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Siraj Syed

Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. He is also an acting and dialogue coach. 



Indian film-writer, lyricist, Akhtar Romani no more

Indian film-writer, lyricist, Akhtar Romani no more

A rare film-writer and lyricist from the Dawoodi Bohra community, Akhtar Romani (nom de plume) passed away today in Mumbai, his home for almost all his life. He was in his early eighties. His contemporaries at the Saint Xavier’s College, Bombay, included Vijay Anand (who was to direct classic films like Guide, Jewel Thief and Johnny Mera Naam), Mahendra Kapoor (one of India’s best known playback song singers) and Ameen Sayani (radio and stage legend). All three had a keen interest in drama, and took part in college plays. Romani also represented his college in the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan Inter-Collegiate Drama Competition. Romani had a flair for Urdu language and poetry, and started writing film songs in the mid 1950s, soon after college. He later turned to writing dialogue and the occasional screenplay. Never prolific, he enjoyed some success, both as lyricist and writer.

When college mate Ameen Sayani became a household name as the writer and voice of Binaca Geetmala (film song popularity weekly countdown show that began in 1952), and started producing radio advertising campaigns for Radio Ceylon, to promote Hindi films, Romani joined him as writer. The duo worked together for nearly 15 years. Hatim Tai, which had a runaway hit song by Romani, was Sayani’s first assignment in film publicity production. In the late 60s, Romani moved-on to write dialogue for major films like Do Raaste, but continued with radio as an independent freelance producer, for a few years. Later, he gave up radio totally, to concentrate on film scripts. Sayani, flooded with assignments after Vividh Bharati too started a full-fledged commercial service in 1970, in the footsteps of Radio Ceylon, retained a whole team of writers, of which Riaz Syed (died 2007) rose to be designated as his Chief Copywriter, a position he retained till the end.

Akhtar Romani was a rotund figure, with a large face, and chuckled good humouredly in his booming baritone when he learnt that the Nizam of Hyderabad was greatly moved by his devotional song in Hatim Tai. “I wish he had given me some reward too,” he reacted. Among film-makers, he worked in more than one film with the Raj Khosla (Mera Gaon Mera Desh, Kuchche Dhaage, Kabeela) and Shakti Samanta (Mehbooba, Ajanabee) camps. Kalyanji-Anandji were the music directors who used his song-writing skills the most. He was one of the lyric-writers in Dil Bhi Tera Hum Bhi Tere (1960, music Kalyanji-Anandji, the second film of Dharmendra) and Raaz (Rajesh Khanna’s debut film). Haseena Maan Jayegi, directed by Prakash Mehra, featured the two biggest hit songs of Romani’s career.

Ghazal is the most appealing form of Urdu poetry, and Akhtar Romani contributed some memorable poems to this genre, sung by various exponents. Among them is the title track of female vocalist Lalit Gurwara's album, Mein Ghazal Hoon (I am Ghazal), music composed by Anup Jalota, and released in 198,6 on the Music India (now Universal Music) label, in 1986.

Notable songs as lyricist

· ‘Parvardigaar-e-aalam' (Hatim Tai, 1956, music S.N. Tripathi, Mohammed Rafi, picturised on P. Jairaj)

At the screening of the film in Hyderabad, the then Nizam of the erstwhile state, liked it so much that he had the song repeatedly shown eleven times.

· ‘Dil ko lagaake bhool se’ (Doctor Z, 1959, Talat Mahmood-Geeta Dutt, music Manohar, starring Mahipal and Nirupa Roy)

· ‘Jitnee dil kee baat/Oye mar gayee’ (Johar Mehmood in Goa, 1965, music Kalyanji-Anandji, Shamshad Begum-Kamal Barot, Simi, with I.S. Johar and Mahmood in drag)

· ‘Yeh too ne kya kahaa’ (Insaaf, 1966, music Usha Khanna, Mukesh-Asha Bhosle, picturised on Azad and Parveen Chowdhary).

[I had the opportunity to attend the recording of this song, my first experience at such an event. All of 14 then, I can never forget the tingling of my spine on seeing Mukesh and Asha Bhosle in the recording booth, rendering AkhtarSaahab’s lines. The song, too, would have been much more popular had it been included in a bigger scale film].

‘Sochta hoon ke’ (Raaz, 1967, music Kalyanji-Anandji, Mohammed Rafi-Krishna Kalle, picturised on Rajesh Khanna and Babita, Khanna’s first film)

· ‘Zulfon ka rangeen saayaa’ (Anjaam, 1968, music Ganesh, Mukesh, picturised on Feroz Khan and Shahida)

· ‘Chaley they saath milke’ (Haseena Maan Jayegi, 1968, music Kalyanji-Anandji, Mohammed Rafi, picturised on Shashi Kapoor and Babita)

· ‘Beqhudee men sanam’ (Haseena Maan Jayegi, 1968, music Kalyanji-Anandji, Lata Mangeshkar-Mohammed Rafi, picturised on Shashi Kapoor and Babita)

· ‘Maen qayaamat hoon’ (Suhaag Raat, 1968, Kalyanji-Anandji, Lata and Asha, picturised on Madhumati and Laxmi Chhaya)

Notable films, as screenplay/dialogue writer

§  Do Raaste (1969)

§  Mera Gaon Mera Desh (1971)

§  Kuchche Dhaage (1973)

§  Ajanabee (1974)

§  Kabeela (1976)

§  Mehbooba (1976)

§  Chunaoti (1980)

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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.

Bandra West, Mumbai


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