb.
  5. "BALRAJ SAHNI : The Gentleman Actor by S. S. JOHAR". Archived from the original on 16 December 2017. Retrieved 11 September 2016. Unknown parameter |url-status= ignored (help)
  6. In Jhang Manghiane, an article by Balraj Sahni Modern Indian Literature an Anthology: Plays and Prose, by K. M. George, Sahitya Akademi. Published by Sahitya Akademi, 1992. ISBN 81-7201-783-9 Search this book on Logo.png..Page 605.
  7. Balraj Sahni awards announced Archived 1 March 2009 at the Wayback Machine Indian Express, 25 November 2003.
  8. Prem Chopra, Bollywood's good old bad man talks about his nomination for the prestigious Balraj Sahni Award Archived 22 October 2012 at the Wayback Machine The Times of India, 10 July 2006.

Further reading[edit]

  • Balraj Sahni: An Intimate Portrait, by Puran Chandra Joshi. Published by Vikas Pub. House, 1974.
  • Balraj, my brother (National biography series), by Bhishma Sahni. National Book Trust, India, 1981.
  • The Non-Conformist – Memories of my father Balraj Sahni, by Parikshat Sahni, 2019

External links[edit]

  • Balraj Sahni on IMDb
  • [1] Balraj Sahni's Convocation Address at Jawaharlal Nehru University in 1972