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Past Perfect

As we stand on the threshold of a new wave of cinema, there couldn’t be a better time to look back at the works
of our great filmmakers. There is so much inspiration to draw and techniques to learn, from these masters

Today, we think a little too much; we are not learning. We keep wondering what is going to be written about us, what people will think of us, what Twitter will say about us. We are worried about these things. It is high time we stopped worrying and started learning about cinema, especially our cinema, Indian cinema. I am not saying that we should not watch Hollywood films. But, at the end of the day, we are catering to our Indian emotions.

I also wish that today’s generation would watch the cinema that our great directors have made. Here are some of our great directors.

Vijay Anand

Everyone knows that Vijay Anand was a great director and people know him for his film Guide. Directors of today, myself included, are tagged and labelled. But Vijay Anand made a thriller in Jewel Thief and then a film like Guide. He followed it up by making an action film, Johny Mera Naam. Before all this, he made a black-and-white film called Tere Ghar Ke Saamne, which was a romantic comedy in those days. The variety of work he has done is unbelievable.

Then came a time when Nasir Husain produced a film for him, which was Teesri Manzil. Nasir Husain thought that since it was a thriller, Vijay Anand would be better suited to direct it. The collaborations that you see today, of Rohit Shetty and Karan Johar coming together to make a film, are not new. It’s been a trend for a long time.

Vijay Anand was a great technician. And there is only one film in the history of Indian cinema, where except for one or two characters, everybody else was lying. And that film is Jewel Thief. Apart from the characters played by Dev Anand and Tanujaji, all the other characters including the main actress Vyjayanthimala are lying throughout the film. Even the character actors are lying and you realise all this only in the end.

Jewel Thief is a cult classic. I don’t know how many people in the new generation would have watched this film or, for that matter, Johny Mera Naam. These were highly commercial films. And after Jewel Thief, Vijay Anand made Guide, which was completely different. It was a film for pathbreaking cinema.

After all this and Johny Mera Naam, he made Tere Mere Sapne, which was based on a husband-wife relationship. When you watch Tere Mere Sapne, Johny Mera Naam, Guide and Jewel Thief, it would seem like each film has been made by a different director.

Today, it is hard to guess which director has made a particular film. But Vijay Anand had a rare versatility. He is one of my favourite directors of all time.

I think I must have watched Johny Mere Naam at least 50 times. People keep asking me which film I would like to remake and I think this is it. It’s a spy thriller with all the right elements and it is a film of today. The current generation should definitely watch Vijay Anand’s films. He brought a new style to almost every script he made into a film. And all the films I have talked about had Dev Anand as the lead hero but the music in every film, the shot-taking, the narrative is totally different.

When I became a director, I always wanted to meet him at least once and discuss cinema with him. Unfortunately, he is not with us anymore.

Nasir Husain

Nasir Husain was a very commercial director. He bought the colours, bells and whistles to songs and it was he who started doing the big songs. Watch any of his films – Yaadon Ki Baaraat, Hum Kisise Kum Naheen or Zamaane Ko Dikhana Hai – and it is hard to miss the colours, the way he used to shoot songs, and the narrative; it was all very commercial.

I relate to all these films because my dad (MB Shetty) used to do action for all of them, like Tumsa Nahin Dekha, Dil Deke Dekho and Jab Pyar Kisi Se Hota Hai. His films had all the ingredients that a commercial film should have – emotion, comedy, action, songs, it was all there. You will not find a sad Nasir Husain film. You will always find a happy, commercial film by him which is mounted with many stars, has action, family values and drama.

One of my favourite films is Yaadon Ki Baaraat… three brothers, lost and found later in life, such a classic Hindi movie. There is also Caravan, a film on a journey and also a love story. The way the film starts as a thriller and then changes into a love story … it is all very interesting.

Nasir Husain’s films are always driven by songs. So, in Yaadon Ki Baaraat, the three brothers recognise each other because of the song. Earlier, he made films with Shammi Kapoor and Dev (Anand) saab but he mostly made multi-starrer films. Yaadon Ki Baaraat, Zamaane Ko Dikhana Hai and Manzil Manzil had a huge star cast. And all Nasir Husain films have superhit tracks. He collaborated with Vijay Anand for Teesri Manzil but I am sure that all the songs, the music, was done by Nasir Husain himself.

There is a certain texture that is palpable and you can feel it in songs like O mere sona re sona re or Tumne mujhko dekha. He was a commercial director who understood the Hindi audience on a different platform. He knew he had to feed them great songs, good music, good action, a good narrative and a lot of stars.

