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Chetan Anand The Failed Genius

Updated: July 16, 2011 10:58 am

He was one of the most revered of Bollywood film makers, though neither his output and box office response, nor the content of most of the 14 films he directed in a career span of more than five decades bears any testimony to his absent ‘genius’. He was certainly handsome and silently nursed the desire to be an actor. Although being handsome was a winsome factor in the 1940s and 50s of the previous centuries, one needed a little more besides to be successful with the paying public. That’s precisely what happened with Chetan Anand, the eldest of Anand brothers (Dev and Vijay being the others) who dominated the Hindi screen at one time or the other. But unlike his younger siblings, Chetan Anand also wanted to carry an aura of ‘intellect’ around him as well. And not entirely wrongly for he was highly educated unlike most others in the game. And it was probably this duality in his personality that went against him, eventually.

He even nursed a complex when his younger brother, Dharam Dev (who he thought had neither talent nor intellect) went on to not only become the first star of Hindi cinema, but even the pivot to his brother’s career as a film maker. Having failed to qualify for the Indian Civil Service, Chetan after a stint with All India Radio started teaching history as assistant master at the famous Doon School, simultaneously trying his hands on writing. His heart was in the challenging field of cinema which held great potential for creative communication. Bollywood was then a small world consisting of either intellectuals or illiterate film makers. During the winter break in 1943 Chetan undertoo KA trip to Bombay and came in contact with KA Abbas, Phani Mujumdar, Kishore Sahu and others. While he managed to sell the script of ‘Kunal’ to Kishore Sahu, instead of paying much attention to the narration of ‘Ashoka’ Majumdar cast him as hero opposite Nargis in Rajkumar which came and went without a trace in 1944. Unfortunately, with that did not die the acting bug.

But his very first attempt at direction, based on a script by KA Abbas won him a jackpot, though with no financial gains. The film Neecha Nagar bagged the Palme d’Or or Grand Prix at the inaugural Cannes Film Festival in 1946. Mercifully, he did not act in the film which had two Umas in lead roles, his wife Uma Anand and debutant Uma Kashyap whom he gave the screen name, Kamini Kaushal. Pandit Ravi Shankar did the musical score. But the award remained only a trophy because despite knocking the studio doors leave aside an assignment to direct a film, Chetan even failed to sell a story. Meanwhile younger sibling Dev, who was destined to ride the lady luc KAll his life, had his stars on the ascendant as a leading man. In 1949, he invited his brother to make a film with him as the hero, and together with him formed a company, Navketan. Its maiden attempt Afsar, based on Gogol’s ‘The Government Inspector’ with Suraiya and Dev was a miserable flop.

The same was the fate of Navketan’s next, Aandhiyan, based on a real life incident but the tide turned with Taxi Driver based on a script the real family genius, Vijay (Goldie) Anand still a college student. Funtoosh was the next after which differences cropped up between brothers and Chetan branched out and made Joru ka Bhai with Goldie in the lead opposite Shiela Ramani with Johny Walker in the support under Mahashakti Films. The casting of Goldie as the hero was not Chetan’s only crime as the acting resurfaced when he cast himself in the lead in producer Nyaya Sharma’s Anjali. When this attempt also failed, and to avenge himself in his own esteem he cast himself in a parallel role in the same producer’s Kinare Kinare as Meena Kumari’s silent lover who in turn loved Dev. Better sense prevailed, and bowing to the younger sibling’s success he started looking around elsewhere with the skeletal plot of a war film.

But unmindful of his brother’s motives Dev invited Chetan again to pull the reigns of the Hindi version of his ambitious Hollywood entry, Guide. Work started in right earnest on location when came the news that the Punjab Government had agreed to bank roll Haqeeqat. So Chetan left Guide midway, hurriedly put together newcomers Dharmendra, Sanjay Khan, Priya Rajvansh and assorted technicians doubling up as actors and reached the location without the semblance of a script. Thus was launched Himalaya Films with Chetan Anand’s solo independent hit, Haqeeqat, still considered India’s first and best war film. An edited colour version of the film is likely to be released in mid-August. The film’s success is also attributed to Kaifi Azmi’s brilliant poetry and Madan Mohan’s haunting music. This was 1964.

The reverse downhill journey began soon after with Aakhri Khat (1967) with Rajesh Khanna in the lead. In many ways this was his best cinematic creation. One flop followed another: Heer Ranjha a film in verse with Raaj Kumar and Priya (1970), Hanste Zakhm (1973), co-starring Navin Nischol and Priya and Hindustan ki Kasam again with Raaj Kumar and Priya – a valiant attempt to emulate the earlier success (1973), Kudrat, a multistarrer with Rajesh Khanna, Hema Malini, Vinod Khanna, Raaj Kumar, Priya (1981) and Haathon ki Lakeeren (1986) with Jackie Shroff and Zeenat Aman. In between were two back-to-back Janneman (a revised version of Taxi Driver) and Sahib Bahadur (1974) (yet another remake of Gogol’s ‘The Government Inspector’, the first being Afsar). Chetan Anand’s last romance with moving pictures came in the form of a television serial, Paramveer Chakra.

There can be a debate about the intrinsic merits of Chetan Anand as a film maker in both successes and failures, but there can be no doubts about his obsession with his muse, Veera Sunder Singh screen-named Priya Rajvansh which led to his gradual downfall. The unmade Salim Anarkali with the rising star, Amitabh Bachchan died an unnatural death in its very infancy because of his insistence on casting his muse as Anarkali. He died a disheartened man on July 6, 1997 at the age of 82.

By Suresh Kohli

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