‘Masala, Madness and Manmohan Desai’


Throughout the past 100 years of Indian cinema there have been Hindi movies that embody, define and assert the quintessence of Hindi cinema. Filmmaker Manmohan Desai’s 1977 blockbuster ‘Amar Akbar Anthony’ is easily one of the ten most compelling examples of such movies.

Apart from its enormous commercial success, the movie stands out for capturing Desai’s effortless pluralism and charming syncretism that is at the heart of the Indian nationhood. He uses the film’s assertive obviousness in crafting three brothers separated at birth and raised in three different religious faiths (Hinduism, Islam and Christianity) as a powerful device to serve the kind of no-fuss, street-level cultural inclusiveness of India.

At a time when hyperloquacious (A word a I coined a while ago) TV talking heads are engaged in what it means to be a “Hindu nationalist” it might be useful to revisit ‘Amar Akbar Anthony’ for its effervescent liberalism. It is in this context that I herald the upcoming publication of dear friend and fellow journalist Sidharth Bhatia’s book ‘Amar Akbar Anthony—Masala, Madness and Manmohan Desai.’

So far I have only seen the jacket of Sidharth’s book being brought out by HarperCollins India as part of its Film Series. For the purposes of this post the jacket is enough for me to recommend it, not to mention the fact that it has been written by a seasoned hard news journalist of long standing. This is Sidharth’s second film related book. The first one was ‘The Navketan Story: Cinema Modern’ about which I wrote here December 5, 2011.


Sidharth Bhatia

Some of us journalists of a certain vintage and once based in Bombay/Mumbai would have a story or two about Manmohan Desai. I do too, notwithstanding that I was never a film journalist. Those of you who might have watched  Desai’s movies would know that the filmmaker made a career out of shunning nuance and subtlety like the plague. I had asked Desai in the early 1980s about the singular lack of nuance and subtlety in his movies. His response was “Woh jo rickshaw chalanewala meri picture dekhne aata hai uske paas itna time nahi hai. He wants to see the obvious and I will give him the obvious.” (The rickshaw driver who comes to watch my movies does not have the time (for nuance and subtlety).”

I cannot easily think of another filmmaker who had such keen understanding of what the average urban entertainment consumer wanted in their movies. Also, there was no one else who was as supremely self-assured about what he made.

I will do a more detailed piece on Sidharth’s book once I have read it.


About chutiumsulfate

South Asians can infer from my name what I am. View all posts by chutiumsulfate

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