Thursday, December 17, 2009

Amar Akbar Anthony, anyone?

Recently, one morning, I was listening on my iPod to Mohamed Rafi singing the qawali ‘Pardah Hai Pardah’ from Manmohan Desai’s Amar Akbar Anthony. It suddenly occurred to me what an ass I had been not to have made friends with Desai when I had the chance. I used to bump into him in the late fifties in our mutual friend’s (Vinay’s) den in the Bhagini Samaj building virtually next door to 233 Khetwadi Main Road We somehow never hit it off. By all accounts, he was a gem of a guy whereas I used to be, in those days, an opinionated oaf who took himself too seriously. I remember thinking of him as a wastrel because he had quit college and was doing nothing. He used to borrow comics books from Vinay because he did not have money to pay the circulating library fees by his own admission. Then he disappeared from the scene. Vinay told me that he was probably assisting his brother in film production. In 1960, MD directed the Raj Kapoor and Nutan starrer Chhalia. It had hit songs and did quite well at the box office. His magnum opus unarguably was Amar Akbar Anthony (1977). I enjoyed it when I saw it in Apsara Talkies in spite of the innumerable cinematic clichés he peppered it with. For instance, in the opening scene under the credits, blood from the three long-separated sons of different religions flowed into the veins of the mother (Mother India?). Then, in the unabashedly exploitative ‘Shirdiwale Sai Baba’ sequence, the son’s prayer triggered a miraculous recovery of the mother from the jaws of death. There was nevertheless an infectious joie de vivre he managed to inject in the movie that made it a fabulous fun flick. The story, by the way, was credited to Desai’s wife who was from the Khetwadi Main Road neighbourhood. Even after MD’s success, the couple continued to live in the same neighbourhood. What was incredible in the Manmohan Desai saga was the ending totally out of synch with his persona. He jumped to his death from the terrace of his building abutting the Bhagini Samaj building. Inexplicable!