, Rawalpindi, British India
Balraj Sahni was a famous Hindi film actor. His real name was Yudhishthir Sahni. He belonged to a Punjabi Khatri family from Bhera now in Punjab, Pakistan. He was the brother of Bhisham Sahni, a noted Hindi writer, playwright, and actor.Sahni went from his native Rawalpindi to study at Lahore. He completed his Masters degree in English Literature from Lahore and then went back to Rawalpindi and joined his family business. He also held a Bachelor's degree in Hindi, followed by a Masters in English from Punjab University. 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 doing her Bachelors degree. He also went to work 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.
Balraj Sahni with his wife Damayanti, 1936.
Sahni was always interested in acting, and started his acting career with the plays of the Indian People's Theatre Association (IPTA). He started his film career in Mumbai with the film 'Insaaf (1946)', followed by 'Dharti Ke Lal directed by KA Abbas in 1946, 'Door Chalein' in 1946, and other films. But it was in 1953, with Bimal Roy's classic 'Do Bigha Zameen', that his true forte 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 died at a young age in 1947, who was the heroine of his film, 'Gudiya' (1947) and two years later he married his first cousin, Santosh Chandhok, later known as an author and television writer.
His performance as the angst ridden but stoical Muslim man who refuses to go to Pakistan during partition in his last film 'Garm Hava' has often been called his best performance by critics. Balraj however could not see the completed film himself to rate his own performance, as he died just the next day after he finished dubbing for 'Garm Hava'. The last lines he recorded for the film, and hence his last recorded lines are, Hindi:- "INSAAN KAB TAK AKELE JEE SAKTA HAI?" which can be translated in English as:- "How long can a man live alone?"
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.
Sahni was undoubtedly one of the greatest actors ever to come on the Indian screen: 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.
Balraj Sahni died on 13 April 1973, of a massive cardiac arrest at the age of 59. He had been depressed for some time by the untimely death of his young daughter, Shabnam.