Legendary filmmaker
 Rachna Singh

Enchantment of the Mind: Manmohan Desaiís Films
by Connie Haham. Roli. Pages 204. Rs 395. 

THE Manmohan Desaiís unabashed proclamation, "I donít make films for critics", sums up the cinematic genre of fantasy-entertainment created by him. In Preface, Amitabh Bachchan compares this auteur-director to a child who has clambered onto a Ferris wheel and could have enjoyed the ride till the kingdom come.

The believe-it-or-not stories spun by Desai with their repetitive lost-and-found themes, their speed and drama were openly criticised by the scions of serious cinema. In the face of such criticism, Desai simply declared that as most people in the world were facing poverty and misery, "Why canít I give them an escape hatch? My films are an escape hatch".

Desai offers the audience a carnival, where the rigid norms of society are relegated to the background and the audience takes part in the thrill of watching the protagonist survive the vagaries of fate all the while thinking, "I couldíve been like that chap". In tune with such fantastic optimism, we have the protagonist in Coolie surviving even after being riddled with bullets and we have the infant Dharam in Dharam-Veer being saved by the omnipresent falcon.

Desaiís wonderland peopled with fantastic characters is, however, strongly rooted in realityóthe reality of Mumbaiís Khetwadi district. Anthony of Amar Akbar, Anthony, and Iqbal of Coolie are both real characters Desai found in the backstreets and dark alleyways of Khetwadi. Even the timeworn lost-and-found gimmicks have been given a fresh patina. Desai himself admitted that "it is very difficult to bring about the union in a different way every time". But he has done it with great panache every time.

Connie Hahamís treatise is an analysis of the significant aspects of Desaiís genre with its trademark flair for adventure, pie-on-the-face comedy, flamboyant sets and costumes, catchy tunes, lost-found formulae and colloquial dialogues. This American Professor teaching in Paris has done what the most reputed Bollywood buffs and critics could not doóhe has taken an objective look at Desai the filmmaker. Haham has fleshed out the true character of this filmmaker who although avowedly a box-office director wove into his cinema the sub-texts of romantic idealism, optimistic survival, communal harmony and traditional familial values that went either unnoticed or disregarded. This Ďanhonee ko honee kardeí director may cringe at the academic analysis of his work, but I for one feel that Hahamís cerebral perspective of Desaiís genre was required to shrug of the label of a non-serious commercial money-spinner that has struck Desai for decades. And what better time than Desaiís 12th death anniversary to do the good deed. Desai once said: ĎLaugh at me today but mark my words, youíll appreciate my work some day, even if its too late." And we do. More so after Connie Hahamís book.

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