That is one thing I miss today – multi-star cast films. The hunger for a multi-starrer film, the hunger for a Nasir Husain film, still exists. If we make a Nasir Husain film today, it would be a blockbuster. They are wholesome entertainers.

Also, he was the one who really kicked off the trend of set songs. There were others before him who tried set songs but the big, great, grand music came with Nasir Husain’s films. And I think the RD Burman-Nasir Husain combination of the’70s was a lethal pairing. I’m not talking about the melody, I’m talking about the grandeur of the songs that they did together. And they had the sound at that point, which is of today like Chura liya hai tumne. Nasir Husain played a great role in Chintuji’s (Rishi Kapoor) career. Most of the latter’s hit numbers were from Nasir Husain’s films in those days. If filmmakers of this generation want to know what commercial cinema is all about, or from whom we learnt commercial cinema, they should watch the films that Nasir Husain made.

Brij Sadanah

Brij Sadanah was another commercial filmmaker, who enjoyed a long career. It started with Ustadon Ke Ustad, which was a black-and-white film with Pradeep Kumar. He later worked with Mithun Chakraborty too.

Just look at his body of work! And he made all his films with conviction. Victoria No. 203 is a thriller but it is about Ashok Kumar and Pran saab. It is not about the main hero. And these actors are playing men who are 60-70 year old. The film is based on both of them because there were songs based on both of them too. That was the kind of conviction he had.

And, again, he had a format for thrillers. Whether it was Victoria No. 203, Professor Pyarelal or Ek Se Badhkar Ek, he always believed in making big cinema, action films. Very few know that Professor Pyarelal was the first Hindi film to have sky-diving sequences and mid-air action. And this was the ’80s. Yes, they shot a sky-diving action scene in mid-air.

Although his films were thrillers, he had a narrative style that kept the audience hooked. I relate to him because my dad was a part of all the action scenes in his films. He used to create an ambience, an emotion, with background music. In the ‘70s especially, if you wanted to watch a thriller, you wanted to watch a Brij Sadanah movie.

As I mentioned, he made Ustadon Ke Ustad which was a great thriller. I have a DVD of this film. When I saw the film the first time, I was young and did not know that it was directed by Brij Sadanah but when I gradually started researching movies, I realised he had made it. I thought with wonder, even this black-and-white film was made by him.

His career went from this film to Mardon Wali Baat, working with Mithunji. He was a great director and had a great narrative style. If you want to learn about edit patterns, how to edit a thriller, you have to watch a Brij Sadanah film.                   

Raj Khosla

Raj Khosla is another great director. He started with an action film, a thriller C.I.D. This is a black-and-white film but it looks like today’s cinema. The entire narrative, even the way the screenplay is drafted, is like today’s cinema. Then he made a suspense thriller Woh Kaun Thi? and then an action film, a dacoit film, Mera Gaon Mera Desh. When you see Sholay and after that Mera Gaon Mera Desh, you will realise that a lot of inspiration for the former has been taken from Mera Gaon Mera Desh.

A director who has made films like these also made a film called Main Tulsi Tere Aangan Ki. If a new generation director watches Main Tulsi Tere Aangan Ki and goes back and then watches all the previous films of Raj Khosla, he would be shocked. The kind of intensity that this filmmaker had and the kind of variety that he exhibited in his work is amazing. I don’t think any director today has the ability to portray that range of emotion in his or her films.

Raj Khosla is one of the finest directors we had. Even Raj Kapoor used to respect Raj Khosla. Earlier, we spoke about the black-and-white film C.I.D. which featured Dev Anand. From there, he went on to make a film for Dharma Productions, Dostana. If you see the way those action scenes were shot, the kind of technical excellence that film had, for those days or even today, it is amazing. That is what we need to learn from all our senior directors.

Today, we give up so easily or we take a lot of risks. Imagine directing a film like C.I.D. and then Dostana. It is amazing. If you see Dostana with Shatrughan Sinha and Amitabh Bachchan, and then you go back and watch a C.I.D. or a Main Tulsi Tere Aangan Ki, you will be shocked. The best part about Main Tulsi Tere Aangan Ki is that Raj Khosla directed a director, Vijay Anand. Two great directors in one film, one an actor, one a director! This film won many awards.

I am talking about these directors because they were astonishingly versatile. They had a flamboyance in making all kinds of cinema. None of the films mashed with each other. Today, you see cars flying in a Rohit Shetty film and you are sure that it is directed by me Not only this, if a car flies in someone else’s film also, you will say it looks like Rohit Shetty’s cinema. You are tagged.

