Syed Imtiaz Ali Taj

Syed Imtiaz Ali Taj (سیّد امتیاز علی تاؔج‎; Sayyid Imtiyāz ʿAlī Tāj 1900–1970) was a dramatist who wrote in the Urdu language. He is remembered above all for his 1922 play Anarkali, based on the life of Anarkali, that staged hundreds of times and was adapted for feature films in India and Pakistan, including the Indian film Mughal-e-Azam (1960).

Born Syed Imtiaz Ali in Lahore on 13 October 1900, he was the son of Moulvi Mumtaz Ali, who was also known as Shams-ul-Ulema (Sun of the Scholars), in recognition of his pioneering contribution to Urdu drama. His forefathers had moved to Lahore following the 1857 revolt in Delhi. When Imtiaz started writing, he adopted the name “Taj”. During his student days, his literary skill came to the fore as he translated and directed many English plays, sometimes acting in female roles at a time when girls were not encouraged to act. After studying in Lahore, he first worked in his father’s publishing house, Dar-ul-Ishaat Punjab (meaning:”Punjab publishing house”).

He then went on to contribute to the children’s journal Phool and the women’s magazine Tahzeeb-e-Niswan; he wrote for Phool in association with Ghulam Abbas Ahmed and Ahmed Nadeem Oasm.[2][3] He was a co-founder (together with Maulana Abdul Majeed Salik) of the literary journal Kehkashan. In addition to his many translations of Shakespeare’s plays into Urdu, including A Midsummer Night’s Dream as Sawan Rain Ka Sapna. He also wrote a number of plays himself, the most notable being Anarkali and Chacha Chakan, which continue to be performed today.

Anarkali, (literal meaning:”Bud of Pomegranate”) written in 1922, is a romantic play based on a quasi-mythical legend. It tells the story of a beautiful slave girl named Anarkali (a courtesan) who falls in love with Prince Salim, but the romance ultimately leads to her tragic death. The work is said to be “a milestone in the annals of Urdu drama”.[8] He modified the play in 1930, with a reprint in 1931, in the popular “modern prose genre” as a basis for several feature films from Indian and Pakistan.

Taj provided a link between Agha Hashr, who was known as the “Shakespeare of India”, and contemporary Pakistani playwrights. The theatre activities in Bombay and Calcuttahad a strong influence from the Urdu heartland group and Taj was one of the pioneers of this group. In the post Hashr days, Taj was considered the best playwright of the time.

In the film titled Anarkali, produced in 1953 and based on Imtiaz’s plot, the ending was tragic, similar to the ending in the drama. Later the play formed the basis for the highly successful Indian feature film Mughal-e-Azam, released in 1960. In this film produced by K. Asif, there was a twist to the story through a happy ending with Akbar finally being clement towards Anarkali. Though Imtiaz claimed that the film had no historical authenticity, he still gave snippets of historical evidence. In the preface to his book published in 1931 (designed to impress the middle class intelligentsia), he refers to Anarkali’s existence during the historical period of Emperor Akbar (1556–1605) and his son Prince Salim (later Emperor Jahangir) as well as to the Persian couplet inscribed on the marble tomb in Agra dedicated to Anarkali by her lover Prince Salim. The couplet reads “Ta Kiyamat shukr geom kardgate khwesh ra, Aah garman bez benaam roo-e yare khwesh ra“, meaning: “Ah! could I behold the face of my love once more, I would give thanks to my God until the day of resurrection.” In writing the love story of Anarkali, a political allegory of the times, the author’s intention, according to the critic Balwant Gargi, was “to represent tyrannical forms of patriarchal authority through the relationship between Crown Prince Saleem and his father Akbar the Great, which Taj portrays as domineering, and a ‘complex father-son relationship’ marked by ‘filial love interlaced with hate’.

Taj also published a magazine called the Kahkashan from the publishing firm of Daru Ishat which he owned. Another contemporary writer, Munshi Premchand, contributed stories to this magazine in Urdu. It so happened that an article which Premchand had submitted was on the same theme on which Taj was also writing a story. Then Taj decided to drop his article in favour of the one written by Premchand, who then expressed his regret but said that at least they both were on the same wavelength.

