Sunday, February 26, 2017
Filmmaker Manmohan Desai etched his place in history of Bollywood for delivering some of the biggest hits that whizzed audiences away into a world of make-believe, where simple people did wondrous things and made you laugh and cry with them.
“Anhonee Ko Honee Karna Hamara Kaam Hai”
(Making the impossible possible is our job)
Manmohan Desai, The Man Himself
Born on 26th February, 1937 to a Gujarati couple Kalavati and Kikubhai Desai, Manmohan Desai moved to the Khetwadi locality in Mumbai at the age of four. Mumbai, the city of dreams and dream merchants had always been his home. This love for the city of Mumbai was often portrayed on the screen in his movies.
Not many had heard of Khetwadi then in the early 80’s. There was a time when the nondescript Khetwadi was not reflected in the maps of the city. No doubt the taxi drivers gave blank look when asked for the address for MKD Films.
Desai had film making in his blood stream. His father was a film producer who owned Paramount Studios (later Filmalaya) and made films, mainly stunt films, between 1931 and 1941. When his father passed away at a young age of 39 due to a ruptured appendix, the family plunged into heavy liabilities and debts. Desai’s mother was pretty clear about not wanting to “live with debts”. She sold off the massive bungalow they owned in Versova and the cars to repay the debts. Only thing that she did not sell was the studio as it was the source of their monthly income then.
Amar Akbar Anthony (Evergreen Entertainer)
Amar Akbar Anthony, the evergreen entertainer which has captivated millions of movie lovers continues to be one of the most remembered films for its performances, dialogues and scenes. The maker of this mega hit, the maverick Manmohan Desai etched his place in history for delivering some of the biggest hits of Hindi cinema that whizzed audiences away into a world of make-believe, where simple people did wondrous things and made you laugh and cry with them.
Desai had stumbled upon the idea for Amar Akbar Anthony from a news item he had read in an evening newspaper. An alcoholic man named Jackson was fed up with his life and one day he packed his three children in a car and decided to drop them off in the park. Manmohan Desai’s story began from where this news item ended.
Desai twisted the story and did away with the alcohol angle. In the film’s story when the father returns he finds that all his three children have gone missing. The eldest kid Amar (Vinod Khanna) is adopted by a Hindu police officer, the second one Anthony (Amitabh Bachchan) by a Catholic priest and the third one Akbar (Rishi Kapoor) by a Muslim tailor.
Amar Akbar Anthony was also Kader Khan’s first blockbuster as writer. It was the first and last time when Rafi Saab, Lata Didi, Kishore Kumar and Mukesh Ji sang a song together in the film ‘Hum Ko Tumse Hogaya Pyar Kya Karein’. There were three different male voices for the heroes but only Lata Mangeshkar for all the leading ladies.
My Name is Anthony Gonsalves
The most memorable character among the trio is of course Anthony Gonsalves. The original name of Amitabh Bachchan’s character was Anthony Fernandes. It was music composer Pyarelal Ji who requested Late Manmohan Desai to change it to Anthony Gonsalves after his guruji’s name. Anthony Gonsalves was one of India’s leading violinists and music arrangers who later moved to Goa after retirement.
The inspiration for Anthony came to Desai from the real life character Antav, a bootlegger who was staying close to his home in Khetwadi. He used to wear a funny hat and conversed with Desai in his lingo, “Desai, kaisa hai? Dikhtaich nahin!” Director Desai was fascinated by his character and decided to model the character of Anthony Bhai on him.
The song ‘My name is Anthony Gonsalves’ begins with these lines spoken by Anthony when he emerges from the Easter egg – “You see, the whole country of the system is juxtapositioned by the hemoglobin in the atmosphere because you are a sophisticated rhetorician intoxicated by the exuberance of your own verbosity.” It is an almost exact quotation from a speech in the Parliament of the United Kingdom given by British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli in 1878. Disraeli (who was referring to William Ewart Gladstone) used the word “inebriated” rather than “intoxicated.”
Amitabh Bachchan had once said, “He (Desai) would first design the `items’ that he wanted in the film then he would shoot them and then write the (screenplay) to link them up.” Interestingly, Desai was known to do some of the craziest stuff but it always worked for him.
Remember the famous `blood donation’ scene, where three sons of a mother donate her blood at the same time? The scene was criticized for being a medical improbability. Three separate tubes carry the men’s blood to a suspended bottle from where one tube carries the collected blood to the mother Bharti (Nirupa Roy)! The credits end and then the main story begins.
A medical impossibility. But Desai did it and it is said that when the scene opened, there was unbelievable applause in the theatre. That’s the unique and highly saleable creativity that director Manmohan Desai exhibited.
The Shoot Locations
The place where Kishan Lal and his family who are seen living in an old home is part of Bandra. The songs and items from the movie that were executed first. The items included the Easter Egg scene, Saibaba Qawwali and Bachchan’s drunken scene in front of the mirror. Most of the shoot had been indoors in studios as in RK, Kamalistan and Ranjit. The Saibaba song was shot in the outskirts of Mumbai city then namely Borivali where Saibaba temple was built. The song “Humko Tumse Ho Gaya Hai Pyaar” was shot in the quiet Aksa beach. The indoor church scenes were done in Don Bosco Matunga while for outdoor shoot it was Mount Mary church in Bandra. The indoor church scenes were done between 3 and 4:30 pm only as it used to get dark inside.
Those were the days when movies were being played in large single screen cinemas and these were considered to be huge success only if they ran twenty five consecutive weeks – the silver jubilee as they say. Amar Akbar Anthony witnessed the seventy five week long run making Desai reach the exalted position as the most successful director not only for the year but also for the decade. Amar Akbar Anthony is the only movie where the titles start after twenty three minutes and thirty seven seconds and is considered to be the longest amongst Hindi films. The titles open up with the tinge of emotions and the song, “Ye Saach Hai Koi Kahani Nahin . . . Khoon Khoon Hota Hai Paani Nahin”.
Desai always believed that parents came above God and of course, above self. Hurt them and you hurt yourself was his simple belief which continues to echo even today in the world of cinema. In most of the Manmohan Desai films one thing was evident; he always showcased his profound respect for the mother figure. He said, “In my films I always talk about ‘Ma Sherovali’. I feel a woman is a supreme creation. It is she who conceives, she who bears the child after nine months, she who takes care through hardships. She brings into the world a new life. I rate them very high.
The man who firmly believed in the “Lost and Found” formula left behind an indelible mark in Bollywood film history, with films that spun magic with great music, top order performances and thoroughly enjoyable storylines that worked even with a touch of incredulity.