Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Dream Merchants

For a very long time after its independence, India did not have a proper news magazine. The ones that existed - Blitz, Illustrated Weekly of India - essentially covered politics and looked down upon Bollywood. So, outside the film press, there was no coverage of Hindi cinema and thanks to the snobbery, no discussion in polite society either. 
India Today - which started somewhere in the late 1970s - was probably the first serious magazine to put a film star on the cover. It helped that the star was Amitabh Bachchan, who was bigger than he ever was and bigger than anybody else could ever dream of. They not only gave him an epithet - One Man Industry - but also profiled two film makers who made their fortunes with Amitabh. 
And therefore, for a long time, Manmohan Desai and Prakash Mehra represented Bollywood to the non-fan. 

While these two directors were extremely successful and had their srengths, I don't think they even come close to being the most entertaining directors of Bollywood. 
Manmohan Desai was an one-story man, which he did with a great deal of style and chutzpah. And Prakash Mehra was a bad director. Period. His only claim to fame should be the fact that he found Salim-Javed to write him a script called Zanjeer (for which he tried to cast Dev Anand and Raj Kumar, among others), who also found him the lead actor of the film. 

There are three other directors, who have entertained a larger audience with greater skill, style and substance. 

Yash Chopra
He made a saga (Waqt) about a family of three brothers, separated by a natural calamity and then crossing each other's paths by strange twists of fate. He made a song-less thriller (Ittefaq) about an escaped convict landing up in a woman's house. He made bigamy legitimate due to amnesia (Daag). He made off-beat love stories (Lamhe, Kabhi Kabhie, Silsila, Darr). 
And of course, he defined the persona of the Angry Young Man with Deewaar, Trishul and Kaala Patthar
Several times in his career, he failed at the box-office for being too ahead of the times (Ittefaq, Lamhe and Silsila, for example) but there have been several instances of him shamelessly pandering to the box-office without anything substantial and still succeeding (Dil to Paagal Hain, Veer Zaara). 
Despite making all these hugely succesful films, it is enough - for me, at least - to remember him for just one film. Or for that matter, just one scene. The one in which a dock labourer tells a mafia don that "main aaj bhi phneke hue paise nahin uthata..."

Nasir Hussain
His forte was long names for films. Except for a Caravan, I cannot think of any names which are less than 3 words and 25 letters. 
See for yourself - Zamaane Ko Dikhana, Yaadon ki Baraat, Hum Kisi Se Kum Nahin, Phir Wohi Dil Laya Hoon, Jab Pyar Kisi Se Hota Hain, Itna Bada Naam Censor Certificate Pe Kaise Baithega?
Oh - not the last one! 
He worked with huge stars like Dev Anand, Shammi Kapoor, Jeetendra, Dharmendra and Rishi Kapoor - leveraging their charms for great success. He also worked with not-so-charismatic or new stars like Joy Mukherjee and Tariq (his nephew). 
None of his films were complete without teeny-bopper romance, a qawwali, a song-competition, a reunion of childhood buddies/relatives and a song atop a moving vehicle. 
But his genius was in taking these predictable set-pieces and mixing them up in a marvelous bhelpuri of such punch that even today when I see Yaadon Baraat, I am quite overwhelmed by the scene where Vijay Arora completes Tariq's song for a grand reunion of the brothers as an emotional Dharmendra looks on! 
And guess what - when he launched his son and nephew in the late 80s, he followed the same formula. Long name - check. Reunion of childhood enemies - check. College romance - triple check! 
QSQT did not have a song competition. But the film which came immediately afterwards did - Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar
What did I tell you about long names and Nasir Hussain? 

Shakti Samanta
He is the man, who demise last week triggered off this post. 
Shakti Samanta - in a span of about 10 years - directed/produced Kashmir ki Kali, An Evening in Paris, Aradhana, Kati Patang and Amar Prem. As I write the names, I realised that while he is credited with creating the first superstar of Hindi cinema in Rajesh Khanna, it is Sharmila Tagore who is more regular (4 out of 5) in this set of monster hits!
In the late 1970s, he made a habit of making films simultaneously in Bengali and Hindi - Amanush, Anand Ashram and Barsaat Ki Ek Raat
As a commercial film maker, he clearly stood among the very best because his sense of his actors' strengths was brilliant and it showed up repeatedly. Be it Sharmila's rosy-cheeked innocence in KKK, bikini-clad svelteness in Paris or Rajesh Khanna's mannerisms, he made these people into stars by creating an aura around them. 
"Aansoo pochh dalo, Pushpa. I haaaaate tears..." from Amar Prem is easily the most repeated Rajesh Khanna line - quite a pathetic line, brought to immortality only for the manner a reigning superstar said it! 
Again in Aradhana, he took the bold descision of killing off the superstar halfway through the film and then made him return as the son. Rajesh Khanna's entry on an airstrip, complete with an intro by his friend (played by an unrecognisable Subhash Ghai) - "Jab Prakash aa gaya hain, toh Suraj bhi zyada door nahin ho sakta" - is one of the best entry scenes in Hindi cinema. Ever.
The encyclopaedia of mind-numbingly good music that he created is very lovingly recounted here. I won't add to it. 
What I will add is one more piece of my favourite Bollywood puzzle, that needs to be repeated every once in a while...  

1 comment:

Roger Rabbit said...

Nasir Hussain's magnum opus was of course, Teesri Manzil, which was also a turnaround for RD Burman's career.

Not sure why you didn't consider Hrishikesh Mukherjee as one of the 'Dream Merchants'.