Directors are supposed to be the driving force behind films, are the one with vision, technical knowhow is secondary.
But, how does a director with a successful track record, a number of hits behind him, lose the plot and fade out? An editor, a sound engineer, a cinematographer and other technicians don't fade. They keep up with the new technologies in their fields as and when needed.
But, directors are supposed to be the driving force behind films, are the ones with vision. They translate the writer's ideas on screen.
There are a few examples where most successful film directors come to a dead end!
Manmohan Desai to start with. Desai started off early with a mythological film under a different name. He was barely out of his teens then. He immediately moved on to the big league with "Chhalia" (1960) starring Raj Kapoor and Nutan. His first success came only in 1970 with the Rajesh Khanna starrer "Sachaa Jhutha" followed by "Bhai Ho To Aisa", "Raampur Ka Lakshaman", "Aa Gale Lag Jaa" (hit in parts of India) and "Roti".
With such a glorious success record, it was time he launched his own production house beginning with "Amar Akbar Anthony". Everybody, including the film's stars thought the idea was corny, that of three brothers separating when young and being brought up by a Hindu, Muslim and a Catholic family, respectively!
Desai made a few more home productions and many outside assignments continuing with hits. He started taking his audience for granted. Amitabh Bachchan, a regular feature in his films, usually cast against the likes of glam girls Zeenat Aman or Parveen Babi, was paired with much lesser Amrita Singh, Rati Agnihotri and such. Desai also kept making similar films his argument being, "Why should I derail a train which is moving smoothly?"
"Coolie", a mediocre film, worked as Desai decided to highlight on screen the Bachchan accident that happened on the sets while shooting the film. "Mard" was ranked poor and just scraped through. His next two directorial ventures, "Gangaa Jamunaa Saraswathi" for S. Raamnathan and home production, "Toofan", came as a cropper. His favourite star, Bachchan was no more inclined to work with him. That was demoralising. His efforts to launch his son, Ketan Desai, as a director also did not work out. That was disheartening enough for a man with a glorious track record to die an unnatural death.
Talking of inspirations, where did Desai's inspiration come from? It came from the people around him. He lived in the middle and lower middle class Khetwadi area of Mumbai. He played cricket with the local lads in the nearby municipal grounds every Sunday. Then, he moved to an area at the other extreme, Napean Sea Road, a seven-storey apartment on an incline where each flat was like a bungalow with an in-house garden and a private parking lot. Unbelievable, but despite all his wealth and success, he felt out of place here. And soon decided to give up his luxurious home in South Mumbai and moved back to his old Khetwadi home where he got his inspirations from to make the kind of films he made.
The best example would be that of Vijay Anand, acclaimed as a genius of a director. Some of his films rate as classics besides excelling technically in their time. He was multitalented being a writer, editor as well as a director. His sense of script was unique. It was when he decided to add one more credit to his name, as an actor, that his fall began. Incidentally, his fall was also incidental to the fall of his brother, Dev Anand, whose films Vijay directed.
His inspiration seemed to stem from the fact that most of the films he directed were for the family or for his brother playing the lead. The other films he directed were either average or not accepted by the audience. But, when Vijay Anand took a fancy to acting and playing the lead at a rather late stage in life, his career stumbled.
It was okay till he made cameos in some films. Almost all the films where he played the male lead flopped, save for "Kora Kagaz", was fair in "Bombay Circuit" and "Main Tulsi Tere Aangan Ki", which was more of an Asha Parekh-Nutan film. Dev Anand, on his part decided to direct his own films which was not his forte. He directed 20 films since and, save for just two, "Des Pardes" and "Hare Rama Hare Krishn"', which managed to pass muster, the rest were disasters at the box office.
A Manmohan Desai contemporary was Prakash Mehra, who kept on delivering hit after hit with Bachchan. While Desai made mass appealing films, Mehra's bent was more towards emotional content. Mehra's track record was as impressive as that of Desai. The ace up his sleeve was also Bachchan.
Making his debut as director with "Haseena Maan Jaayegi", followed by "Mela" and "Aan Baan", his first success was "Samadhi", a Dharmendra starrer. But, soon he came across a pair of new writers, Salim-Javed, who sold him the script of "Zanjeer". No reigning star was willing to do the film. On the veteran actor Pran's suggestion it is said, Mehra looked up Bachchan, a struggling actor, and the rest, as they say, is history. Prakash Mehra had arrived and so had Bachchan, the megastar in the making.
