Rahi Masoom Raza had initially declined B R Chopra's request to write for his TV adaptation of "Mahabharat" citing time constraints. But, when piqued by some self-styled protectors of Hindu faith, the Urdu poet not only came on board the mega TV project but also penned dialogues that are now considered masterclass. The anecdote finds mention in Poonam Saxena's English translation of "Scene 75", a novel in Hindustani language by Raza which was first published in 1977. In her notes in the book, Saxena quotes a memoir by Kunwarpal Singh, the legendary poet and screenwriter's close friend and colleague at the Aligarh Muslim University, to narrate the tale. "When filmmaker B R Chopra requested Rahi sahib to write the dialogues, he declined, saying he didn't have the time. But B R Chopra went ahead and announced Rahi sahib's name at a press conference anyway. "In no time letters of opposition from self-styled protectors of the Hindu faith arrived: Were all Hindus dead that Chopra had to give this task to a Muslim?" it says. "Chopra promptly forwarded the letters to Rahi sahib. Ever the champion of India's syncretic culture, Rahi sahib called Chopra the next day and said, 'Chopra sahib! I will write the 'Mahabharat'.
I am a son of the Ganga. Who knows the civilisation and culture of India better than I do?" according to the book. In an interview to India Today magazine in 1990 when Raza was asked about the opposition from Hindu fundamentalists groups, he answered: "I'm hurt and amazed at the furore created about a Muslim writing the script. Am I not an Indian?" These words came from the heart of Rahi sahib, who always identified himself as a "Ganga-Putra", a "Ganga Kinarewala", Saxena recalls in her notes in "Scene 75", published by Harper Perennial, an imprint of HarperCollins. Born in 1927 in Ghazipur in eastern Uttar Pradesh on the banks of the Ganga, Raza, best known for his novels "Aadha Gaon", "Dil Ek Saada Kaghaz" and "Topi Shukla", studied at Aligarh Muslim University. In 1967, he moved to Bombay, as Mumbai was then known, to try his luck in Hindi films and worked there until his death in 1992. During his work in Hindi films, he wrote script and dialogues for over 300 films including hits such as "Mili" (1975), "Main Tulsi Tere Aangan Ki" (1978), "Golmal" (1979), "Karz" (1980), "Lamhe" (1991) and many others. "Scene 75" is short novel set in the Bombay of 1970s. A kaleidoscope of stories within stories, it traverses the life of a young writer, who is trying to cut his teeth on the glamorous world of Hindi films, his three friends and their struggles in the city.
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