Big B Remembers the Original Showman on His B’Day, Manmohan Desai

On Manmohan Desai’s birth anniversary, a look at the man through his muse, Amitabh Bachchan.

Updated26 Feb 2020, 01:50 AM IST
Entertainment
5 min read

The biggest showman in Bollywood, if there ever was one, was Manmohan Desai and Amitabh Bachchan would agree. Desai was the man who gave Bachchan some of his biggest blockbusters - Amar Akbar Anthony, Naseeb, Mard and Coolie to name a few. On Manmohan Desai’s 83rd birth anniversary, here are excerpts from Big B’s blog, in which he remembers the filmmaker of the masses:

Manmohan Desai and Amitabh Bachchan on the sets of <i>Naseeb</i>
Manmohan Desai and Amitabh Bachchan on the sets of Naseeb

That is the genius Manmohan Desai, on the sets with me for the film Naseeb and the picturization of the song John Jaani Janaardhan. He conceived this quite remarkably.

Since I was the waiter in a 5-star Hotel in the film, he wondered how interesting it would be for such a character when events such as jubilee functions of films - a great celebration in those days - were held in the premises of the Hotel ! So he devised a celebration of a jubilee function of a film, set in the Hotel where my character was singing and serving the guests, in the range of all the biggest stars of the Industry - Raj Kapoor, Shammi Kapoor, Rajesh Khanna, Sharmila Tagore, Dabboo Kapoor, Rakesh Roshan and many more to name just a few.

How he managed to convince all of them to come over for just a day, and how he completed their work in that shift is a marvel in itself. He booked an adjoining floor at Filmistan Studios, where we shot this song, and would send me racing there to rehearse the next shot while the lighting was being done, so that no time was wasted in rehearsals on the floor of the shoot, and also to prevent the embarrassment of making the big stars wait while we got our act together.

Big B Remembers the Original Showman on His B’Day, Manmohan Desai
His characters that he chose for me were always the common man, the worker, the guy next door, or the person on the street - Coolie, Naseeb the waiter, Amar Akbar Anthony the anglo indian from Bandra interiors, Mard the tangewala .. and so .. but always having the strength and the attitude of taking on the biggest adversary that came across.

It was this identity that appealed to the front benchers, the ones that repeatedly patronised the films, in those good ol’ days... far removed from what the youngistan of today does at the multiplexes...

A historic picture of Amitabh Bachchan, Puneet Issar and Manmohan Desai, after Bachchan resumed shooting for <i>Coolie </i>post the near-fatal accident (Photo courtesy: Twitter)
A historic picture of Amitabh Bachchan, Puneet Issar and Manmohan Desai, after Bachchan resumed shooting for Coolie post the near-fatal accident (Photo courtesy: Twitter)

He saw the rushes of the drunk scene in AAA almost a month after it was performed - that is how long it took in those days to get a final print in some viewable state - since he was not present on the set when I did it. We were shooting two of his films at the same time in the same studio - RK Studios - AAA and Parvarish… he gave instructions for the drunk scene and left to the next floor to shoot some action scenes simultaneously with Amjad and by the time he came back we had already canned the scene .. he trusted his assistants in the compliance of the drunk scene and a month later when we were shooting the climax song and scene in this studio in Dadar, now defunct and raised to the ground with better real estate possibilities.

Big B Remembers the Original Showman on His B’Day, Manmohan Desai
He took me aside after the rushes were seen, and we sat on the steps of the portico of that dilapidated studio and he said to me .. “Lalla (an affectionate way of addressing someone), so long as I make films you will always be in them. You may not work with me, but I shall always work with you.” And he kept his word to the last day. He never directed a film without me after that day!!
Manmohan Desai and his son Ketan Desai with Amitabh Bachchan on the sets of <i>Coolie </i>(Photo courtesy: Twitter)
Manmohan Desai and his son Ketan Desai with Amitabh Bachchan on the sets of Coolie (Photo courtesy: Twitter)
He was a middle-class man. Down to earth and with those that belonged to the earth. When he gained success with AAA, he bought an elite modern apartment in one of the most expensive regions of the city and shifted there, after having it designed by the most expensive and creative interior designer. But he was never happy there.

Within a few months he shifted back to where he originally came from Khetwari, a middle class congested colony in the interiors of central Bombay, then.

(From L to R) Prem Chopra, Manmohan Desai, Raj Khosla, Danny Desai, Amitabh Bachchan, Subhash Desai and Yash Johar (Photo courtesy: Twitter)
(From L to R) Prem Chopra, Manmohan Desai, Raj Khosla, Danny Desai, Amitabh Bachchan, Subhash Desai and Yash Johar (Photo courtesy: Twitter)

He would call me over to his abode often. The houses were cramped and almost stuck to each other. One could merely stretch their hand from their window and reach the window of the neighbour. On those tiny ‘galis’ of the colony he would play cricket with a wet rubber ball, a most challenging feat for the most accomplished batsmen, and his kids that surrounded his home. We would sit on the first floor balcony, taking in the noise and conversations and the atmosphere of the air about us ..

Big B Remembers the Original Showman on His B’Day, Manmohan Desai

It was Man ji that gave me the very first so-called vanity van in the Industry. I would use it as a regular travel car for years .. until the ‘vanity’ became a constant with all the shootings and the stars, a regular now... no one uses make up rooms… except at the YRF studios!!

On a brief sojourn to New York, I was woken up early in the morning by a telephone call... Man Mohan Desai had jumped from the balcony of this Khetwari home of his and given up his life…

They have not made another like him... yet...

(This article is from The Quint’s archives and was first published on 26 February 2016. It is being republished to mark Manmohan Desai’s birth anniversary.)

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Published: 26 Feb 2016, 08:45 AM IST

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