Mehra and Bachchan went on to make a few more hits in "Haath Ki Safaai", "Hera Pheri", "Muqaddar Ka Sikandar", "Laawaris", "Namak Halaal" and "Sharaabi". All the other films he directed with other actors as gap fillers flopped badly. His major setback came in "Jaadugar" with Bachchan again. The story of the film happened to be the same as Manmohan Desai's "Toofan", which released first while "Jaadugar" followed two weeks later. Bachchan deserted both the makers thereafter which as good as put paid to the careers of both. Mehra directed two at the beginning of his career which passed muster, nine films with Bachchan. The 10 he made with other stars while also making films with Bachchan, all failed badly.
Then there was Ramesh Sippy who gave racy musical hits like "Andaaz" and "Seeta Aur Geeta" at the start of his stint as a director. He peaked with "Sholay", the biggest hit the Hindi film industry produced. May be it was his youthful enthusiasm. "Sholay's" success was not without hiccups as the film opened to a tepid response and mostly negative public response. The trade as well as the media had written it off.
Don't know if that shook his self-confidence but his next, "Shaan", where he put together a mammoth star cast of Bachchan, Shashi Kapoor, Sunil Dutt, Shatrughan Sinha along with Rakhee, Parveen Babi and others, proved to be a debacle. Sippy's other films by him which followed, "Shakti", "Saagar", "Zameen", "Bhrashtachar", "Akayla" or "Zamaana Deewana" could not replicate his earlier success as each of these films failed. Was it because the people were accepting much more from the man who delivered 'Sholay'?
Like Manmohan Desai, another case of running out of inspiration gained through life and surroundings is the director N. Chandra. He spent his growing years in a chawl in Mumbai's Worli area. He began his film career in the editing department and like most who come to the film industry, always nursed the aspirations to make his own films. Chandra made his directorial debut with the film "Ankus", about four aimless youth in Mumbai. The film reflected his observations and experiences of the life around a chawl.
His next was "Pratighaat" for which he did not deserve much credit since it was a frame to frame remake of a South Indian film. However, his next, "Tezaab", launched not only Chandra as a hit maker but also launched Madhuri Dixit on a glorious acting career. Chandra managed to give one more hit, "Narsimha'". He now had money and snapped his links with the chawl life and moved to a gated society in the suburbs. He just had his reputation of the maker of four hits but nothing to inspire him. He delivered a line-up of big budget films with the best of stars on the roll.
The directors mentioned here made a splash. They became trendsetters, commanded their own audience and hence the price. Till it lasted.
There were a lot of other directors who made films on regular basis: some worked, some did not.
Shakti Samanta, Pramod Chakravorty, Raj Khosla, Chetan Anand, B.R. Chopra, Yash Chopra, Hrishikesh Mukherjee and Subhash Ghai to name a few. A hit or a flop once in a while did not affect their careers. These makers were an institution unto themselves. But, they also faded out as trends and the demands changed. The problem with the Indian filmmakers, as it is with film directors is that, in most cases, the only aspiration they have is to make films. They are not qualified to do anything else or have Plan B. In most cases, the refuge is bottle.
@ The Box Office
*The USP of "Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga" were quite a few. It brought the father and daughter pair of Anil Kapoor and Sonam Kapoor together on screen. The title was inspired from a hit R.D. Burman song from the past Anil Kapoor film, "1942: A Love Story", and the maker of the film was the very same, Vinod Chopra Films.
All to no avail. Here, the content sells. Not family pedigrees. As it were, the subject has limited appeal. "Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga" comes a cropper. The film had a poor opening and, by Monday following its release, came to a point when the shows had to be cancelled due to lack of audience. The film has collected a meagre Rs 16 crore for its first (and last week).
*"Manikarnika", Kangana Ranaut's ambitious foray into direction and venturing into a not so readily accepted historical theme of Rani Of Jhansi, is maintaining well so far. The film has added about Rs 21 crore for its second week taking its two week total to Rs 78 crore and may just sail through.
*"Uri: The Surgical Strike" is scaling new heights every week and no opposition seems to affect it. For a non-established lead player and the rest of the star cast, the film asserts that the content and the public sentiments work more than anything. The film has collected Rs 199 crore in four weeks and is set to cross the Rs 200 crore mark as it enters into its fifth week.
(The writer is a veteran film writer and box office analyst)