Quite early in life, I discovered that a movie should be selected for viewing not based on its cast but based on its director. Each director has a distinctive perspective on life, and the manner in which he/she presents a theme is as unique as, say, one´s finger prints. Admittedly, the core brilliance of a movie is determined by the producer-director duo. But the unmistakable stamp on the narrative is that of the director. To put it simply, if you sit down to watch a movie by Gulzar saheb, you know what to expect. On the other hand, if you are going to see a David Dhawan flick, you already suspect what is in store.
The Brand Equity of a Director
Over a period of time, a movie director builds up a strong brand equity for himself. It comes from the uniqueness of his style, the choice of his scripts, consistency in quality of his directorial ventures, earning a respect from the discerning viewers, crowned by some degree of commercial success.
As a person who has been brought up on a rich diet of Bollywood fare right since his childhood, and as someone who has dabbled in the art of movie making himself, it is not difficult for me to appreciate the complexity of producing a commercial pot-boiler. The cine-goers eventually get to see only the end result on the screen, little realizing the hard work done by all to ensure a high quality product. That is why, a good movie makes me feel fulfilled. I feel like saluting the producers and directors who have invested their effort and money on a worthwhile product.
The CEO of a Dream Merchandise Factory
A director’s role in shaping a movie would perhaps be comparable to that of either the CEO of a company or the conductor of an orchestra. A CEO’s mindset determines the business strategy of a company. His style of functioning and his value system permeates across all levels of the company. Likewise, the conductor of an orchestra blends the notes of stringed, percussion and other instruments, creating a symphony which is unique. Like a CEO guiding a company or a conductor presenting a symphony, the director also balances the strengths and weaknesses of his team members and comes up with a movie which is entertaining – and possibly educative – in the social context.
Surely, a director coordinates and guides various specialists to achieve the level of perfection in his product. Apart from the choice of a script and the main caste, no department of movie making would remain aloof from the influence of a director. Screenplay, cinematography, sound design, choreography, music, editing, budgeting, financing, marketing and many other facets of movie making come under a director’s watchful eye, thereby making each movie a unique attempt at story telling. And when someone as accomplished as M F Hussain decides to wield the megaphone, we are in for a stupendous visual treat, as in ‘Gaja Gamini’ and ‘Meenaxi – A Tale of Three Cities’!
A Director’s Take
Exploiting the latent potential of an actor is surely one of the key traits of a director. Look at some of the amazing transformations we have seen on the silver screen all these years! To recapitulate just a few:
- A villain or a vamp being cast in a positive role: Remember Lalita Pawar in a matronly role in Raj Kapoor´s ‘Anari’? Or, Shashikala supporting the sulking heroine in Hrishikesh Mukherji´s ‘Anupama’? Cut to ‘Abhiman’ and you notice Bindu empathising with the lead pair. Under the baton of Manoj Kumar and Manmohan Desai, we had Pran playing positive roles in ‘Shaheed’, ‘Upkar’ and ‘Zanjeer’. From a staunch villain, Madan Puri became a doting grand-pa in Rajshri Production’s ‘Dulhan Wohi Jo Piya Man Bhaye’.
- From a flamboyant playboy to a chivalrous gentleman: Yesteryear´s jumping jack Jeetendra becomes a simpleton in ‘Geet Gaya Pattharon Ne’ and ‘Boond Jo Ban Gayi Moti’ under the watchful eyes of V. Shantaram. Gulzar is equally effective with Jeetendra in ‘Parichay’ and ‘Khushboo’. Lately, we have seen Salman Khan being tamed by Suraj Barjatya in ‘Maine Pyar Kiya’, ‘Hum Aapke Hain Koun..!’ and ‘Hum Saath Saath Hain’.
- From a debonair hero to a villain: Under Brij, Ashok Kumar, the quintessential hero, becomes a villain in ‘Ustadon ke Ustad’; under Vijay Anand, he springs a surprise in ‘Jewel Thief’.
The chemistry between a music director and a director has also produced enchanting results for music buffs.
- Besides raucous beats in movies like ‘Bombay’ and ‘Rangeela’, A R Rehman comes up with soulful music in ‘Zubeida’ for Shyam Benegal. Likewise, for Subhash Ghai, he composes a different genre of music in ‘Taal’.
