There’s a difference between good, popular and timeless. Is there a way to unite all three?
We’ve grown up watching movies and being inspired by so many filmmakers through the eras. They ruled the hearts of audiences, but it is also true that either we don’t remember their names, or if we do, it’s not quite in the way they deserve. I hope that changes after this special edition of Box Office India. Though the list is endless, since it’s a ninth anniversary let me mention nine names in this column.
As a director, it is not that he is not respected today; he definitely is. But people are not aware enough of his body of work and the kind of films he made. One my favourite films is Mera Gaon Mera Desh. It was a film far ahead of its time. The way he picturised the songs… in this film, there is a song titled Maar diya jaye ya chod diya jaye, with close-up shots of Dharamji (Dharmendra), of his bloody hands. Another song he picturised really beautifully was Hai sharmaoon kis kis ko bataaun, set in a village fair. There were shots of cops and dacoits and all that added to the narrative. It was God’s gift to him that he had the knack to shoot songs in such an interesting and beautiful way. The choreography of the song, the layout of the scenes and the way he shot them, explained everything so well.
He was a brilliant director. There is a low-angle introduction shot of Vinod Khanna that puts you in awe of the dacoit character he played in Mera Gaon Mera Desh. Other fabulous films made by him include Woh Kaun Thi? and another favourite of mine, Main Tulsi Tere Aangan Ki. He understood the sentiments and issues of women, their inner thoughts, and he shot them well. Just like Bimal Roy made films centred on women, you could see sparks of that in Raj Khosla’s films. He was a sensitive filmmaker. Kala Pani, Do Raaste, Do Badan, Mera Saaya… all wonderful films.
His body of work is such that it is at par with the topmost directors. I think his name should be a part of the lexicon of great Indian directors, but unfortunately it is not so. I am a director and I know what brilliant work he has done. Usually, we tend to not value people and their work during their lifetime and celebrate them after they are gone, but in Raj Khosla’s case, even that didn’t happen. Whenever I see his films, I find them riveting and I am sure people of my generation who know his films definitely miss him.
Another one of my favourite directors, he made Sargam, such a beautiful film. I also loved the thought he presented in Kaamchor. He made Eeshwar, another wonderful film. He wrote the film Sitara, starring Mithun Chakraborty, but that didn’t do too well. When you see these films, you realise what a great filmmaker he was, but people don’t know much about him. In the era in which he made films, he was highly respected, and he still is because he is also a very nice human being. I have heard that he has a huge fan following in Chennai and elsewhere in the South, but here in Mumbai, not many people know him. I feel he definitely didn’t get his due.
Of her many films, my favourite is Katha. There is also Chashme Buddoor and Sparsh. I remember when I first saw Sparsh, how much in awe I was over how she had made the film. When I saw Naseeruddin Shah in the film, it felt like he was really a visually challenged person. How did she get that out of him? Of course, Naseer bhai is a great actor, but getting it done is also a talent. Her films had simplicity and honesty. Katha is such a well-written and well-made film, it remained in my mind for such a long time. I was inspired by that film and I wrote it differently as Mujhse Shaadi Karogi.
Salman bhai’s character is the simple one, like Naseeruddin in Katha, and Akshay Kumar is the sly one, similar to what Farooq Shaikh was in the film. And between them there is one girl, played by Priyanka Chopra. I modernised it a bit. But if I had not seen Katha and if it wasn’t one of my favourite films, then I wouldn’t have been able to write Mujhse Shaadi Karogi. A lot of the inspiration came from there. And in those times, not many women were directors. I have heard that she is a well-educated and soft-spoken woman. And after I have mentioned these three films, people should realise what a director Sai Paranjpye was in those times.
He was a well-known filmmaker from Calcutta and I really like his work. He made Nartakee and Ummeed and Dhoop Chhaon, Kath Putli and Dushman. But the two films that dada made that will be remembered as long as films are made, both starring Dilip Kumar, were Deedar and one of my all-time favourites, Gunga Jumna. On my list of all-time favourite films are Mughal-E-Azam, Mother India and Gunga Jumna. Nitin Bose used so much Bhojpuri dialogue in Gunga Jumna that you could easily be confused as to whether this was a Hindi film or a Bhojpuri one. Even in the songs, he maintained the language. Usually, we tend to take a few liberties when it comes to songs, but there was no such thing in Gunga Jumna. Dilip saab was extraordinary too and it is one of my most-loved films starring Dilip Kumar. It also had Vyjayanthimala and Anwar Husain in it. And I feel that for this one film, alone if nothing else he should be remembered and celebrated.
