Ye duniya jahan aadmi kuch nahi hai… ye duniya agar mil bhi jaaye toh kya hai, wrote Sahir Ludhianvi in Guru Dutt and Waheeda Rehman-starrer, Pyaasa, the story of a talented writer whose realistic imagery of the world around him is not valued by those living in it. Ludhianvi was inspired by what he saw around him and his own life experiences, which led him to pen a stark and stirring comment on the society. One day, Vijay, Dutt’s character in the film, is seen rummaging through a scrap dealer’s shop, looking for his nazms. His diary of poetry had been sold here. In a twist of fate, Ludhianvi’s writings — nazms, letters, photographs — were recently found at a junk shop amid a dump of magazines and newspapers in Mumbai’s Juhu.
They have now been bought by Film Heritage Foundation, a non-profit organisation headed by filmmaker Shivendra Singh Dungarpur. “The owner of the shop contacted me and said that some papers with handwritten Urdu have been found. It turned out to be Sahir’s poetry,” says Dungarpur, whose team has already begun to restore the treasure trove of Ludhianvi’s handwritten letters, diaries, nazms, and black and white photographs, among others. There are letters addressed to Ludhianvi from composer Ravi and his friend Harbans. Dungarpur has now approached veteran poet, director and Ludhianvi’s neighbour once, Gulzar, for the translation of these writings, most of which are in Urdu. “I don’t think anyone but Gulzar sahab can understand the essence of Sahir’s writings exactly as intended,” he says.
“Over a period of time, we have been discovering a lot of material that has been thrown away,” says Dungarpur, who, through a scrap dealer had also found a slew of notes and photographs of yesteryear actor Sadhana in a junk shop. It even had the story of the famed ‘Sadhana cut’. “It was so heartbreaking,” says Dungarpur, who adds that it’s also tragic the way he found Sahir’s material.
He rues the problems he is facing in terms of finances as conservation is an expensive process. “Our entire fight has been that we have been asking the government to give us recognition. We are housing so much and there is now a lack of space. There are a few donations here and there apart from my personal money. But we are struggling,” says Dungarpur, who adds how he is also training archivists through workshops. He says the reason people don’t value archiving in our country is because “it is not considered an art”.
“The film industry does not believe in preserving its own heritage,” says Dungarpur, who managed to archive rare photos of Raj Kapoor’s family apart from the only surviving camera negative of Guru Dutt’s film Bharosa that had been sold off to a scrap dealer. He is now working on restoring Smita Patil-starrer Mandi, the prints of which are badly damaged. Then there is Zooni, Muzaffar Ali’s incomplete film starring Dimple Kapadia, revolving around 16th-century Kashmiri poet Habba Khatoon.