By Chaitanya Padukone
Lakhs of admirers and loyal fans of legendary music-savvy filmmaker Manmohan Desai across the globe celebrated his 86th birth anniversary on Sunday by watching some of his movies and songs. It would be pertinent for them as well as retro-cinephiles to know the little-known khush khabri that we are about to reveal.
At the recent 52nd International Festival-Rotterdam (Netherlands) 2023; both NRIs and Indian delegates were delighted to note that Manmohan Desai was given the exalted title of ‘Grandmaster’ and his iconic jubilee super-hit (restored sub-titled print) movie ‘Amar Akbar Anthony’ (1977) (“AAA) was screened for the foreign audiences as part of a special section called ‘Cinema Regained’. This heartening piece of information was shared by actor-producer-world-cinema-film-scholar G K Desai (from Mumbai) who attended the festival.
Globe-trotter G K Desai even spent ‘quality time’ with acclaimed star-actor Manoj Bajpai at the Rotterdam fest-event. The edgy survival-thriller movie ‘Joram’ starring Manoj, written and directed by Devashish Makhija, had its World Premiere screening in the Competition Section at the Pathe Theatre. Where it won rousing responses and ovations from the audiences and critics.
The unassuming Manoj was visibly elated to know that Manmohan Desai and his brand of classy, yet massy-cinema (“AAA”) was honored by the discerning Dutch Festival Authorities and Festival Programmer – Curator Olaf Moller. In his festival brochure write-up, Olaf refers to the cult movie “AAA” as “grandmaster Manmohan Desai’s seminal monument to religious tolerance as well as the joys of exuberant storytelling”!
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Enthuses world cinema-savvy, G. K. Desai, “It was a late-night houseful screening of ‘Amar Akbar Anthony’. There were all foreigners and the local Dutch delegates in the audience at the Lantaren Venster multiplex theatre, located far away from the main city of Rotterdam. Apparently, I was the only Indian who attended that AAA show traveling all the way by local tram, braving the freezing cold local climate. Being a die-hard fan of Man-ji, I guess, it is with his blessings that I reached there and returned safely to my hotel well past midnight. All thru the screening of “AAA” there was dignified applause, cheering, and laughter. Foreign audiences loved every frame of the landmark ‘AAA’ movie. This screening was a classic tribute to MKD- the box-office Badshah of filmy manoranjan,” shares G K Desai who is on the Advisory Panel of the Censor Board (CBFC) and also a National Film Awards Jury Member.
Interestingly, as a young student I (Chaitanya) had the privilege to observe maverick genius Manmohan-ji at work while he was shooting the intriguing iconic blood-transfusion scene of Amar Akbar Anthony at Ranjit-Rooptara Studios (Dadar East) on the hospital-ward sets with the lead cast Amitabh, Vinod, and Rishi and of course Nirupa Roy and Neetu Singh (Kapoor) facing the camera. This was possible only because the ‘AAA” movie chief asst. editor Suresh Ganger was then my good friend, as we studied at the same college.
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Seven years later, from 1984 onwards, as a film-journalist-correspondent-columnist for Mid-Day, I built up a warm rapport with both ‘late’ illustrious multiple jubilee-hits film-maker Manmohan Desai and his talented director-son Ketan Desai and I have interviewed them on numerous occasions. When the film industry was on an indefinite protest strike in 1986, almost every alternate day I would be speaking to the modest ‘Manji’ on his landline phone. Frank, honest by nature, in an emotional outburst he would sometimes criticize those who were intentionally unfair to the film fraternity. Always the lovable ‘man-of-the-masses’, cricket-lover Manji was the humble King of the Khetwadi area (central Mumbai). The extrovert-natured director even had a local Cricket Club in his name and simply loved to play cricket with the neighborhood boys.
This is why the lead screen characters in most of his directed memorable movies are representing the ‘common man’ and even promote communal harmony. Whether it was Shammi Kapoor in ‘Bluff Master’, Raj Kapoor in Chhalia or Randhir Kapoor in Rampur Ka Lakshman or Rajesh Khanna in Roti, or Amitabh Bachchan in ‘Amar Akbar Anthony’ as well as in ‘Coolie’, there was always that imposing ‘common-man’ lead-character connection.
A tribute-repartee by the late Rishi Kapoor (of ‘AAA’). which he shared with me many years ago, still lingers in my mind. “As we all know, Manji was fond of the ‘lost-and-found’ formula in most of his memory. movies. We may have ‘lost’ showman Manji when he passed away so suddenly. But he can now only be ‘found’, rather we can ‘feel’ MKD’s powerful cinematic presence behind all his movie scenes, characters, and songs,” Rishi had asserted on an optimistic note.
(The writer Chaitanya Padukone is an eminent award-winning senior entertainment journalist-author)