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Ismat Chughtai: An Inspiration for many. Everything you need to know

We were lucky to have Ismat Chughtai, an Urdu writer who was not shy to express her views on female sexuality.
We were lucky to have Ismat Chughtai, an Urdu writer who was not shy to express her views on female sexuality.


  1. Introduction
  2. About Ismat Chughtai
  3. Family
  4. Education
  5. Literary Career
  6. Film Career
  7. Illness and Death
  8. Awards


Ismat Chughtai

The early twentieth century was a hard time for women. Most of the females were not ever sent to school by their families. In times like that, we were lucky to have Ismat Chughtai, an Urdu writer who was not shy to express her views on female sexuality. In this article, we will learn all about the life of this wonderful woman.

About Ismat Chughtai

Ismat Chughtai was born on 21 August 1915 and is a well known Urdu language writer and a filmmaker. She has produced some of the greatest novels and short stories in Urdu. Her works centrally focused on themes like female sexuality. She was a Marxist who was open to writing about topics considered taboo back then.


She was born Badayun, a town in Uttar Pradesh to Mirza Qaseem Baig Chugtai and Nusrat Khanam. She has ten siblings, six brothers, and three sisters. Her father was a civil servant, so most of her childhood, she shifted a lot of cities. Her childhood revolved around her brothers as her sisters were all married when Ismat was young. After her father retired from the Civil Services, her family settled in Agra.


Women’s College of Aligarh Muslim University

Ismat Chughtai studied at Women’s College of Aligarh Muslim University. She completed her BA from Isabella Thoburn College in 1940. Her family was reluctant for her further education; still, she pursued a B.Ed degree from the same university as her BA. This was the time she was introduced to the Progressive Writers Association. Rashid Jahan, a female writer, inspired Chughtai to include strong women in her literary works. Due to the stigma around female writers, Chughtai initiated writing privately and did not publish her work for a long time. Most of her work was not considered literary by the audience as the language used by her was simple. She defended it by stating that she writes as she speaks, that is simple.

Literary Career

Ismat has produced some of the best literary works in Urdu. She is a written play, novels, and several progressive short stories. In 1939 Chughtai wrote her first drama for ‘Saqi’ an Urdu magazine. The title of the play was Fasadi, which translates to ‘The Troublemakers,’ readers of the magazine mistook the play to be the work of Chughtai’s brother Azeem. Following this incident, Chughtai started writing for publications and newspapers. Some of her short stories during her initial career were Bachapn, Kafir, Dheet. Her stories created a lot of controversies, and sometimes she was accused of insulting the Quran.

Chughtai continued to be a part of the Progressive Writers Movement. Her work was significantly influenced by Rashid Jahan, Sajjad Zaheer, George Bernard Shaw, and Anton Chekhov. She published her first set of short stories around 1941.

Ismat Chughtai

Chughtai’s first novel was called Ziddi, which was written in her twenties but got published in 1941. The story of the book revolves around a love affair of a house helper and the affluent heir of the house she worked for. The critics praised the novel, and she stated that Hijab Imtiaz Ali indeed influenced some parts of the novel.

By 1960 Chughtai has written eight novels. The story of her first novel Masooma focused on sexual exploitation and socio-economic injustice in India. The book received mixed reviews. She received exceptional praise for her novel Dil Ki Duniya and Tedhi Lakeer.

Ismat Chughtai Film Career

Aligarh Girls School

Chughtai became the headmistress of Aligarh Girls School. She met Shaheed Latif during her time in the Aligarh Muslim University. She married Latif in 1942 in a private ceremony in Bombay. Latif worked as a dialogue writer in Bollywood. Her husband introduced her to the film industry, and she started writing dialogues of Hindi movies. She debuted as a screenwriter in the film Ziddi. She worked as a screenwriter for movies such as Arzooa and Fareb.

Ismat and her husband co-founded a production house called Filmina. She started working as a filmmaker, and one of her first projects was Sone Ki Chidiya. The movie performed well on the box office, establishing Chughtai as a filmmaker. Even though she was involved in the film industry now, her focus from writing did not shift. She still wrote short stories.

Illness and death

Chughtai suffered from incurable Alzheimer’s Disease. She died on 24 October 1991 due to her prolonged illness. Due to the disease, Ismat limited her writing work and, in her last years, was not able to produce any content.

Ismat Chughtai Awards

Ismat Chughtai was a revolutionary in the literary field. She explored and wrote about topics way ahead of her time. She received several accolades and honors.

Some of her awards are:

  1. She won Ghalib Award for Best Urdu Drama in 1947 for Tedhi Lakeer.
  2. She won a Filmfare and National Film Award for the best story in 1974/75 for Garam Hawa.
  3. She won a Padma Shri in 1976 from the Government of India.
  4. She won Andhra Pradesh Urdu Akademi Award in 1979.
  5. She won the Soviet Land Nehru Award in 1982.
  6. She won Rajasthan Urdu Akademi in 1990.