There are two other names that didn’t get the credit they deserve – Basu Chatterjee and Prakash Mehra. Everyone knows Hrishikesh Mukherjee and the films done by him. In the same way, Basu Chatterjee also made very beautiful films, like Chhoti Si Baat, and a range of different kinds of films. The system of shooting a film within a house on a small level started because of these two or three people. Previously people used to work only on sets. There was Hrishikesh Mukherjee, then Basu Chatterjee, then Basu Bhattacharya; these people started this tradition that we should shoot a film within a house so that it looks normal. Before that, people used to put up sets with huge lights.
There was a time when Prakash Mehra would make a film and Manmohan Desai would make a film and there would be competition between the two over whose film would be a bigger hit. Mannji’s (Manmohan Desai) films were larger-than-life with huge budgets. Both directors’ films had Amitabh Bachchan starring in them. There used to be some problems also between them. Mannji once said, “Jo sharaabi hai woh sharaabi banaata hai, mard jo hai woh mard banaata hai.” Both filmmakers used to make great films.
Muqaddar Ka Sikandar was a beautiful film. It was amazing for Bachchan saab that those two directors who didn’t get along used to make films one by one with him. Today, everybody knows who Manmohan Desai is and there are so many people who are his fans, including me. But I also used to like Prakash Mehra’s work a lot because of films like Zanjeer, Muqaddar Ka Sikandar, Sharaabi and so on. Unfortunately, people don’t know him as much as they know others.
There is one more important personality and that is our Gulzar. People know him well, including the youth today. He has been working in the industry for 40 or 45 years. This is a person who 40 or 50 years ago used to write in tune with the times and even today writes in tune with the times, or probably ahead of the times. It is a very difficult task to keep yourself updated with modern times like this.
People know him as a great poet, lyricist and writer. But very few people know that he was also a great director. One film he made, Mere Apne, had Vinod Khanna, Shatrughan Sinha and Meena Kumari in it. Each and every line in that film was amazing. “Yeh toh ajeeb shaher hai, yahan pe agar ped se phal maange toh darr lagta hai ki ped paise nahi maang le.” The way he made that film, with Meena Kumariji and the flashbacks, was amazing. That was such a beautiful film that after watching it you feel how great the director must have been.
There was also a film named Aandhi. Even today, when I listen to the radio, there is not a single day jab Aandhi ka koi gaana nahi chal raha ho. He directed that film and it was very beautifully made. After that, there was another wonderful film named Koshish, and my favourite film of his, Mausam, which had Sanjeev Kumar and Sharmila Tagore in it. Even today people know him. His name did not fade away. But it is very sad that people today know him as a great poet and a great writer but often don’t know he was also a great director.
One of my favourite directors was Narendra Bedi. He was the son of a great writer named Rajinder Singh Bedi. He made a variety of good films. On the one hand he made lighthearted films like Rafoo Chakkar, Jawani Diwani and Sanam Teri Kasam and on the other had he made a different kind of film, like Benaam, which was lovely, and Adalat, which was amazing. In this film, Amitabh Bachchan is a don and always gets a call from someone who gives him all the news he needs to know. As a director, Narendra Bedi never showed exactly where that call was coming from. That is how he demonstrated the strong network of Amitabh Bachchan’s character in the film. By his films you can make out that he was a fine director. He had a good hold on writing too, as he was a writer’s son.
There was a film called Saaheb directed by Anil Ganguly saab. It was a beautiful film. Then there was Kora Kagaz, based on the problems between a husband and wife. Aandhi and Abhimaan were along somewhat similar lines. There was Tapasya with Rakheeji. Three to four of his films were incredibly amazing. His films made one believe that he was a sensitive Bengali man from Kolkata. He used to understand and hence weave relationships very skilfully. A lot of people do not know about him.
People who want to get into films and understand the art of direction and writing should see the works of the legendary filmmakers that I have listed. They should also study and watch the films made by Anil Ganguly. Time did not do justice to him. He deserved a lot more recognition than he got. It is also a matter of luck. Some people receive less and some receive more. But the people whom I have mentioned have done some great work. People should keep them in their memories.
I know a lot of directors who were very talented and did some amazing work. They knew they needed to be in tandem with the times. They used to study a lot, engage in discussions and interact with the younger generation but they still faded away.
I have no idea why this happened. I have been working in this industry for quite some time. I watch new films as well as films of yesteryear. I have worked with Raj (Kapoor) saab as his assistant. The films he made were relevant to his era and they resonated with the people back then. There is no formula to staying relevant. It probably also has something to do with the passion people have for films.
The entire world would read what our shaayar Ghalib saab used to write. Who inspired him to write shaayari? I was watching Mad Max. About 20 or 25 years ago, the director made the first film with Mel Gibson. When I watched the latest one, a few days ago, I was shocked. The director is now 76 years old. He made such an incredible film! Even James Cameron is quite old. He makes such amazing films. The younger lot of filmmakers is intimidated by him. They want to be as good as he is and learn from him. But how?
- Anees Bazmee