EXCLUSIVE! “Gulzar, Meghna wanted to make me a case study like Sushant Singh Rajput”, says Harinder S Sikka

Shaken by the suicide of Rajput, the Calling Sehmat [2008] author has opened up on the alleged marginalisation by the legendary writer-poet Gulzar and his daughter Meghna in the run up to the release of Raazi [2018] and beyond

By Mayur Lookhar

Harinder S Sikka (L) . Meghna Gulzar and Gulzar (R): Source: @gulzaronline facebook

Harinder S Sikka is a man who wears many hats. Having served in the Indian Navy, the former Naval Commander then ventured into publishing, film production and business. Sikka is the author of the much-acclaimed book Calling Sehmat (2008) that was later adapted into a Bollywood film Raazi [2018]. The book is based on the life of an undisclosed Kashmiri Muslim Indian spy, with the author choosing to call her Sehmat.

While Raazi won critical acclaim and many awards, but Sikka has been unhappy with director Meghna Gulzar and her father poet-lyricist Sampooran Singh Kalra, better known as Gulzar.  Sikka has alleged that the father-daughter duo had marginalised him all along the Raazi journey and it continued even after its release.

While the film has been adapted from Sikka’s book and that is acknowledged in the credits, Sikka has opened up on being totally disregarded, disrespected by Gulzar and his daughter. 

Beyond Bollywood spoke to Sikka at length, where there were barely any questions, just the man expressing his angst against the legendary poet, lyric writer and his filmmaker daughter. We’ve listed the grievances/incidents as told by Sikka.

Signing Meghna as requested by Gulzar

Gulzar had taken a promise from me that I will make Meghna the director. He had pleaded saying that my daughter hasn’t worked for four years since Talvar [2015]. This story [Calling Sehmat] was strong to make anybody a successful director, provided nothing was changed.

I signed a deal with Junglee Pictures, Priti Shahani – former president, Junglee Pictures.  The deal was signed under the condition that It would be directed only by Meghna or else, I won’t sell the book rights. The deal was done. We had clear understanding that she will not change anything. 

Meghna was struggling after Talvar [2015] and the reason behind this was that the market was abuzz that Talvar wasn’t made by her but by Vishal Bhardwaj. I asked Bhardwaj this question, he simply said, “This is my gurudakshina [repaying one’s teacher] to my guru [Gulzar]”.  Vishal’s name was removed by Meghna to grab all credit.

Changing the title to Raazi

Almost soon after Meghna was signed as director, the Gulzars got into action and began disconnecting me from the film right from the word go. Gulzar titled It as Raazi instead of Calling Sehmat.  It was against the agreement.  Meghna called me, pleading that it was her father’s wish that this film be called Raazi.  I reluctantly agreed but did not realise that this was the first step of isolation. Calling Sehmat and Raazi will not be connected.

Marginalised in the promotions, marketing activities

Thereafter, I was removed from all kinds of mentions, anything to do with Raazi. They couldn’t remove my name from the film that was part of my contract.  They gave me a small credit and that’s about it – go to hell thereafter. They removed me from facebook, twitter, YouTube, anything where Raazi was mentioned, there was no mention of me.  Till the film was released, nobody knew that it is written by Harinder Sikka.  Be it press conferences, special screenings, awards do, I wasn’t invited for anything.

Robbed of original story honour at IIFA 2019?

The IIFA Awards (for the films releasing in 2018) came much later in 2019.  The award for ‘Original Story’ went to this film called Andhadhun [2018] – directed by Sriram Raghavan which was not an original story but based on a French short film. I was told that it was under pressure from Gulzar that the award went [not to him] but to this other film. Gulzar was the brainchild, i learnt. He did this because he only wanted to promote his daughter and disconnected me from everywhere else.

An IIFA official, who is a diehard fan of Calling Sehmat, had told me categorically that even though mine was the only original story, I will not get the award because I am an outsider.  S/he apologised as s/he could do nothing about it.

