Location – Railway Station
A disappointed youngman, totally down and out, failed in his endeavours and wishing to return home, is about to board a train. That’s when a small time director, with a bit of success, appraoches the youngman and advices him to stay on; asks him to be positive and not just that, he also offers him a role in his next upcoming movie. The youngman shows faith in the director and decides to give it one last shot. The movie is made, goes on to become a super-duper hit, the youngman eventually carves a place for himself in the annals of history; and as usual, the director who gave the country an angry-youngman, dies in oldage with lot less than deserved or credited for.
The scene may not have played out as was written above, but that’s how the legend has it. The youngman was none other than Amitabh Bachchan, the one-man-industry; the movie was Zanjeer and the director was Prakash Mehra. Prakash Mehra passed away today in illness, and its a big loss to the film industry.
Let’s just re-play his life, his achievments, his dreams, his movies and his success story. Mehra started out as a production controller, in the late 1950′s, with movies like Ujala which came in 1959 and Professor in 1962. He graduated to become the assisstant director of Majboor in 1964, starring Biswajeet and Waheeda Rehman. His moment finally arrived in 1968, when he turned director with Haseena Maan Jayegi which starred Babita and Shashi Kapoor in a double role. The movie had a decent story with war as a dropback, where one look-alike replaces another, in an inconvenient manner. It has a murder suspense, an emotional drama with Babita playing the wife who is faced with the dilemma of probably living with a man who may not ber her husband, but a look-alike. The movie had two lovely songs, Kabhi Raat Din Hum Door The and Bekhudi Mei Sanam. The film was a good directorial debut and it did very well at the BO, giving much confidence to Mehra.
His next movie as a director came 3 years later, in 1971. Mehra got an opportunity to direct both the Khan brothers together, Feroz and Sanjay, in Mela which released in 1971. The movie was set in a village and we see here the seeds of a typical masala potboiler, which later became his forte, where 3 men revolt against the current panchayat setup of the village. All the characters in the movie were diverse – a man from a lower caste wishing to marry a brahmin girl, an orphan who is brought up by a muslim woman, a daaku who will not allow any women from the village to tie the nuptial knots because the thakurs had raped and killed his sweetheart. The orphan was played by Sanjay and Feroz played the disgruntled daaku, and added to this is the twist of the lost-and-found saga where 20 years back Feroz had lost his sibling in a fair. Mehra probably hit the winning formula with this movie, with a great mix of characters, secular touch, cast/class barriers and the lost-found story. The movie was well received at the BO.
Before Mehra turned producer with Zanjeer in 1973, he directed a few other movies like Samadhi and Ek Kunwari Ek Kunwara. Neither of the movies did very well, but Samadhi did have one zingy number which later became popular after being remixed, Kanta Laga.
Finally Mehra decided to produce movies and Zanjeer was his first venture. This movie catapulted Amitabh Bachchan to stardom and gave us the man who would go onto become the superstar of the millenium. There is so much to write about this movie, but it may not be possible right here. All I would like to say is that Mehra directed this movie with utmost honesty and it showed. He portrayed actual anger and not just undertones of it, as was seen in movies of 1960′s and 70′s. The manner in which BigB does not let a criminal occupy a seat in the police station, the way in which he displayed smouldering anger when he was jailed on false charges and the way BigB interacted with the anti-elements of the society was brilliant. He did it, without playing to the gallery; he later lost this art.
After the unpredicted success of Zanjeer, Mehra directed Haath Ki Safai in 1974. This was another lost-and-found story where a young Raju is orphaned and separated from his elder brother Shankar. Raju becomes a small time pickpocket while Shankar becomes a don. In what circumstance they meet again, how a stolen necklace brings them together forms the rest of the movie. Randhir Kapoor played Raju and Shankar was played by Vinod Khanna. Mehra, by now, had mastered the art of making such masala movies and as was expected this movie also went on to become a big hit. The song Waada Karle Saajna, from the movie, remains one of the most romantic songs.
Two years later, in 1976, came Hera Pheri starring Amitabh Bachchan and Vinod Khanna; the movie was produced by Mehra himself. This was the second time that Mehra directed BigB and Vinod Khanna, but the first time he was directing them together. The movie had a convoluted storyline about two friends who are petty thiefs who have a secret past which leads to familial revenge drama. Although the movie was not good, it rode on the waves of BigB and VK. The movie had lots of comical moments, silly laughs and gags and a few funny songs as well. Mehra handled his stars well, but went over-the-top in all departments.