- The duo of Shankar-Jaikishan, when working with Raj Kapoor, left behind a rich repertoire of scores, some of which are evergreen and a treat for movie goers of all ages.
- Salil Chaudhury, when coupled with Basu Chatterjee, came up with some unique scores in ‘Rajnigandha’ and ‘Chhoti Si Baat’.
Some Directors I Admire
Selection of a script essentially determines the social message that a director wishes to convey through his work. One fondly recollects the following directors who have sought to convey a unique message of their own through their work:
- Aparna Sen did a great service to the senior citizens by highlighting their plight in the thought-provoking ’36 Chowringhee Lane’. The acute loneliness of Violet Stoneham touched our hearts. In ‘Paroma’, she explored the psyche of a tradition-bound housewife seeking liberation in her own way. In my opinion, her best offering so far has been ‘Mr. & Mrs. Iyer’. It conveyed the message of inter-religious harmony in a very effective manner. Her latest offering, ‘The Japanese Wife’, depicts the true meaning of love, sans any physical contact. One wishes her a long innings of creative offerings.
- Ashutosh Gowarikar is another director whose work one has come to admire. ‘Lagaan’, ‘Swades’, ‘Jodha Akbar’ and ‘What is Your Rashee’ were all brilliant offerings. One surely looks forward to more movies from his stable in the days to come.
- Basu Bhattacharya excelled in depicting the post-matrimonial relationships between couples. If ‘Anubhav’ captured the vacuum felt in the absence of a child and the misunderstanding created as a result of an ex-lover of the wife walking into the household, ‘Aavishkar’ dwelt at length on the dissappointment caused by the realization that a college romance is so very transient. In ‘Teesri Kasam’, he came up with a classic philosophical treatise, whereas in ‘Sparsh’, he touched upon the challenges faced by the differently abled in our society. Finally, in ‘Aastha’, we saw him covering the impact of a materialistic culture on our morality and social values.
- Basu Chatterjee‘s movies are classics in their own right. Depicting the dilemmas faced by the great Indian middle class with a dash of humour was his forte. Right from ‘Chameli Ki Shadi’ to ‘Baaton Baaton Mein’, ‘Chitchor’, ‘Hamari Bahu Alka’ and ‘Piya Ka Ghar’, he has regaled us with heart-warming tales, backed by tongue in cheek humour. In ‘Rajanigandha’, the hero, while watching a movie, imagines himself and the heroine as Dharmendra and Hema Malini on the screen – one of the several master strokes of the director. In ‘Chhoti Si Baat’, the hero and the heroine go about singing a song in crowded places whereas all others around them remain preoccupied with their own activities! In ‘Khatta Meetha’, we find an irritated Ashok Kumar threatening to kill Pradip Kumar, the heroine’s father, if he fails to bless her marriage with his adopted son.
- One has admired some of the B. R. Chopra movies because of not only their socially responsible messages but also for their experimental streak. If ‘Naya Daur’ was about rapid industrialization leading to labour unrest, ‘Gumrah’ was about the perils of a wife likely to go wayward. ‘Humraz’ spoke of the dangers inherent in a situation where one attempts to hide facts from one’s spouse. ‘Insaf Ka Tarazu’ covered the trauma of rape, whereas ‘Nikaah’ was about a woman asserting her rights to choose a husband. ‘Pati Patni aur Woh’ was a humouros take on the proverbial seven-year itch of the male of the species, a theme which was effectively countered in ‘Rang Birangi’ subsequently by none other than Hrishikesh Mukherjee! His experimental foray into the genre of suspense led to two classics: ‘Kanoon’ and ‘Ittefaq’, both of which broke from convention and did not boast of any song, a taboo for the mainstream Bollywood cinema. ‘Baghban’, directed by his son Ravi Chopra, is a great comment on the derogatory attitude adopted by some of the grown up children towards their parents.
- Bimal Roy gave us realistic movies with a socialistic message. ‘Do Beegha Zameen’ and ‘Bandini’ shall remain etched in our minds forever. In ‘Sujata’, he touched upon the stigma of untouchability in a very poignant manner.
