Movie Mahal: Manmohan Desai


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!

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46 Comments to “Movie Mahal: Manmohan Desai”

  1. Faaaabulous post! Thanks so much, Memsaab!!! What a lost gem!

  2. WOW Memsaab!! Thanks for sharing!!!!!

  3. You are welcome, thanks really goes to Asli Jat :-) I just love these sorts of things…

    There are some episodes of Movie Mahal on YouTube, but they seem to mostly consist of song clips and are based on “themes” (like heros, heroines) rather than actual people.

  4. Thanks! Your hard work is much appreciated!

    I can’t wait to get home and listen to these audio clips!!! :)

  5. Let me know what you think when you hear them. I tried to keep the files small so they wouldn’t be hard to play (I understand the work thing though) :-) I just love that Amitabh calls MD “insane”—twice!

  6. Gotta repeat PPCC’s words- truly a lost gem- I am so glad u put it up- at least now it is online for generations and generations- until the internet becomes obsolete :)

  7. Both you and AJ are the gems Memsaab–AJ for going to so much of trouble to make it available and you for the great post, thank you both v.v. much!

    Loved it of course, he seemed so refreshingly matter-of-fact, about still living in Girgaum, playing cricket with his old friends, not being part of the filmi crowd. I also loved when he barked at Amitabh during the ‘Ganga, Jamuna, Saraswati’ shoot! Was hoping he’d talk about ‘Sachha Jhutha’ and ‘Roti’ both of which are obvious favorites. Oh why you ask? RK perchance ;-)

    By the way, according to IBOS, he’s the most successful director in Hindi cinema–16 major grossers out of 20 films.

  8. Thank you! This was a delight :)

  9. I have ojust come across this post. I will go through the content later when I get time. But wow, this is a gem, and it will keep me busy for hours. Thanks a lot, Greta and thanks a lot Asli Jat, for this valuable article.

  10. Great post memsaab, i remember watching the repeats of movie mahal in england when i was 9 or 10, Manmohan seems like such a regular guy who directed the best fun films ever! love the snow by the way reminds of the snow that never occurs in Vancouver!

  11. Awww! I want to go down right now, and get myself a MD film. ‘Amar Akbar Anthony’ is my all-time favourite. Can you imagine anyone wanting to go to the loo when Anthony pops out of the huge egg?

    He was truly insane. Thanks to Asli Jat and you for this post.

  12. I would never have suspected that Chhalia and Bluffmaster were made by the same guy who made Naseeb, Mard and Amar Akbar Anthony if I hadnt seen the evidence on imdb myself! Nothing in his earlier films could have prepared his audience for the insanity that was to come. lol

    These interviews are pure gold! Hope Asli Jat has more such nuggets in store and you have more such posts in store for us.

  13. Manmohan Desai has become only because Super Star Rajesh Khanna’s movie which were super hit ‘Sachha Jhutha’ and ‘Roti’ .

  14. Ganga Jamuna Saraswati finally broke the magic.

  15. The “Naseeb” song “John Jaani Janardan” was in fact a song where he had assembled all the stars who had worked for Manmohan Desai in the past.

    That is why we had Raj Kapoor, Shammi Kapoor, Rajesh Khanna ( did he work in any Manmohan Desai movie ?, Yes, “Sachha Jhootha” of course ), Dharmendra (Dharam Veer) etc etc assembled here. And the presence of such a galaxy of stars makes that song a memorable song.

  16. This is absolutely delightful! I love the sound bites. Many thanks to you and Asli Jat!

  17. Memsaab…I am unable to listen to the clips you’ve posted here..Mannji (as he is fondly remembered) is one of my most fav. directors…I wanna see/listen to this interview at any cost…from where can I get it???can you upload the videos on youtube???
    PS. I had this problem with your Bombay Superstar too

  18. shweta: I suffer in thinking how many lost gems must be out there that I don’t know about :(

    Suhan: God bless Asli Jat :)

    dusted off & Atul: You are welcome, enjoy!

    rum: It’s raining here now instead of snow :) It’s a coastal thing, sadly.

    Banno: Oh he was hilarious, so agitated when recounting the loo story. I started re-reading his biography last night, it’s really good and the writer says she has pretty much put down his conversation verbatim to give the flavor for how rapidly and enthusiastically he talked.

    bollyviewer: I know. One of these weekends I’m going to go through them all in order and see if I can make sense of it. I’m sure there are indications, he is such an identifiable director in so many ways.

    Manohar: Well, even he says that Sachaa Jhutha was the beginning of his greatest period :-)

    Vinayak: I haven’t seen GJS but I will! People hated Mard too, but I love it!

    Atul: Rajesh also was in Roti, which was a very interesting film.

