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An enigma resolved

SURESH KOHLI

“The Poetics of Film” traces the eventful career of filmmaker Chetan Anand, who, unlike others of his ilk, loved to experiment with form, content, technique and style.

Photo: Shanker Chakravarty

To father, with love Ketan Anand.

He spoke little. You could be sitting with him for an hour, and yet not a word will be exchanged. That was Chetan uncle,” says nephew Shekhar Kapur about Chetan Anand, a filmmaker who experimented with form, content, technique and style like no other film maker in the history of Hindi cinema.

And he only had amateur theatre behind him when he embarked on his cinematic journey in 1945 with “Neecha Nagar”, a film that won the Grand Prix at the first Cannes Film Festival in 1946 but, paradoxically took another four years before its partial disastrous release in 1950.

This, and many other startling revelations get laid bare in a 90-minute tribute to his father by Ketan Anand which has Tom Alter guiding the river of thoughts about the filmmaker and in the process of which friends and associates like painter Krishan Khanna, media critic Amita Malik, theatre critic Romesh Chander, filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt, producer Johny Bakshi, veteran actress Zohra Segal, singer Bhupinder, music director Khayyam and, dream girl Hema Malini talk about distinct aspects about the enigmatic Chetan Anand’s eventful career, in a film called “The Poetics of Film”.

Interestingly, many other unknown facts, especially his struggles and early years in Mumbai, appear in a coffee table book also called ‘Chetan Anand: The Poetics of Film’, jointly authored by wife Uma Anand and son Ketan Anand (Himalaya Films Media Entertainment, distributed by Om Books International, Pp. 160, Rs.895 – Rs.995 with DVD). And it is difficult to tell whether the book inspired the film or the film inspired the book.

Unlike the filmmakers of today who blindly imitate the Hollywood formula, the early filmmakers of the talkie era looked towards Europe, especially Russia for style and technique, and even content. Chetan Anand’s second attempt at wielding the megaphone was under the newly formed Navketan banner. “Afsar”, starring brother Dev Anand based on a Russian play ‘Inspector General’ failed to inspire the audience as also “Aandhiyan” based on a real life incident in Amritsar.

First big hit

“Taxi Driver” made primarily on outdoor Mumbai location in 45 days based on a script by Vijay Anand and Uma Anand was not only Chetan Anand’s first box office success but also Navketan’s biggest grosser till date. It seems differences cropped up between brothers during the making of the next film, “Funtoosh”.

They drew apart but to be reunited only in Navketan’s silver jubilee year to redo “Taxi Driver” in the form of “Janneman”, but the remake did not produce the desired results.

Nor for that matter did “Sahib Bahadur”, a remake of “Afsar” made under Chetan Anand’s own banner. The brothers did, however, come together briefly in the largely forgotten outside production, “Kinare Kinare”, the only film in which Dev Anand starred opposite Meena Kumari.

However, during the intervening period Chetan Anand made “Anjali” with himself in the lead and “Joru Ka Bhai” with Vijay Anand as the hero before realising that despite aspirations, the two lacked Dev’s charisma. But the separation freed Chetan to experiment which he felt wasn’t possible with Dev’s stardom alone, though an opportunity did arise at the time of making the Hindi version of “Guide”.

Had Chetan not got permission to shoot “Haqeeqat” he might have been directing what eventually turned out to be a milestone in film lore with Vijay Anand wielding the megaphone. “Haqeeqat” is still reckoned as the best made war film in India.

And its success made Chetan acquire new wings. One experiment followed another. “Aakhri Khat” had newcomer Rajesh Khanna and an 18-month old toddler. “Heer Ranjha” is the only Indian film made entirely in verse. He went commercial again and made big money with “Hanste Zakham” though the same cannot be said about “Hindustan Ki Kasam”.

Paradoxically, his last, “Haathon Ki Lakeerein”, like his first “Neecha Nagar”, rusted in the cans without a release even though it had Jackie Shroff, Zeenat Aman and Sanjeev Kumar in the cast.

Altogther Chetan Anand made 17 films, and a 15-part television serial, ‘Paramvir Chakra’ in a career spanning 62 years. Chetan Anand breathed his last on July 7, 1997.

The earlier retrospective at the Struttgard Film Festival, and now in New Delhi is a fitting tribute to a filmmaker who taught the meaning of silence in the poetics of film.

The book also contains 108 black and white and 44 rare colour pictures that brings alive the cinematic vision of Chetan Anand.

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