I recommend that every aspiring director today should watch Raj Khosla’s films. His films, even the black-and-white C.I.D., are still entertaining. That was the power of Raj Khosla. It is also fascinating that one director can excel in so many different genres.

Raj N Sippy

Raj Sippy is the Michael Bay of ‘70s and ‘80s India. The flamboyance in his personality and his narrative and films, that style was very Hollywood. He was a technical whiz kid and you have to watch Inkaar, which I think was made in the late ’70s, to know what I mean. I don’t think many directors even today shoot this way.

In those days, there were films made on dacoits and there were films made on social drama. Raj Sippy came up with a thriller that had one or two songs. And one of those two songs, Mungda, became a big hit. If I am not wrong, Inkaar was the first film where Veeru Devgan was the action director and it had a car flipping. That was the first Hindi film that had a proper car flipping. It was a risky film at that point. You needed nerves of steel to make an Inkaar.

At a time when films had a villain, lots of songs and big sets, along came a lad called Raj Sippy, who changed the whole perspective and made Inkaar. People were, like, who is Raj Sippy? Not just Inkaar, he also made Satte Pe Satta and Andar Baahar. Also, though Chhota Chetan was India’s first 3D film the first big 3D film was Shiva Ka Insaaf, which Raj Sippy made in the ’80s.

If you want to learn shot-taking today, Raj Sippy is the guy to learn from. All his scripts, whether Andar Baahar, Loha, Inkaar, Satte Pe Satta or Qayamat, the original one, the scripting had a feel of Hollywood cinema. None of them had simple narrative and they are all in the thriller format.

The biggest hit song Tamma tamma was done by him in Thanedaar. I have learnt techniques just by watching his and Mukul Anand’s films. I must have watched Inkaar at least 60-70 times. I wish he would make a film like Inkaar today – and I am sure he can.

Mukul Anand

Mukul Anand is one of the finest directors we’ve ever had. I have learnt a lot from him by merely watching his cinema. The best technical films of Amitji (Amitabh Bachchan), when he used to be the main lead, were Agneepath, Khuda Gawah and Hum. All three films are at par with Hollywood cinema, in terms of how they were shot.

Today, young filmmakers would wonder what is new about these films. They do not realise that they did not have advanced techniques and special effects in those times. Today, we have digital cameras and the budgets to do things. We do colour grading and colour toning. Back in the day, we did not have this technology. We used to shoot on film. We had a 2C camera. At best, there would be an Arri 3 camera. And, with that, Mukul Anand created magic.

You should watch another film he made called Insaaf. He started his career with a small thriller called Kanoon Kya Karega. Then he made Aitbaar. Then suddenly came Insaaf. He made three films with Mr Bachchan - Agneepath, Khuda Gawah and Hum. Before he started playing different kinds of characters like the one in Mohabbatein, these were the best three films of Mr Bachchan. The way the shots were taken and the background scores were amazing.

When you watch a film, you often wonder where you’ve heard the background score before. But with his films, you know that it is a Mukul Anand film background score! When he was shooting for Dus, an unfortunate incident took place and he passed away. People say only he knew what he was making. People who had watched the rushes then said it looked like a film that was bigger than a Hollywood film.

I wish Mukul Anand was here with us today. With today’s techniques and technology at our disposal, he would have taken our cinema to an altogether different level.

Yash Chopra

I relate to all these directors, whether Brij Sadanah, Nasir Husain or Yashji because my father has worked with all of them. People know Yashji because of romance. For them, Yash Chopra is romance, Yash Chopra is Switzerland and means Sriji (Sridevi) in a chiffon sari on a green lawn.

People do not know that Yash Chopra made hardcore action movies and dark cinema in the ‘70s. He made Deewaar, Trishul and Kaala Patthar. Today, he is known for songs. He made a thriller, Ittefaq, which had no songs. Even Darr, for that matter… it is a romantic film but it had a thriller format. If you ask me, I love this Yash Chopra more, maybe because of the emotions connected with dad.

Then he went into making romantic films. When people ask, ‘What do you want to be?’ I say that I want to be a Yash Chopra, not where his cinema is concerned, but because at the age of 82-83, I want to direct a film.