    DG: Glad you liked it :)

    toonfactory: Do you have the right plugin to listen to them? Make sure you have all the basic media players; I’m sure that’s what’s missing…(Quicktime maybe?—I use a Mac although it shouldn’t make any difference)…

  19. Thanks for sharing this treasure memsaab. :)

  20. I’m very happy to do so, and very grateful to Asli Jat for sharing with ME :-)

  21. thanks for sharing!

  22. Your blog is such an educational experience! Thank you so much for posting about it; Amit-ji sounds almost exactly the same.

  23. harvey: you’re welcome!

    ajnabi: It is for me too! and yes, he does ;-) Very dignified.

  24. HAHAHHAHAAHH @ “Why’re you getting up, this is my song! Don’t get up! If you want to go to the loo, do it right here!” “But I want to go to the bathroom!”

    I can see why AB uses the word insane. At least he never locked anybody into the theater like Kishen Kumar is rumored to have done. I also never expected MD to sound like an excited 15 year old kid. Awww.

  25. Amrita, he is so childlike. I guess that’s a quality that everyone uses to describe him, and certainly it comes through in his films. I really wish he were still around, making movies :(

  26. Wonderful! Thanks so much for sharing this. (Now if only some kind soul would post it on YouTube!)

  27. The file is way too large to post on YouTube, and I have no idea how to split up or compress files to make them small enough…:( This is pretty much the limit of my technical abilities I’m afraid! I’d rather spend my time watching films than tinkering with video files anyway. Hopefully someone clever who enjoys such things will (as I said somewhere above, there are some Movie Mahal episodes on YouTube already).

    I wish the BBC would realize what a treasure trove they have in terms of Hindi cinema and release them on DVD…but I guess they have fewer resources than treasure troves.

  28. Use something like “boilsoft video splitter” to split videos. It is very easy to use. That is how people upload Bollywood songs, by splitting from from the movie.

  29. This reminds me how bad I need to get my hands on his biography. Too bad it looks like it’s only a hardcover and therefore pretty expensive. :(

  30. It’s a pretty good bio—I have a hardcover, I bought it in India though.

    It’s well-written and quotes him extensively, quite entertaining :-)

  31. Unless you ordered your computer to very specific configurations, your mac should come pre-equipped with some kind of video editing software. And it’ll allow you to split video and automatically compress it too. But it’s a bit of a slog.

  32. Amrita: It is a bit of a slog (or flog) :-) and I simply have too many other things I’d rather spend my time on…plus, my friend is sharing these with me and I’ve gotten permission from him to share with you via my blog…but the video really belongs to him; if he wants to put it out there I am sure he will.

  33. Memsaab and Asli Jat, thank you for bringing this to us. Also, praise be to the technology Gods for making possible this information sharing.

    For MD, I have to say his manner of speech is equivalent to Shammi’s dancing. Both are so much fun and full of enthusiasm. One can’t help but smile listening to MD as they would were they watching Shammi dance.

    On a slight tangent, I am always amazed by AB’s eloquence, whether he’s speaking in English or Hindi. Sometimes when I watch/listen to the interviews of some the younger starlets, I wish that this trait were more commonplace.

  34. How funny, I was just watching Shammi dance :-)

    MD is just great. So grandiose but so sweet somehow at the same time. And AB is very dignified and eloquent. I love to listen to him talk.

  35. Manmohan Desai was engaged to marry actress Nanda, before he passed away.

  36. I had read that; apparently Waheeda Rehman is Nanda’s best friend and had helped bring them together.

    Did Nanda ever get married, I wonder?

  37. No Nanda never got married. Infact she is quite a recluse – especially after Manmohan Desai passed away. Asha Parekh, Waheeda Rehman, Sadhna, Vyjanthimala and Nanda get together now and then. Asha Parekh got this group of ladies together since all of them are either widowed or had never married.

  38. Oh, I want to hang out with them. I’ve never gotten married either, think they would include me? :-)

  39. What wonderful memories they must have. Oh by the way Asha Parekh once said that of all her co-stars Shammi kapoor was her favourite. She said that he was and is ‘a real man’.

    Even Sharmila said in one of the show’s (when she was asked who her favourite was between Rajesh Khanna and Shammi kapoor) that Shammi Kapoor was her favourite, then she also added that the reason was that he was her first co-star… but …. well….

  40. See???? I would fit right in!!!!! Shammi will always be my favorite too :)

  41. thanks for your comment on my blog…

    I’d love to see the video and in fact put it up on my blog if there’s a youtube on it or something. Some of these things I was aware of. Don’t know if he ‘hated’ Kishore. But yes Rafi was his singer of choice. Kishore has after sung for his films. thanks so much for your comment..

  42. This is a wonderful piece… great work!

  43. Thanks Satyam :) You can reach out to AJ for the video if he’s willing to share it!

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