- David Lean‘s work has left an indelible impression on me. Think of either the elements of nature or the complexity of human relationships and you end up remembering ‘The Lawrence of Arabia’, ‘Dr. Zhivago’ and ‘Ryan’s Daughter’. ‘The Bridge on the River Kwai’ was yet another masterpiece from this great man.
- Govind Nihalani has given us some brilliant movies over the years. ‘Aakrosh’ was based on a real life incident. ‘Ardh Satya’ captured the realities faced by our police force in stark detail. Much later, the trauma faced by youth involved in the naxalite movement was poignantly captured in ‘Hazaar Chaurasi Ki Ma’. Another unforgettable offering of his was the TV serial ‘Tamas’.
- Gulzar is another favourite of mine. Right from ‘Mere Apne’, ‘Koshish’, ‘Parichay’, ‘Achanak’ and ‘Kitaab’ to ‘Khushboo’, ‘Kinara’, ‘Aandhi’ ‘Angoor’, ‘Namkeen’ and ‘Ijazat’, he demonstrated a finely nuanced grip on capturing human emotions. Using flashbacks as an essential ingredient of his inimitable style of story telling, he has created a series of movies which explore the human psyche with unparalleled depth. For Doodrdarshan, he created a master piece in the serial ‘Mirza Ghalib’, ably assisted by Jagjit Singh and Naseeuddin Shah. Other unforgettable movies directed by him are ‘Lekin’, ‘Maachis’ and ‘Hu Tu Tu….’. What a creative line up!
- Guru Dutt has left behind a series of thought-provoking movies for all of us to enjoy for all times to come. ‘Pyaasa’ captured not only the frustration of a creative poet who earns recognition only after he is presumed to be dead, but also the angst of the youth dissppointed by the shattering of socialistic dreams in post independence India. ‘Kagaz Ke Phool’ was autobiographical in nature, and went on to assume a cult status in black and white cinematography. ‘Sahib Bibi aur Ghulam’ looked at the degrading zamindari system and was backed by powerful performances. He also gave us ‘Chaudavin Ka Chaand’, memorable for its music.
- Hrishikesh Mukherjee is yet another director who has captured the value system of the great Indian middle class in a very effective manner. If ‘Anupama’ portrayed the transformation of a docile daughter into a rebel of sorts, ‘Satyakam’ touched upon the trials and tribulations of a whistle-blower who values integrity and honesty above all else in his life. ‘Aashirwad’ captured a daughter’s longing for her father, whereas ‘Anand’ captured the dilemmas of the medical profession in a heart-wrenching manner. In ‘Guddi’, he touched upon the perils of hero-worship amongst teenagers and the negative influence of movies on those in an impressionable age. ‘Abhimaan’ put the fragile male ego under a microscope. In ‘Chupke Chupke’, he came up with a rip-roaring treatise on the eccentricities of the linguistic purists. ‘Bawarchi’ touched upon the joint family system, whereas ‘Golmaal’ was well-intended pun directed at moustache maniacs. In ‘Khubsoorat’, he drove home in his inimitable style the need of striking a balance between fredoom and discipline in family life, espousing the cause of nirmal anand (unalloyed bliss). His last offering was ‘Jhoot Bole Kauwa Kaate’ which conveyed the value of truthfulness in all relationships in a very humorous manner. One truly misses such directors!
- Kamal Amrohi came up with virtual poetry on celluloid with ‘Pakeezah’. The whole movie was a work of passion, akin to the rich tapestry of the bright red carpet he had got specially woven for a single dance sequence to be picturized. His ‘Razia Sultan’ was also a rich offering.
- When it comes to clean family entertainment steeped in Indian tradition, Rajshri Productions has always been very consistent. Right from ‘Aarti’, ‘Dosti’, ‘Jeevan Mrityu’ and ‘Tapasya’ to ‘Hum Aapke Hain Kaun…!’, ‘Hum Saath Saath Hain’ and ‘Vivah’, we have lived through good and bad times faced by families we could easily identify with. Several of their offerings have tugged at our heart-strings: ‘Uphaar’, ‘Ankhiyon Ke Jharokhon Se’, ‘Chitchor’, ‘Dulhan Wohi Jo Piya Man Bhaye’ and ‘Maine Pyar Kiya’, to name a few.
