My friend Asli Jat has done it again! He has sent me this episode of a 1987 series aired on Channel 4 in the UK called Movie Mahal (produced and directed by Nasreen Munni Kabir) and what a treat it is! It’s all about the “Miracle Man” Manmohan Desai—one of my favorite filmmakers, as anybody who’s spent any time here probably knows. He is interviewed, as is Amitabh Bachchan, and the interviews are interspersed with song clips from many of his films. I thought I’d put together a post with audio clips and screen shots since people enjoyed that format for the Bombay Superstar documentary so much. Manmohan Desai is a great deal of fun to listen to; he’s as intense and enthusiastic about his work as you could ever hope for! He calls himself a “dream merchant”—and breaks into song every now and again as well.
The show starts with Manmohan Desai talking about his first film, Chhalia (1960). It’s incidentally one of the few films that I love Raj Kapoor in. And Desai shares that RK was one of his early inspirations and, along with Nutan, his favorite star.
He also directed Raj’s brother—my Shammi!—not once, but twice: in Bluffmaster (1963) and Budtameez (1966) and they remained lifelong friends (Shammi and Geeta Bali’s daughter Kanchan also married Manmohan Desai’s son Ketan). Here he talks about his relationship with Shammi and how he ended up making Budtameez.
Then he talks about his rapport with Laxmikant, the music director, and the process of working with him.
This brings him to stories about Amar Akbar Anthony (1977) and how afraid he was that it would fail, leading him to print up pamphlets advertising the movie and distributing them on the streets of Bombay. Of course, it didn’t fail!
His late wife was a devotee of Sai Baba. He talks about how when she died (eight years previous to this interview) he had a hard time, and how his son kept him going. He told his father that he was an expert script-writer who always wrote a strong second half (which I might disagree with, but never mind), and that he was now entering the post-interval stage of his life, and he should make it equally good. So sweet!
We’re treated to the scene from Naseeb (1981) with all the celebrity guests, and Amitabh talks about filming it, and how he was a waiter not only onscreen but also off-screen; trying to make sure all his colleagues were comfortable and at the same time trying to prepare for his shots so they wouldn’t have to wait around on the sets for too long.
On the sets of Ganga Jamuna Saraswati (1988) (which must have been shooting at the same time this was filmed, and is the last film Desai directed), we see Amitabh and Desai interacting between shots.
This is followed by Desai talking about Coolie (1983) and how actual coolies in India asked for special screenings for them on Sunday mornings when they could leave work for a few hours. He mentions that Pyarelal added a chorus of voices in the background music for the scene towards the end when Amitabh is shot four times, which greatly enhanced the intensity of the scene.
Then Amitabh has this bit of hilarity to offer:
Followed by this funny story from Desai himself:
More scenes from Amar Akbar Anthony follow, with this summation from Amitabh of Desai’s films.
It ends with Desai talking about how he’s a middle-class guy, who doesn’t care for filmi parties and who still plays cricket on the streets with his childhood friends. I feel like I’ve just had tea and a nice chat with him. Lovely!
I only wish he’d talked a bit about why animals often feature so prominently in his films.
Perhaps I’ll re-read his biography and see if it’s mentioned there!