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.