The Golden Pen: Following the Footsteps of a Bollywood Scriptwriter to premiere at Toronto's ReelWorld Film Festival

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The Golden Pen documents the amazing journey of an early Bollywood scriptwriter, Aghajani Kashmeri, who ran away from his hometown of Lucknow to become a hero in a 1930's movie and ended up becoming a celebrated scriptwriter, who wrote about 50 flicks. His personal scenario then took him to his son Zuhair in Toronto, where he was a fish out of water, unrecognized, unappreciated and trapped. The Golden Pen, written and narrated by his son, tracks him from his grave in Toronto to Lucknow, Bombay and then back to Canada, picking up footage from his films, interviews with old actors against a backdrop of stunning historical architecture and street scenes.

The Golden Pen – Following the footsteps of a Bollywood scriptwriter has been selected to premiere at the 12th annual ReelWorld Film Festival in Toronto on April 13 at the Famous Players Canada Square Cinema.

The ReelWorld festival is well known for presenting an alternative face in the films it chooses from and about the developing world. "This quite an honour for any documentary and as a first time producer, writer, researcher and narrator of a documentary, I am ecstatic," said Zuhair (Kash) Kashmeri, the son of the writer featured in the film. (Please visit their website at to read more about the line-up for this year's festival and other details about the festival philosophy.)

The 47-minute documentary is part comedy, part tragedy, part travelogue and a commentary of a Bollywood during and after the British Raj, sought out originality in film. It is a fast-paced slice of life based in early Bollywood, following the footsteps of one of Bollywood’s most prolific writers, who penned about 50 movies. His movies included legendary stars such as Raj Kapoor, Sunil Dutt, Shammi Kapoor, Sharmila Tagore, Saira Banu, Nargis, Ashok Kumar, Noor Jehan, Suraiya, Sadhna and others, writing for directors such as Mehboob Khan, Himansu Rai of Bombay Talkies, S. Mukherjee, R.K. Nayyar and others.

The Indian film industry (Bollywood) in the early 20th Century was already the third largest movie industry in the world. Early Bollywood fired the imagination of thousands of young men and women, many of whom had to run away from home (Bollywood in those days was not a reputable profession) chasing fame and fortune. Among them was a young man in the then literary capital of India, Lucknow, who grew up among top poets and writers and neighborhood poetry sessions. He was a star soccer player who was spotted by a producer and director after a game. He was offered the role of a hero in the film, Shan-e-Subhan, being shot in Rangoon, Burma. The movie flopped and the rest is history as documented in this film.

Shot on the streets of Toronto, Lucknow and Mumbai, The Golden Pen retraces the footsteps of the singularly fascinating life of Aghajani Kashmeri. We learn about the Urdu poets and stories that shaped his art and his love of the Urdu language – the language of Bollywood. However, most importantly, we meet the men and women who knew, loved and respected this man of letters both in the old country and in Canada.

Aghajani Kashmeri’s life unfolds through the stories told by his descendants and a historian in Lucknow. In Mumbai, the heart of Bollywood, the film picks up film footage from his films, interviews Bollywood actors such as the late Shammi Kapoor and Joy Mukherjee, and the veteran sweetheart of early Bollywood, Nimmi. Others such as Amin Sayani of the radio show that could make or break movies, Binaca Geet Mala or hit parade, reminisce about a man who entertained six generations of Indians, and was a celebrity who lost most of his wealth on the racetrack.

Their memories are embellished with lively footage from his films. We also meet a Mumbai journalist and Bollywood historian Rafique Badhdadi, who did the last interview with Aghajani Kashmeri before he left for Canada. It was titled, “Man with the Golden Pen.” The movie ends where it began, at Aghajani’s grave, after using footage and interviews about his final years in Canada, a fish out of water, unrecognized and trapped.

The Golden Pen combines three very Canadian themes into one story conceived and narrated by his son Zuhair: a Canadian’s search for his roots in a far off land, India; the story of a another Canadian who is famous, even revered by millions of people but who was all but anonymous on the streets where he chose to spend the final years of his life. Finally, it is the story of the times and places that shaped Bollywood – as we know it today.

Here is a short statement from Zuhair Kashmeri, who put this documentary together with a highly experienced and skilled team, which explains how and why this project was begun:

“The Golden Pen started with a promise – a promise made by a son, myself, to my father, a legendary Bollywood scriptwriter, Aghajani Kashmeri, who wrote about 50 movies and was revered by tens of millions of Indian moviegoers. In early 1998, a few months before my father passed away at a Toronto nursing home, he looked at me one day and said, "Do something with my life story, it is so unusual. Neither you nor your children will ever experience anything like it." With a straight face I replied that I would, perhaps in a film and in a translation of his autobiography, Sahar Hone Tak, published in India in Urdu and in Hindi, in the late 1960s, to rave reviews.

“On his grave at Toronto’s York Cemetery, he wanted me to inscribe the following Urdu couplet (my translation) written by a neighbourhood poet in his beloved birthplace, Lucknow, which gave some of the finest poets and writers to early Bollywood: 'The world listened to my story with rapt attention / It was I who fell asleep while telling the tale.' The Golden Pen fulfills one-half of the promise, giving audiences a taste of what they can expect in the translation of Sahar Hone Take, literally Until the Day Dawns. In a sense, his journey has ended. My own journey has only just begun.”

Concept, Producer, Writer, Narrator: Zuhair (Kash) Kashmeri
Director: Lani Selick; Co-Producer, Co-Writer: Howard Bernstein
Running Time: 47 minutes; Shot on HD; Made for TV
For More Information: Zuhair (Kash) Kashmeri (info(at)thegoldenpen(dot)ca) or visit * * (905) 360-0643

The Golden Pen was made possible with 100% funding from the OMNI Television Independent Producers Initiative.

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