ETimes caught up with son Puneet Prakash Mehra at his Juhu bungalow. The affable Puneet was very happy and frank while talking about his father. We spoke to him about ‘Zanjeer’ and every other film that his father entertained us with. We also spoke to him about why Prakash Mehra never made a film with Amitabh Bachchan after ‘Jaadugar’ was released in 1989. The conversation also touched upon Prakash Mehra’s rivalry with Manmohan Desai.
This is a very frank and free-wheeling interview. See the full interview in the video below:
Excerpts from the conversation that transpired:
What are your earliest memories about your father, Prakash Mehra?
Hmmm… my best memory is coming home from school and meeting him at work. My clothes used to be dirty and he used to lift me and hug me. His clothes, which were always white and crisp, used to get dirty as a consequence. But he never said anything.
So, was he the first man in white? Much before Abbas-Mustan?
Oh, yes. He was always in white, come what may. Elaborating on your previous question, I must tell you that I went on my Dad’s sets quite often. My first memory would be the waterfall in ‘Sharabi’ (Puneet was 4-years old then) which they’d erected for the film. It became a tourist attraction and remained one even much after the film was released. It’s ironic that it was removed later.
Amitabh Bachchan who worked with your Dad very closely must have lifted you with love when you were a kid?
(Smiles) Yes, he did.
Was there a lot of aana-jaana in your Dad’s home when he was at the top? Successful filmmakers are sought-after…
Aana-jaana? Our house was a commercial place and not essentially only a residence. Music directors and dialogue writers would be constantly sitting in a particular room- Kalyanji Anandji, Kader Khan and many others. And in those days, barring Kalyanji Anandji, almost everyone else was a smoker. They used to be smoking away and discussing ideas. Above all, there was tea after tea after tea being served in that room; I think 200 cups of tea were made every day.
Back in the day, everyone in the team was essential. Everyone contributed and offered ideas. There would be a clash between the writer and director but it was a healthy clash. In fact, such discussions were the premise of a good film. Above all, my Dad would sit with spotboys and lightmen in between the shots and ask them if they had liked what they were seeing; Interactions with them gave him the first-hand account of interacting with the masses right from the word ‘Go’ on every film.
There are two kinds of products you can have. One is the original stuff that is handcrafted with passion and involvement. The other is the one made on a conveyor belt, like made in China. The latter is the case that is unfortunately happening in today’s movies. Not just the passion, the understanding of making the films has also gone away. Woh ek daur tha, jo khatam ho gaya (It was a marvelous age and it got over).
Filmmakers then cared about the taaliyan and seetis in theaters and not the reviews. They used to inquire if their film’s tickets were sold in black or not. If they were sold in black, despite the fact that the extra bucks on every ticket didn’t go to them, they were so satisfied.
There was such a filmy ambience at home. Did you not think of becoming a hero?
Never. I always wanted to be behind the camera. There was a joke between my father and I- I used to tell him that ‘nachaana aata hai, naachna nahi (we can’t dance but we can make people dance)’ (smiles).
Moving on to the great association that Prakash Mehra and Amitabh Bachchan had…
My father would describe it as destiny; he would say that talent met talent and magic was created. If anybody would tell him that he was Amitabh Bachchan’s Godfather; he would get annoyed and say ‘main kaun hota hoon?’ He said: ‘Amitabh Bachchan has his talent and I have my talent and the rest is destiny’.
Did they visit each other’s house? It must have been a great bond…
To answer your question of visiting each other’s house, they hardly had their houses as they were very nascent in their careers then.
Now, let me continue by telling you the version I heard from my father. I won’t go by the popular version of gossip mills.
After directing ‘Haseena Maan Jayegi’, my father took up the film ‘Samadhi’. After both these movies, Prakash Mehra and Dharmendra had become a jodi. It was Dharmendra who had the script of ‘Zanjeer’ and he asked my Dad if he wanted to make this film. But Dharmendra was busy and he wanted to do it later. On the other hand, my Dad didn’t want a year’s gap in his career and hence requested Dharmendra if he could part with the script.
My Dad approached Raaj Kumar, who wanted to shoot the movie in Hyderabad as he was shooting another film there. Then, he went to Dev Anand who wanted songs, but my Dad stuck to his vision. He told Dev Anand that it was the story of a serious cop and somehow he couldn’t digest the insertion of songs in that story. If you recall, Amitabh Bachchan does not dance in the film.
Yes, just a forcible smile when Pran sings ‘Yaari hai, imaan mera…’
This search continued and it went back and forth with many top heroes. Eventually, Pran sahab suggested to Dad one day that he should see ‘Bombay To Goa’ and he might get his hero of ‘Zanjeer’ in that, Amitabh Bachchan. They went to see the film together and I remember Pran sahab telling me that my Dad jumped in a certain scene – I can’t recall now which one- and screaming ‘Mil gaya!’.
People thought that Prakash Mehra has gone senile. Why is he going with someone who has not yet been accepted by the public? Why is he taking someone who hasn’t had hits? Why isn’t he going with a newcomer instead? But back in those days, people could make their films based on their personal faith- and this is just what my Dad did. Property was at stake, mom’s jewelry was at stake. This is exactly how ‘Zanjeer’ was made.
