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Manmohan Desai, So Swathed In  Zest, Determined To Be  The Best



Manmohan Desai

If Manmohan Desai had lived  he would have been a ripe young 84  on February  26, still revved-up about  movies and life, in  that order. Still  refusing to  be still even for a minute. 

When I met him in 1986  he already had his chronic back problem which forced him to take  his life. But the enthusiasm  was undiminished. He  would sit up, jump out of his  chair, talk animatedly for  a few  minutes and then  lie down when his  back  complained against the strain.

“This back of mine, meri jaan  le legi,” he  complained. Little  did  we  know that his  flippant words  of  protest would come true 8 years  later when MKD (as  everyone called  him) climbed  the  water tank  of  his home’s rooftop, placed his chappals neatly in one  corner, and then,  apparently  jumped to  his  death.

This was  the gruesome inglorious death  of a  man who brought smiles  to million of lives with his  outrageously  over-the-top films, most of them based on the  lost-and-found theme whereby siblings were separated  during childhood and reunited at  the end  of the film.

“People ask me how this  is  possible. I say,anything is possible in the world. In  China  a woman gave birth  to a baby in a coma. If that can happen, why can’t three  estranged brothers come  together to give blood to their ailing mother(Amar Akbar Anthony)? And why can’t a man give  body heat  to  a woman and impregnate  her?”  MKD  asked with the  insouciant  innocence of a boy asking his mother why he can’t have chocolates just before dinner.

The “body heat”  challenge needs  some  explanation. In MKD’s Aa Gale Lag Ja, Sharmila Tagore and Shashi Kapoor are caught in a hailstorm .Freezing and  shivering Shashi gets on top  of  his  co-star  to warm her  up, and ends  up impregnating her.

Understandably there were howls  of  outrageous  laughter at  this ‘faux sex’ sequence. But MKD ,as  was his  wont, was undeterred.  He  applied  the same  “body heat”  technique  to  Amitabh Bachchan and Meenakshi Sheshadri in  Ganga Jamuna  Saraswati.It worked again.

MKD was working  on  Ganga Jamuna  Saraswati when I met him.  He felt  it was his best  work since Naseeb. What  about Amar Akbar Anthony? To my shock, MKD  dismissed   AAA as an “overrated, fluke hit”. But it is  his most loved film, I argued.  MKD was adamant. He preferred Naseeb and Aa Gale Lag Jaa.

“You can  write this,” he  told me banging the table .

“But suppose you  change  your mind?”
“I won’t ,” he promised. And he  kept his word.

MKD was worried because his  heroine Jaya Prada had just announced  her marriage(to some Srikant  Nahata) and he was worried about Ganga  Jamuna  Saraswati . “Why did she have  to get married ? Now  she  will announce her  pregnancy. My film will be stuck,” he cribbed  goodnaturedly.

He played the songs  of Ganga  Jamuna Saraswati for  me. “Right now  they are  in the  voice  of Baby Munmi. When Latabai comes back she  will dub the songs.  But  you mark my words Munmi  is  going to be big one day.”

I wonder what happened  to Munmi!

There was  something  unstoppable  about Manmohan Desai. Shabana Azmi who worked  in two of his  films recalls, “Manmohan Desai was such great   fun to work  with.He was  a man of immense conviction.  Whenever I’d question him he would say, ‘Leave aside  your logic-wogic . Just do what I tell you.Just trust me.  It will work.’  I remember  when we did Parvarish—that was my first film with him—he came to  Ranjit Studios  to offer me  Amar  Akbar Anthony. He  told me, ‘I’m producing  my  first film  and I very much  want you to be in it.’ I told him it would be  an absolute delight. ‘Magar  main tere  ko abhi se bataa raha hoon. Tera role  koi khaas nahin hai. Woh Vinod  Khanna mera  dimaag  khaa jayega; Amitabh  ke opposite  heroine hai, Rishi ke  opposite bhi. Vinod ke opposite  nahin. Issi liye main tujhe ghusa raha hoon film mein. Mere  par bharosa  rakh(you don’t have much of a role. But Vinod Khanna will chew my brains if I don’t cast a leading lady opposite  him. That’s why I am pushing you into  the  film. Just trust me).’  Just the candid way in which he invited me  to be  part of the  film, won me over. I  had   a  ball shooting Amar Akbar Anthony. I remember if I  took time over a shot he  would  yell, ‘Ae,  yeh tumhara parallel cinema  nahin hai. Sab phata-phat.’ His  convictions  were  unquestionable. I miss Manmohan Desai  a lot.  Even today I meet so many who tell me how much they enjoyed Parvarish  and  Amar Akbar Anthony. I saw  both again recently during the  lockdown.And this time  I didn’t ask any questions. Manmohan Desai had convinced me.”

Amitabh  Bachchan  who  did 9 blockbusters with Manmohan Desai says not a day goes  by when he  doesn’t miss the  ebullient filmmaker.  “He was  a  dear friend. We collaborated  closely in several projects,all of them worked. He was  a very talented  man with a  vision. I truly miss him.”

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