Taj had also promoted the Lahore Arts School in association with many other stalwarts of the theatre scene in Lahore whose activities included promoting arts through a theatre and an art gallery.[14]

Chacha Chakan (1926) is a hilarious comedy of plays for children with themes of satire and humour. Chacha Chakan is considered the funniest character in Urdu drama Chakkan is said to be based on Jerome K. Jerome’s character Uncle Podger.

Imtiaz Ali Taj also wrote short stories, novels and screen plays. From 1958, he was director of “Majlis” a translation board established in 1950, in which he republished works of Urdu literature. He was active in the theatre both as an actor and a director. After Pakistan gained independence in 1947, he hosted the daily feature Pakistan Hamara Hai(Pakistan is ours) on Radio Pakistan. It continued as one of the most popular radio programmes for several years. Syed Imtiaz Ali Taj (سید امتیاز علی تاج) was born in 1900 in Lahore. He was a son of “Shamsul-Ulema” – Moulvi Mumtaz Ali from Deoband. He was one of the pioneers of Drama writing in Urdu language.

His most popular drama was “Anar Kali” which was written in 1922 and became a landmark in Urdu drama writing. This was later adapted into feature films in India and Pakistan. Its popularity raised the status of Imtiaz Ali Taj as a mature Urdu drama writer in literary circles.

Chacha Chakkan Another drama which was liked by the audience was his funny creation “Chacha Chakan”.

Chacha Chakkan, who is similar the famous characters ‘Uncle Podger’ of the English dramatist Jerome, is a very funny character who thinks that he is very good in every job, but actually he, always, makes blunders and makes situations worse.

Chacha Chhakan remains until today the most humorous character in the Urdu literature

I.A. Taj Inro in Urdu He graduated from the government college Lahore. He presented on stage some English Dramas after translation into Urdu. 1918 he began the literary magazine called ‘Kehkashan’ in collaboration with his friend, Maulana Abdul Majeed Salik and run it for three year successfully.

He rendered his services for “Risala Tehzeeb-e-Niswan” and monthly phool. The magazine “Tahzeeb-e-Niswan” was founded by his mother who was a well known literary personality of her time. In Phool he had the assistance of the famous short story writer Ghulam Abbas Ahmed as well as young Ahmed Nadeem Oasmi.He translated into Urdu Shakespeare’s play ‘A Mid Summer Nights Dream’ and entitled it in ‘Sawan Rain ka sapna’.

After the establishment of Pakistan, Syed lmtiaz Ali Taj conducted a daily feature ‘Pakistan Hamara Hai’ [Pakistan is our] for the Lahore station of the radio Pakistan. It was, no doubt, a popular programme. Apart from criticism on drama, he also wrote radio plays, novels, short stories and several film stories, some of them directed by him. As the Director of ‘Majlis’ he republished many critical works of Urdu literature.

On 19 April 1970 while he was asleep, he was shot dead by some unknown persons. His wife Hijab lmtiaz Ali was seriously wounded.

On 19 April 1970, Imtiaz Ali Taj was murdered while asleep in his bed by unknown assassins. His wife, Hijab Imitiaz Ali, was seriously wounded.

Hijab Imtiaz Ali (1908–1999) was not only herself a well-known Urdu poet and writer, but also had the distinction to be the first woman pilot of India, in 1936.


Of Taj’s many works, the most prominent publications in the Urdu language are:

  • Anakali in several editions
  • Syed Imtiaz Ali Taj Ke Yak Baabi Dramay (Collection of 33 One Act Plays)
  • Urdū Ka Classicy Drama
  • Chacha Chhakkan

The books written about Taj are:

  • Imtiaz: Tahqeeq-o-Tanqeed by Dr. Muḥammad Salīm Malik
  • Taj Ke Dramay Anarkali Per Ek Nazar by Rūḥ Afzā Raḥmān

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