The success of Hera Pheri prompted Mehra to bring the two stars together again, this time in a new-age Devdas version. The movie was Muqaddar Ka Sikandar, produced and directed by him. The movie was mediocre at best, but no one notices the flaw when the package is this good. Mehra roped in Amjad Khan, Rekha and Rakhi; and added his twists to the story. Rekha played out Chandramukhi while Rakhi was happy playing Paro; the twist was that both of them had admirers. Vinod Khanna was the love interest of Paro, who pulls her out of BigB’s space of affection and love. Amjad Khan was the local goon who likes Chandramukhi, so you must have understood that BigB was the sulking Devdas. The movie had some beautiful songs like O Saathi Re, Salaam-e-Ishq and the title song; all set to tunes by Kalyanji-Anandji. The movie did whopping business, cemented BigB’s position in the industry and turned Mehra into a director with golden touch.
Mehra and BigB went on to give 3 more blockbusters to the industry; Laawaris in 1981, Namak Halaal in 1982 and Sharaabi in 1984. Although, all these movies did wonderfully well at BO, they lacked a sense of script and drama. Namak Halaal had a myraid of comical scenes scattered throughout the movie – the party scene [totally inspired by Peter Seller’s movie The Party], the interview scene about cricket commentary, the dinner table scene with the fly and of course the drunk scene. It was BigB’s performance that pulled in the crowds, enthused the movie-goers. Mehra should be given the credit for taking the best out of BigB, tapping his emotional and comical talent to great effect.
Sharaabi was a movie inspired by Arthur, but the movie succeeded due to BigB’s brilliant portrayal of a drunk yet happy and graceful man who is out to help the needy. His emotional detachment with his father, how he drowns himself in alcohol and desires no part of his father’s wealth went very well with the audience. They laughed, they cried, they sympathised with him and loved him so much that they made the movie a huge success by watching it again and again. Similarly, in Laawaris too, the audience sympathised with BigB and totally understood his angst. Mehra could literally feel the pulse of the fans and the normal movie watchers, and showed Amitabh Bachchan in all those roles which would appeal to them. All three movies lacked a sense of purpose, was not good cinema but just entertainers which went on to do well only because BigB starred in them. Mehra directed these movies which were totally over-the-top, but credit must go to BigB for carrying-off these mediocre roles with such panache.
Another thing that went in Mehra’s favour was the music of the movies. All the movies had songs that are sung to this day – Pag Ghungroo Baandh, Raat Baaki, Aaj Rapat Jaye, Jahan Char Yaar, De De Pyar De, Inteha Ho Gayi Intezar Ki, Kabke Bichhde, Mere Angne Mei and many more. All these songs were picturized well and BigB came to the forefront as a true entertainer.
In 1989, Mehra directed BigB for the last time in Jaadugar. The movie was weak in all departments, the script was bad, the dialogues were plain, setup was horrible and everything about it had ‘flop’ written all over it. But BigB did the movie in good faith, never ever questioning his directors. The movie tried to portray him as a messiah of sorts, and BigB’s get-up was matched up to resemble Jesus and so were the long drawn sermons. Only a die-hard fan of Amitabh can sit through the movie, and I have not just sat through it but have watched it quite a few times.
The last directorial venture of Mehra came in 1996, Bal Bramhachari which was the debut movie of Rajkumar’s son Puru Rajkumar and co-starring Karishma Kapoor. The movie was a non-starter at the BO, and Puru could never really recover from his bad debut.
Nevertheless, Mehra’s contribution in the industry is immense. He will be remembered for the great association he had with Amitabh Bachchan and the way they enthralled the audience for a decade. He will be remembered for giving Alka Yagnik her singing debut in Mere Angne Mei and for the fantastic antics of BigB in that song penned by his father, Harivansh Rai Bachchan. He will be remembered as a man with a big heart, who made movies king-size, conjured up images that audience would not just relate to but also lap it up. He will be remembered everytime we play out those funny sequences from Namak Halaal and Sharaabi, everytime BigB delivers the emotional lines from Muqaddar Ka Sikandar and everytime a police station scene is shot. He will be remembered as a great entertainer who gave us BigB.
zindagi to bewafa hai, ek din thukrayegi
maut mehbooba hai apne saath lekar jayegi
mar ke jeene ki ada jo duniya ko dikhlayega
wo muqaddar ka sikandar jaaneman kehlayega
May his soul rest in peace.