- If there is one person who earned money in routine Bollywood pot-boilers and ploughed it back to produce some unique movies, it is Shashi Kapoor. ‘Vijeta’ captured in detail the challenges faced by young officers in the Indian Air Force. ‘Utsav’, directed by Girish Karnad, was yet another master piece, based on the famous Sanskrit play ‘Mriccha-katikam’. ‘Kalyug’ was based on the epic Mahabharata and was directed by Shyam Benegal.
- Shyam Benegal started off as a master of alternate cinema, offering such hard-hitting comments on the under-privileged of the society as ‘Ankur’, ‘Nishant’, ‘Manthan’ and ‘Bhumika’. ‘Zubeidaa’ presented an interesting slice of history. However, his recent offerings have been rich public-spirited satires, highlighting glaring deficiencies in the public delivery system and also taking a dig at our age-old misconceptions and taboos. If you have seen ‘Welcome to Sajjanpur’ and ‘Well Done, Abba’, you would know what I am talking about.
- V Shantaram gave us classics which drew on the traditional values and art forms. If ‘Dr. Kotnis Ki Amar Kahani’ was based on a real life happening, ‘Jhanak Jhanak Payal Baaje’ captured the dilemmas faced by artists committed to their profession. ‘Do Aankhen Barah Haath’ touched on the criminal system, whereas ‘Navrang’ explored in detail the male fantasy of having the perfect female as a life companion.
- Vijay Anand gave us jewels like ‘Nau Do Gyarah’, ‘Jewel Thief’, ‘Tere Mere Sapne’ and ‘Johny Mera Naam’. ‘Guide’ immortalized one of the great works of R. K. Narayan. Performance of the lead pair of Dev Anand and Waheeda Rehman still remains fresh in our memories. His penchant for perfection was such that in ‘Nau Do Gyarah’, if a bomb was to go off in seven minutes, the on-screen suspense went on for precisely seven minutes!
Several other legendary directors, like Raj Kapoor, Mehboob, K. Asif, Subhash Ghai, Yash Chopra, Shekhar Kapur and others do not appear here. Their exclusion here is in no way meant to belittle their immense contribution to the art and form of cinema as we know it today. It is just that a majority of their work has come to define what we generally refer to as ‘mainstream cinema’, whereas the idea here has been to capture directors who have been innovative in their own way.
Directors to watch out for
All this is not to say that brilliant work is not being done these days. ‘Khosla ka Ghosla’ directed by Dibakar Banerjee, ‘Iqbal’, ‘Dor’ and ‘Mod’ from Nagesh Kukanoor, ‘Tare Zameen Par’ by Aamir Khan, ‘Black’ by Sanjay Leela Bhansali, ‘Munnabhai’ series and ‘3 Idiots’ by Raj Kumar Hirani, ‘Chak de India’ by Shimit Amin, ‘Cheeni Kum’ and ‘Pa’ by R. Balakrishnan, ‘The Blue Umbrella’ by Vishal Bhardwaj, ‘Atithi Tum Kab Jaoge’ by Ashwani Dheer, ‘Chhodo Kal ki Baatein’ by Pramod Joshi, ‘Do Dooni Chaar’ by Habib Faisal, ‘Stanley ka Dabba’ by Amol Gupte, ‘I am Kalaam’ by Nila Madhab Panda and ‘Vicky Donor’ by Shoojit Sircar are all movies which give us the firm hope that Bollywood is finally out of the singing around the tree days, willing to experiment with unconventional themes, that too while keeping the box office registers tinkling.
Rise in disposable incomes has led to the proliferation of multiplexes. Audience has turned younger. In turn, small budget movies have carved out a niche for themselves. Several producers have learnt to minimize financial risks by beating the star system and are instead banking on smarter scripts, thereby achieving better returns on their investments.
Exercising Our Emotional Muscles
Consider this: why do we get hooked on to movies in the first place? Is it sheer escapism? May be, yes, but also coupled with an appreciation of – and fascination with – this genre of entertainment. Identifying oneself with either a character or a situation presented on the screen gives one immense psychological relief. Also, one needs to exercise one’s emotional muscles or skills in a way that may or may not be acceptable in our routine lifestyles!
A director with a strong brand equity surely knows how to touch our heart-strings. In the process, he teaches us to exercise our emotional muscles better and think out-of-the-box when confronted with a real life situation!!