Some of our greatest filmmakers are still among us. Here’s to more films that represent their best work
The mainstream Hindi film industry is governed by box office success. I would imagine that it becomes a factor for all directors, at one time or another. When you experience that first success, the joy is huge. We also know this is a very cruel industry. If your film doesn’t do well, nobody wants to meet you, talk to you or know what you’re doing.
So to recreate that joy and avoid that cruelty, you can become a prisoner of that first success. You can end up trying to manufacture a film that you think will work. In the process, some directors and writers start to make mistakes. There is less conviction. As a result, a lot of us end up with shorter shelf lives than our counterparts in Hollywood.
Clint Eastwood is touching 90 but he’s still going strong. Here, a lot of directors who were big names in the ’80s, ’90s and early 2000s failed to change with the changing times. They failed to adapt to the 21st century, to the world of social media and the Internet.
It takes effort to stay up-to-date and we will all have to make that effort if we are to stay relevant. Talk to 14-year-olds today and ask them what they watch and you’ll get a list of titles from YouTube and Netflix. A lot of us are very vulnerable and need to try harder to stay relevant and create work that is remembered for a long time.
The first director I would like to name is Chandra Barot. He made one of the most stylised films, one that was not just commercially successful but also a great piece of cinema. It was called Don and had Mr (Amitabh) Bachchan playing a double role. It had outstanding music and a huge star cast, from Pran saab to Zeenat Aman. It is a mystery to me what happened to Mr Barot after this. Mr Bachchan broke all limitations as an actor and he performed a double role with perfection. So Chandra Barot, for me, is a mystery and I would love, as a member of the audience, to see more of his films released.
The second person who has had a huge impact on me and unfortunately is not with us any more is Kundan Shah. He died last year. The best thing about Kundan is that he made a film that was a sort of guide to making good cinema, for a lot of people of our generation. I remember Vishal (Bhardwaj) once talking to me about Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro and the kind of impact it had and the kind of talent that was associated with it. Look at Vidhu Vinod Chopra, Sudhir Mishra, all the actors and people who were involved in the making of that film. With a heavy heart, one would say that Kundan bhai could not recreate the magic of Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro.
He made many films. But the level of expectation and the benchmark that he had set for himself was too high. I have a feeling, because I have interacted with Kundan bhai a little bit, that he was finding it increasingly difficult to meet the commercial expectations of a film, when I met him for the last time. Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro was the kind of film made with absolutely zero expectations. Nobody thought it would become the cult classic that it did. Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro, which I saw on television, is the first film that gave me the confidence, as a young man in college, that I could also make films. It is one of the few films that whispered to me that I could do this too.
Speaking of personal impact, I wish Saeed Mirza would make at least one more film. I grew up watching Albert Pinto Ko Gussa Kyoon Aata Hai and have seen Naseem at least four or five times. There is another film he has made which I am told has not seen the light of the day.
I believe that Mirza now lives in Goa, from where he writes. He has written two books. I have read one of them, which is about his mother. It is beautiful. Each time you meet somebody like him, there is so much to talk about and learn from.
Mirza’s Salim Langde Pe Mat Ro is actually what Ram Gopal Varma did with Satya. In Salim Langde Pe Mat Ro, he had created a world of real spaces and real people. It was all about the underworld and the bhais. It was so beautifully done by Ramu sir in Satya. But Mirza did that way back in 1985-86.
Vidhu Vinod Chopra
I am a big fan of Parinda. Not just me; we are all big fans of that film. I have had the opportunity to interact with Vidhu Vinod Chopra a little bit. I told Vinod sir that he should come back and make a Hindi film. He did a Hollywood film in English in between, called Broken Horses. I have seen it. But I really wanted him to come back and make films like his earlier ones – Khamosh, Sazaye Maut and Parinda.
I am so glad that he is making a film noset in Kashmir. Cinema is a medium where you remember the product. We remember only the film. Very few times do we know the names of the writer and the director. If the actor is known, we tend to remember them. Parinda is a film we all know. It is a classic. Even Sazaye Maut and Khamosh are classics. He made those films with full conviction, without listening to commercial diktats. I hope Vinod does many more films. He is one director whose work I am really looking forward to.