And when ‘Zanjeer’ released, those people must have said ‘bola tha’ (we had told you)…
Oh yes, the industry said exactly that. ‘Zanjeer’ had abysmal collections in the first week. Whenever my father was stressed, he sat at the Worli seaface, dangling his legs and puffing cigarettes. He was sitting at the Worli seaface, when after 7 days, his most trusted lieutenant and partner from Bengal, Satyan Pal Chaudhary, told him that people had started queuing up and euphoria was building up thick and fast in every single territory.
Which is your best scene from ‘Zanjeer’?
Whenever I see any of my Dad’s films, till date, I see him in some frame or the other. I see his sacrifice and hard work in every scene. It is difficult for me to pick one scene even from any of his films.
For me, the scene where he tells Pran that ‘yeh tumhare baap ka ghar nahi hai’…
That was the scene that brought the Angry Young Man to the fore. Not just that, ‘Zanjeer’ set almost every trend in Indian cinema that you see today- and mind you, not just action. Again, mind you, it came at a time when comedy and romantic films were ruling the roost.
It is so ironic that your father’s films today have become the need of the hour. People are talking about it…
Films show you sapnon ki duniya. Back in the day, Dharmendra came from a farming background, Rajinikanth was a bus conductor. Can you think of any bus conductor or farmer becoming an actor today? Lekin, aaj sapnon ki duniya ne sapne dikhane chhod diye (The land of dreams has lost its dreamers). That’s exactly what is wrong with the industry today.
Why did Prakash Mehra and Amitabh Bachchan not work with each other after ‘Jaadugar’?
Destiny again was the reason. Like destiny brought them together, it ended their collaboration as well. My father had said that if he ever makes a film with Amitabh Bachchan that does not do well, he won’t make a film with him ever again. ‘Jaadugar’ released on the same day as Manmohan Desai’s ‘Toofan’ and both didn’t do well.
Did they speak to each other after ‘Jaadugar’?
They spoke. The relations were cordial. My Dad never saw Mr Bachchan as a product. But if you love someone, doesn’t it happen sometimes that you don’t talk to that person kyunki tum naaraz ho (because you are upset).
Had a certain distance come in their relationship?
Yes, a certain distance had set in. But my Dad was very complex with his emotions. He allowed his emotions to rule, very often.
I can’t talk on behalf of Mr Bachchan. I can talk about my father, for sure. People who are very creative tend to be very passionate and eccentric.
Did the industry not tell them to work with each other again and make efforts to reunite them?
At every place, there are more people who divide you rather than people who unite you. Let me put it this way. Gossip in the industry travels half the world before the right industry even gets up from the bed. Jealousy rules.
What happened after that?
My Dad’s ‘Zindagi Ek Juaa’ didn’t do well. People didn’t like the fact that the heroine Madhuri Dixit dies in the end. ‘Dalaal’ was however a money spinner. But somewhere, as I said earlier, ek daur hota hai (there is a phase) that comes to an end.
Was your father feeling guilty that he had given a flop (‘Jaadugar’) to a superstar (Amitabh Bachchan)?
Not at all. The decision to not work with each other was taken at the start of their collaboration.
Did Prakash Mehra lose passion and focus after ‘Jadugaar’ went down?
Had my father cut his vein, dialogues would have come out before blood. He was so passionate about his ventures. Perhaps it was difficult for him to fathom how people worked around him. It had always been difficult but maybe it was precipitated. And then came Manmohan Desai’s demise – the biggest jolt in his life.
Sorry to interrupt you, but how was Prakash Mehra’s relationship with Manmohan Desai?
This is a surprise, which I am revealing here. My dad and Manmohan Desai were in awe of each other. They were very good friends. I had never seen my father cry except at Manmohan Desai’s death; he was howling.
But it was always said they were arch-rivals. In fact, ‘arch-rivals’ is a modest word I’m using here. Are you saying they fooled the media?
Yes, they fooled the media. They would laugh with each other when they met. They were very thick with each other. Arch-rivals yes, but only on the field and not off it. They had an unsaid respect for each other.
Manmohan Desai allegedly ended his life…
It was unfortunate. Filmmakers like my father and Manmohan Desai don’t look for pats on their backs, they want the public to be with them. And that I think happened with Manmohan Desai when ‘Anmol’ didn’t do well. It hit him hard.
Do you think it was just ‘Anmol’?
I really don’t know but even Manmohan Desai was very passionate about his ventures.
Did your father ask Manmohan Desai’s son Ketan what could have made him take such a drastic step?
No, you don’t ask such questions. People who go away are best left with dignity.
You said you wanted to get behind the camera. What’s preventing you from making more movies after the ‘Zanjeer’ remake?
People think we produced the ‘Zanjeer’ remake, but it was only to retain our rights that we were shown as producers. We didn’t actually produce the remake. A lot of people approach us for the rights of my father’s films even now, but the fate of the ‘Zanjeer’ remake taught us a lesson. You don’t mess around with your legacy.
To answer your question why I am not making films, you see, the industry has changed a lot. It’s not what it was. There’s a lot of politics. We’ll push as much as we can. If it allows us, we’ll do it. If it doesn’t… (shrugs).