Saba: Gulzar saab, let us begin with the beginning...

Gulzar: Yes. There is one thing that we should put on record – and that is – How did Aandhi get going? There is a little misconception about the whole thing in spite of the fact that it has been cleared in Kamleshwarji’s lifetime itself. Kamleshwarji and I were friends… So, one day he asked if I was willing to direct, and in which case, he had a story. A producer from the south wanted to do it. I told him that it would be my privilege to direct his story, and decided to work out the screenplay. He soon arranged a meeting with one Mallik Arjun Rao whom we used to call Malli sahib. He was the producer.

Only if he liked the movie’s story, only then it was to be produced – this was Malli sahib’s only requisite, and not a big hurdle. But it turns out that he didn’t like the story which Kamleshwarji narrated to him, even though it was a very beautiful story. Set in a hotel, it depicted a cross-section of the society…

So Bhushan had an idea, just an idea which was, I think inspired from a novel by A.J. Cronin. That idea clicked. He immediately said that it was the kind of subject he was looking for, and it was the story we could do. There was a bit of embarrassment, but Bhushan was a very devoted friend. He said that the story had to be developed and that they could develop the story into a film together, and we decided to do it.

At the time, I was writing Aandhi and I intended to go to Mahabalipuram and complete my script. All of us went off to Mahabalipuram, but we ended up developing a story which was eventually released as Mausam. We agreed that we would first develop that story, and that I would continue working on Aandhi on my own.

I would write Aandhi during the day, and it became the topic of discussion during the evening. We felt as if both stories had begun to sort of intermingle and we asked Kamleshwarji to write a novel on both the stories. I was writing the screenplay. It was then called Aagami Ateet. I was the one to propose this kind of a title and he wrote a novel on both the stories.

So, I finished my script and went away to Calcutta and soon the script was approved by the producer J. Om Prakash, Suchitraji and eventually everything was finalized.

Saba: Apparently there was this confusion that the story was written by Kamleshwarji but the script was written by you…

Gulzar: I told Kamleshwarji, ‘It is up to you. I’ll give you the title credit on the story. Go ahead and publish the novels based on your story.’ Eventually, a time came when even the shooting of the film was about to be wrapped up. He finished writing it in a hurry and named his novel Kali Aandhi because the name Aandhi we had already taken for the film, so he wanted to establish the connection between the two. I even have a copy of the book which says, ‘Your story dedicated to you.’

So this is how things were. Film is a medium in which changes happen all the time, sequences are changed … it happens a lot. So Kamleshwarji had once even complained to Bhushan: ‘Bhai says one thing and makes something else!’ He would call me ‘bhai’ and I would call him ‘bhai sahib’, that is all. And then in a hurry he wrote Aagami Ateet also. I told him that Aagami Ateet was entirely his and he could do as he pleased, but I won’t depend on that at all. So, that’s how I wrote both the scripts on my own and based on those he wrote his novels.

But there should be no misunderstanding here – this was a mutual arrangement, and it happens among writers. Say, I write a poem and he writes a story on it, or he writes a story on which I write a poem. It’s all in good faith. It is only the outside world that could interpret this as something disgraceful.

Kamleshwarji wanted me to continue working along with him apart from doing only Malli sahib’s story Mausam. ‘Let’s do it for Aandhi also,’ he told me. So I told J. Om Prakash that we’ll be working together.

So, this is how Aandhi happened and at the time it was not Indira Gandhi’s life story. But even today, there is no one like her, so she was the best persona to keep in mind. Accordingly, that was the reference one could offer to any actor – the way she used to walk, the way she used to descend a flight of stairs, the way she would come out of a helicopter. We used her traits in good taste – not because the character was based on her or her life. But then things happened – the opposition parties remarked that Aarti Devi’s character is shown to consume alcohol, and some decided to connect the two unrelated personalities. Further, seeing the advertisements and posters for the film, more trouble ensued. But for me, she was only a reference for personality traits and mannerisms. I think Kamleshwarji only took the name of Tarkeshwari Sinha to escape from a situation.

Suchitra Sen in Aandhi. Courtesy Filmyug.
Suchitra Sen in Aandhi. Courtesy Filmyug.

Saba: I read about the changes that were made later to the film. Tell us about the two scenes which were added.

Gulzar: Yes, after the Emergency.

Saba: One of the scenes was where the dialogue, ‘She is a role model’ had to be inserted...

Gulzar: They made us add that bit. They insisted. By then the movie was running in its twenty-third or twenty-fourth week.

Saba: By then everybody had already seen it.

Gulzar: And we got to know about this in Moscow. It was screened in the Moscow Film Festival. We got to know that the screening was going to be cancelled since the film had been banned in India. Sanjeev [Kumar] was also there with me. After we got back, J. Om Prakashji tried very hard to have the ban lifted. We were already in the twenty-fourth week, so we decided to modify two scenes.

Excerpted with permission from Gulzar’s Aandhi Insights Into the Film, Saba Mahmood Bashir, HarperCollins India.