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Why Kundan Shah’s Later Works Didn’t Match up to His Genius

On Kundan Shah’s demise, his former actors talk about his creative genius. 

3 min read
Why Kundan Shah’s Later Works Didn’t Match up to His Genius
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Naseeruddin Shah and Pavan Malhotra had the fortune of working closely with the late Kundan Shah, the man who gave the Indian film industry a cult satire with Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro and gifted Indian television with stories that remain unmatched till date. But why weren’t his later works match up to his creative genius? Naseer and Pavan speculate in fond memory of the iconic filmmaker.

Kundan was one of the very few honest guys in that pretentious lot of 70’s ‘alternative’ filmmakers. He spent himself completely with Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro, which is why he didn’t do anything close to it again. I don’t want to talk about “how I feel about his death”.
Naseeruddin Shah, Actor
Suchitra Krishnamurty, Naseeruddin Shah and Shah Rukh Khan in a scene from Kabhi Haan Kabhi Na.
The iconic TV drama Nukkad.
I was fortunate enough as an actor to be part of that group of game-changing filmmakers in the 1970s – Saeed Mirza, Aziz Mirza, Vinod Chopra and Kundan Shah. In fact, it was Aziz saab who called to tell me about Kundan’s death, and to inform as many friends about it as possible. It feels like the death of an era… Kundan was so knowledgable and not just about cinema. Way back in 1986 he revolutionised the way we looked at television. The work that he did in Nukkad, Manoranjan and Circus remains unparalleled to this day on Indian television. I was  lucky enough to be part of Nukkad and Manoranjan. I learnt so much from working with Kundan. The wisdom and intelligence he brought to television and then to cinema with Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro, was amazing. Though I didn’t have a role in Jaane Bhi DoYaaro, I served as an assistant on the film. Kundan was a hard taskmaster. He expected plenty from himself and from those around him. Unfortunately the work that he did after Nukkad and Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro could not measure up to them. This happens to many outstanding filmmakers. I haven’t seen his later works. But none of them had the same impact. It is remarkable what that group of filmmakers achieved. Whether it was Kundan with Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro and Kabhi  Haan Kabhi Na, Saeed Mirza with Albert Pinto Ko Gussa Kyun Aata Hai and Salim Langde Pe Mat Ro (in which I starred) or Vidhu Vinod Chopra with Khamosh and Parinda…these are films that changed the way we look at Indian cinema. I  am very proud to be associated with Kundan. I met him last after Saeed saab’s surgery six months ago. We  met at the hospital and then chatted over a meal. I wish we met more often.
Pavan Malhotra, Actor
My God! It’s so long ago… And now Kundan Shah has gone. I learnt so much working with him. I was so young and so raw. But I wanted to be an actor. I auditioned for the role in Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa and was pleasantly surprised when I was selected to star opposite Shah Rukh Khan. We shot mostly in Goa and then some in Mumbai. I remember the sweltering heat in Goa and how much I’d cry (laughs). Kundan would tell me to do a scene one way and I’d do it another. He would then get upset and I’d burst into tears. Those days I cried a lot. I have very pleasant memories of working in Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa. I did keep in touch with Kundan after that. In recent times I had promised to take my daughter Kaveri to meet him over a meal. Unfortunately it didn’t happen. I remember Kundan Shah as a learned, articulate, softspoken man who made cult classics like Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro, Kabhi Haan Kabhi Na... If his later works didn’t make the same impact, it was because he couldn’t understand the changing politics and economics of the entertainment industry.
Suchitra Krishnamurthy, Actor & Singer

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