It is not only his cinema, but his approach to cinema and to work that amazes me. I mean, he was 82 or 83 years old when he made Jab Tak Hai Jaan! It was again a film par excellence in terms of technique. He started making movies in the ‘60s. He made films for 40-50 years. He made films like Dil To Pagal Hai, Veer-Zaara and Darr. What I learnt from him and what keeps me going is that Yashji must have been in his late 50s or early 60s when he made Darr. This is the approach we should have in our lives too. We should not give up. We should not feel that we are 60 years old! We have to be Yash Chopra.

If you watch any of his films, you will notice that his thinking was young. Age did not matter, he was always an 18- or 21-year-old. He became more stylised with age. He made Joshila, Deewaar, Trishul, Kala Patthar and then he made Silsila, Chandni and Darr. The styling changed, it became more flamboyant and cooler with age. That is something we need to learn from Yash Chopra. The older we grow, the cooler we should become.

Hrishikesh Mukherjee

The most important thing about Hrishida is that he made more than 40 films. People know him for Anand, for the original Gol Maal, Mili, Anuradha, Satyakam and Guddi. I think it is Hrishida who made films which we call ‘multiplex cinema’ or slice-of-life cinema. People tell me that times are changing and ask me why I make commercial cinema when other filmmakers are focusing on making slice-of-life films. I tell them it was there in the ‘60s and ‘70s also.

If there was a Manmohan Desai, there was a Hrishikesh Mukherjee also. If there was a Mili made, there was an Amar Akbar Anthony also made. After Sholay, he made Chupke Chupke with Dharmendra and Amitabh Bachchan. It became a cult film. There are many films by him that did not do great at the box office but today they are cult films, whether the original Gol Maal with Amol Palekar or Chupke Chupke.

He made a drama like Anand, Buddha Mil Gaya, which is a thriller, Guddi, which is a slice-of-life film and comedy films like Chupke Chupke and Gol Maal. He has done more slice-of-life films and comedies. He started by doing a tragic film like Anand but he eventually did a lot of comedies. People know that Hrishida was a great filmmaker, but I have heard that there was a great tashan between Hrishida and Manmohan Desai because of Mr Amitabh Bachchan. Hrishida made Anand, Mili and Namak Haraam with Mr Bachchan. On the other hand, Manmohan Desai used to always make films like Amar Akbar Anthony and Parvarish with Mr Bachchan. Then came a time when Manmohan Desai made Coolie. People know it was a hardcore commercial film. People know that there was an unfortunate accident that happened on the sets of Coolie. But people do not know that the editor of Coolie was Hrishikesh Mukherjee!

That was the camaraderie between them. They made totally different kinds of cinema. Their films were poles apart but they were always there for each other. Nasir Husain produced a film and then he said he did not want to direct it. So he gave it to Vijay Anand to direct because he felt he would do justice to it. Vijay Anand directed the film though he was making films for Navketan in those days.

Today people might say that Karan Johar and Rohit Shetty are coming together, but it is not new. That is why learning the history of cinema is very important. That way, you will not feel as if you are doing something for the first time. Great directors like Nasir Husain and Vijay Anand came together to make Teesri Manzil.

Another thing to learn from Hrishida is the kind of cinema he made. He made all types of films. He was an economical director. You will never see a big canvas film from him. He always made films on a budget. When I was working on Bol Bachchan with Asraniji, he told me about the kind of respect actors had for him. On the first day of the shoot of Chupke Chupke, Amitabh Bachchan and Dharmendra did not know what they were doing and what characters they were playing. They just landed up on the set because it was a Hrishikesh Mukherjee film. Asraniji did not know what he was supposed to do. Once they reached the set, they got to know everything.

Asraniji told me that he was wearing a suit and Dharamji was in a driver’s costume. He asked him, ‘Main tera driver hu kya iss picture mein?’ That is the kind of faith and respect actors had for Hrishida. The last film he made was in 1998, Jhooth Bole Kauwa Kaate. He had a career spanning over 50 years with such a varied body of work. He was not only a director, but also a producer. He produced Sadma. He edited Coolie.

When you watch Hichki or Tumhari Sulu, you feel good. When you watch Mili and Guddi, you get the same kind of feeling. I want to tell the new generation that you do not need to get stuck or scared or think that times are changing. Just go with your conviction. For every Manmohan Desai, there was, is and always will be a Hrishikesh Mukherjee.


Its Box Office India’s 9th Anniversary issue and I was asked to mention nine names but I am ending with eight. There’s a reason. Filmmakers may be remembered or forgotten with the passage of time. But what we invariably forget is the invaluable contribution of their respective teams. Which is why my films end with the credit: A Film By Rohit Shetty And Team.

My final salute is to these unsung heroes.

- Rohit Shetty

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