In college and in my early days as a young journalist in Delhi, Rajkumar Santoshi had a huge impact on me. His films like Damini impacted me. Rajji is still making films. He would be that one person I would like to see making many more films. He is the first person who had the knack of mixing the commercial elements of cinema with realistic stories and drama. All of us have grown up watching his work. I think he is making a film based on the battle of Saragarhi. I am really looking forward to that film.
Ram Gopal Varma
There is one guy who, unfortunately, a lot of people do not take seriously now. He is the great Ram Gopal Varma. I often say, and I did tell him this the last time I met him, that I don’t think Bollywood will ever acknowledge his contribution to mainstream Hindi cinema. He is the first person who made the script the hero of his films. He was the first person to pick up talents like Manoj Bajpayee and make the kind of films that he made. I really hope that we see that spark that was in Company, Satya, Kaun, Rangeela, Bhoot and Sarkar, in his newer films.
I have great respect for Ramu, for the fact that he has given so much new talent, so many technicians, writers, directors and actors, to this industry. He became almost a messiah for struggling writers, directors and actors. He was as blatant and out there as it is possible to be. His production house is called Company and I have seen huge queues of people coming to meet him at his office in Seven Bungalows, Mumbai. Who am I to tell what he is capable of?
I read his book, Guns and Thighs. It is a hugely entertaining book. It is very funny. There is a certain amount of brutal honesty in that man that is exhibited very nicely in the book. I am one of those people who is not ruling out Ram Gopal Varma. I am hoping that he makes a great comeback. If he wants to retire, he may very well do that. But I really hope he makes that next great film. I get this feeling that we have not given him his due. One could argue over the reasons for that. One can argue about the films he made that did not do well. But one cannot ignore him. I really want him to keep making films.
I am a huge fan of Gulzar saab. I love Namkeen, Angoor, Maachis, Hu Tu Tu and Mere Apne. He is still very active and is writing the kind of lyrics that are as good, modern and contemporary as a 20-year-old writer of today would write. It is my humble request to Gulzar saab to give us one more film before he decides to retire as a director.
You can’t ignore Prakash Mehra. He gave us the angry young man. He gave us the Bachchan that we know. Bachchan saab has done Saat Hindustani, he has done a beautiful film called Saudagar. But the mainstream commercial interpretation of Shri Amitabh Bachchan is all due to Prakash Mehra. What magic they created, with Zanjeer, with Sharaabi, with Muqaddar Ka Sikandar, with Khoon Pasina. The thing is that these were people who were also vehicles of change. Their cinema was commercial but they set their characters and their stories in the real world.
I remember watching Sharaabi. I could identify with that character who is unhappy with his father and is a drunkard and does the things that he does in the office. ‘Mooche ho to Natthulal jaisi’… such a simple line but it is the greatness of Mr Bachchan and of course of director Prakash Mehra that makes it timeless.
These filmmakers, whether Prakash Mehra or Manmohan Desai, did with ease such things that realistic filmmakers still struggle with. Like music. Their music was absolutely out of this world. They would create the kind of music that a lot of us, including I, don’t know how to create. Of course, Vishal (Bhardwaj) bhai is superb. Among the realistic filmmakers he is outstanding. But these guys had a great sense of music and a great sense of when a song should happen. Songs in Prakash Mehra films and in Manmohan Desai films were something you would go to the theatre and wait for. I don’t think that happens very often now.
The other filmmaker is Mahesh Bhatt. We all know Bhatt saab has turned producer, mentor. He has produced numerous films, he has written numerous films, but let’s not forget that in the early ’80s this person made films like Arth, Saaransh, Naam. I remember every youngster being completely blown away by what he was doing, the kinds of stories he was telling and the way he was telling those stories.
People talk about Saaransh and Arth but I think Naam is one outstanding film. What an emotional journey and what craft in the way Bhatt saab shaped that story about two brothers. Since he is still very active and is still a part of the industry, producing a lot of films, I really hope that he gives us that one more Mahesh Bhatt film. We won’t look at the box office; we won’t care about anything, just to see one more film that he makes.
- Subhash Kapoor