• Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Arts and Culture

Manmohan Desai: Magician of the Bollywood masala entertainer

Manmohan Desai

By: Asjad Nazir

LEGENDARY filmmaker Manmohan Desai was at the forefront of popularising the masala entertainer in Bollywood, which is a genre that incorporates everything from comedy to romance, drama, deep emotion and action, all in one film.

He was, at one time, the undisputed king of the box office and had a dream partnership with Hindi cinema’s biggest star, Amitabh Bachchan. Born on February 26, 1937, the producer-director passed away on March 1, 1994, aged 57.

Eastern Eye decided to commemorate Desai’s birth and recent death anniversary by ranking all the films he directed during his illustrious career.

20. Janam Janam Ke Phere (1957): The director made his debut with this movie and was credited as Manoo Desai. The devotional drama rooted in religion had some interesting ideas, but he was unable to knit them together into a cohesive storyline. Onedimensional performances and a low budget turned it into a forgettable first effort. Lead star Nirupa Roy would later go on to play the mother roles in many of Desai’s biggest hits.

Kismat

19. Kismat (1968): This film, most remembered for the classic song Kajra Mohabbat Wala, saw Desai work with lesser-known actor, Biswajeet, after two high-profile failures with A-list star, Shammi Kapoor. The result was a coincidence-filled story of a singer, who finds himself dragged into a deadly conspiracy. The messy screenplay and not-so-engaging hero turned this into a dud effort with little direction.

18. Budtameez (1968): The director wasted a golden opportunity of working with superstars, Shammi Kapoor and Sadhana, who had ruled the box-office with blockbusters, with a flat film. Whether it was the writing, romance, acting or music, everything in Budtameez seemed like a poor copy of much better movies. Even the good-looking lead stars couldn’t save the movie with sky-high expectations from sinking.

Bluff Master

17. Bluff Master (1963): Getting to work with hit pair, Shammi Kapoor and Saira Banu, after their smash technicolour success, Junglee (1961), should have resulted in a blockbuster. Unfortunately, the black-and-white effort was released when colour movies dominated the box-office. The comedy about a serial liar trying to lead a truthful life had some good moments, but ultimately wasted the talented lead pair on a lacklustre story.

16. Raampur Ka Lakshman (1972): It may not have been a hit, but this action drama about two brothers separated during childhood and brought up on different sides of the law helped lay the blueprint for subsequent Manmohan Desai films. Randhir Kapoor and Shatrughan Sinha played the estranged siblings, who unwittingly find themselves in a tangled web revolving around a moral dilemma. It made enough of an impact for it to be later remade in Tamil as Mangudi Minor (1978).

15. Ganga Jamuna Saraswati (1988): Although he would produce the action drama, Toofan (1989), with Bachchan in the lead a year later, this was the final film Desai directed and, of course, he cast his favourite actor. Desai combined various elements that included love, revenge and action in the story. By the time this film was released, many of the ideas had become outdated. However, Bachchan’s fans would ensure that it later became a cult classic.

Chacha Bhatija

14. Chacha Bhatija: 1977 was a dream year for Desai that saw him deliver four of the top five highestgrossing films of that year. Although this fifth-most successful movie of 1977 was overshadowed by bigger blockbusters, it had enough entertainment value. Dharmendra and Randhir Kapoor played an uncle and nephew on the wrong side of the law, who eventually team up to take on the bad guys. This lightweight effort borrowed elements from better movies.

13. Mard (1985): The dream team of Desai and Bachchan delivered their final hit together with this period drama, which became the second-highest grossing film that year. The story, set during India’s freedom struggle, revolves around a brave young man from a royal lineage, separated from his parents, who grows up impoverished and fights injustice. Although entertaining, it lacked the spark, a flashy star cast and the solid music of earlier efforts.

Bhai Ho To Aisa

12. Bhai Ho To Aisa (1972): The Bollywood remake of the 1966 Telugu film, Aastiparulu, explored a theme the director would later revisit multiple times, of siblings pitted against each other. Jeetendra and Shatrughan Sinha played the lead roles in a story about a man trying to murder his kind-hearted younger brother to get an inheritance. The younger sibling devises a plan involving an assumed identity and complicates things further in a film that had interesting ideas and entertaining moments.

11. Desh Premee (1982): This successful actioner is often overshadowed by other Desai films headlined by Bachchan. The superstar plays a double role, as a patriotic freedom fighter father, who loves his country, and his wayward son, who finds himself on the wrong side of the law. The movie had the conventional story tropes associated with Desai, but also added an important social message of unity between cultures and religions.