Wrong portrayal of Sehmat in the film

Alia Bhatt in a scene from Raazi [2018]

My story was completely ruined.  She [Sehmat] has been shown [in Raazi] as a Kashmiri Muslim who had done the biggest blunder by fighting for India, and she returned home as a depressed woman.  However, In reality, when the real Sehmat came back, she saluted the tri colour.  Meghna has proudly stated that she did not show tri colour.  She had told the Indian Express that.. [pauses] she loves the Pakistani hukumat (establishment).

I rang up Gulzar and told him that your film is not capable of winning a National Award.  You have done injustice to my story and to a Kashmiri Muslim woman who sacrificed everything in order to save India.  You have backstabbed the nation and the spirit of that Kashmiri women.  You have removed the message that was to be given to all Kashmiri women, and the public that Kashmiris are not traitors.  The message that should have gone was that they don’t want their children to become jihadis (terrorists) but you [Gulzar] killed it intentionally.

Sikka not shown the film before release

Meghna came to Delhi to do a special screening – Director’s Cut in March 2018. She didn’t inform me. I only came to know two months later. Had I known this; the film wouldn’t have gone to the screen.  But she did not show it to me intentionally.  All along she had malicious intent.

Alleged attempt by Gulzar to oust him at Jaipur Literature Film Festival, 2019

Gulzar bullied Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF) to remove me. Meghna and Gulzar were coming on the same day to talk at the Literature Festival. My presence would have made them uncomfortable because I would have told the world that I wrote the story. I’d told the world that she backstabbed the very man who made her the director.

Fortunately, Sanjoy K Roy [Managing Director of Teamwork Arts – producers of Jaipur Literature Festival] is not someone who can be bullied easily. He wrote an e-mail to me where he mentioned categorically that it was Gulzar who was bullying him.  Roy had CCed that e-mail to 5-6 other people in his office.

I spoke to Gulzar and asked him, why was he doing this? Why have you called Penguin Random House [publishing house] at my back and told them to delay the launch of the book [Calling Sehmat revised version]. The answer was simple to decipher. Gulzar wanted it to come two months after the release of Raazi so that the entire credit went to Meghna Gulzar.  Penguin were upset with me because they had a contract with me, not with Junglee Pictures.  They had meticulously planned everything just to relaunch Meghna Gulzar and in the bargain do another Sushant.  They wanted to make me a case study like Sushant Singh Rajput.

Terms Gulzar and Meghna as Pakis

Gulzar happens to be pro-Paki. He proudly says that I do not know any language other than Urdu. I’m sure he does but he works only in Urdu. That is his choice. But is there a hidden agenda behind it?

A dialogue in my book was removed from the film. When Sehmat kills Abdul [servant of the Pakistani family she was married into], she tells him, “Sorry Abdul, but I love my country more”.  But this dialogue was deliberately removed. Why appease the Pakis?  In the film, they showed as if a Kashmiri woman had blundered by fighting for India. 

Gulzar is acting like a mafia. I have serious objections to Meghna Gulzar doing Manekshaw [film on late 1971 war hero Sam Manekshaw]. According to me, she is unfit to direct [a film on] such a legendary military officer. She is a Pakistani protagonist. A person of such stature cannot make a film on Manekshaw because she will alter the history.

A call for truce but then a threatening Tweet scuppered peace

In 2018, I wrote an e-mail to Gulzar. He called me later and we spoke at length.   He said let bygones be bygones, treat her [Meghna] like your daughter. She has made mistakes. She doesn’t understand and forgive her. I took a back seat.

Then I received a threat on Twitter by one Gurpreet Singh and Nikita.  The tweet had an image of Gurpreet carrying a sword with the text in the backdrop reading, Hum sochte nahi, thokte hain [We don’t think, we just kill].

That tweet was tagged to Meghna Gulzar. I wrote back questioning if she was now hiring people to kill me?

I called Vishal Bhardwaj seeking his advice before filing complaint with Cyber Crime. A gentleman that Vishal is, he advised me not to take it too seriously and forget it.  I followed his advice.  I made a blunder in hiring Meghna Gulzar, a blunder in making a promise to Gulzar.

10 comments

  1. Very well written Mayur 👋.
    How people are two faced , I was a senior Gulzar Fan untill I read your article. Now I am rethinking about my choice. Wonder if he really writes his shayari, or he has kept a knowledgeable slave to do that for him.

    Like

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