Desh Premee

10. Chhalia (1960): This is widely regarded as Desai’s directorial debut because it is the first film to credit him as Manmohan Desai. It was, in fact, his second movie and an underrated Bollywood drama inspired by Partition. It revolved around a married woman left behind during Partition, who finally lands up in India and is rescued by an outlaw. The movie, headlined by Raj Kapoor and Nutan, didn’t reach its potential, despite being based on a classic short story by Russian writer, Fyodor Dostoevsky.

9. Coolie (1983): The action-comedy-drama is most remembered as the movie that almost killed Bachchan after an accident on the set. Although Prayag Rag unofficially masterminded the movie, producer Desai was also given director credit to increase the film’s value. Bachchan played the title character in the story of a boy separated from his parents, who grows up working as a coolie, always ready to take on the evil forces. Desai crammed in all the masala elements, from comedy and action to raw emotions.

Coolie

8. Aa Gale Lag Jaa (1973): The romantic film of a couple who is separated and then reunited under unexpected circumstances was a box-office success.

The multi-layered drama added elements of a love triangle, a father-son story and misunderstandings to the melting pot. The director drew out great performances from lead stars Shashi Kapoor, Sharmila Tagore and Shatrughan Sinha, in a movie that was later remade in multiple languages.

7. Sachaa Jhutha (1970): The second-highest grossing Bollywood film of that year kicked off a dream decade for Desai that was filled with blockbusters. Rajesh Khanna won his first Filmfare best actor award after reaching superstardom in this action comedy. He portrayed a dynamic double role of an innocent villager and a suave diamond thief being pursued by the police. What follows is a comedy of errors powered by an actor playing two distinct characters with contrasting personalities.

Suhaag

6. Suhaag (1979): The highest-grossing Bollywood release of that year was another film that ticked all the Desai boxes, from the lost-and-found element, to all the spiciness associated with a masala-driven movie, including action, romance and superb songs. Bachchan, Shashi Kapoor, Parveen Babi and Rekha headlined the movie about two brothers brought up on opposite sides of the law. The underrated film, often overshadowed by Desai’s other classics, had many great moments.

5. Parvarish (1977): It was one of the biggest Diwali blockbusters of all time, driven by the interesting storyline of a police officer (Shammi Kapoor) adopting a villain’s son. Years later, his own biological son (Vinod Khanna) is a smuggler, while the adopted son (Bachchan) becomes an honest police officer. Desai managed to cleverly inject elements such as comedy, family drama and romance, into what was essentially a crime thriller.

Roti

4. Roti (1974): The successful film filled with twists revolved around a career criminal on the run, who takes on a false identity and attempts to make a positive difference. The multi-layered drama combined all this with romance, redemption and human rights. The movie, later remade in Telugu as Neram Nadi Kadu Akalidi (1976), put romantic hero Rajesh Khanna into a new space and had a great performance from Mumtaz.

3. Dharam Veer (1977): The second-highest grossing film of 1977, it was only beaten to the top spot by Desai’s own Amar Akbar Anthony. The big blockbuster, headlined by Dharmendra, Jeetendra, Zeenat Aman, Neetu Singh and Pran, told the story of two brothers separated at birth, who became friends and then turned enemies.

The massive entertainer had memorable musical numbers, majestic performances and marvellous action. There was also romance and plenty of intrigue in the kitsch classic.

DharamVeer

2. Naseeb (1981): The second-highest grossing film of that year became an all-time classic over time. Desai assembled an amazing cast headlined by Bachchan, Hema Malini, Rishi Kapoor, Reena Roy and Shatrughan Sinha, along with all the greatest villains of that era, for his Bollywood potboiler. From a lost-and-found angle, to great music, comedy, action, romance and drama, the film had all the elements of a masala entertainer. It was Desai’s personal favourite.

Amar Akbar Anthony

1. Amar Akbar Anthony (1977): The biggest box-office hit of that year is widely regarded as an all-time classic and one of the greatest Bollywood films ever made. The unique story of three brothers brought up in different faiths, after being separated as children, made full use of the lost-and-found formula. Desai assembled an impressive cast that included Bachchan, Vinod Khanna, Rishi Kapoor, Parveen Babi, Neetu Singh, Shabana Azmi and Pran in a masala entertainer that defined him as a filmmaker.

It was pure entertainment and, like his other films, kept the late great filmmaker’s legacy alive.

 

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