Though certain sections of the media and some self proclaimed elite viewers look down on the so called ” masala-entertainers” it is a fact that the biggest hits produced in India till date are the ” masala-movies”.
For the uninitiated (or the newer generation) a “masala-entertainer” is a movie which is fully intended for the masses, does not pretend to be anything more then entertainment, where one should not look for logic or pathbreaking films but where the audience goes into a cinemahall to forget about their day to day worries and is transported to a make believe world where poetic justice is served in three hours and where one can enjoy pure entertainment. These films contain drama, comedy, the song and dance routine, beautiful locations, an engaging story, good songs all in the right dose (if done well).
In the hindi film industry (I do not like the term “Bollywood”) there have been many producers and directors who have (had) specialized in ” masala -movies” like Prakash Mehra, Ramesh Sippy, Shakti Samantha, Bappi Sohnie, Brij Sadanah, Rakesh Roshan and of course David Dhawan. Some more successful then the other, some with more hits to their credit then the other. But the ultimate master of the “masala-movies”, the emperor of the entire “masala-genre” was none other then the one and only undisputed king on the genre MANMOHAN DESAI.
Manmohan Desai (who’s father Kikubhai Desai was a smalltime producer / director in the 30’s and ’40s) started his career as a writer with the film “Tulsidas” (1954) and “Janam Janam Ke Phere” (1957). He made his debut as a director with the latter but the film bombed. His second feature as a director was the 1960 Raj Kapoor – Nutan movie “Chhalia” which was a hit. Manmohan Desai had arrived.
Like I mentioned earlier Manmohan Desai was the emperor of the “masala-genre” . To be quite honest he even created a sub-genre : the lost and found formula. This were stories were parents and children or just brothers and sisters would get separated in the beginning of the movie and would reunite at the end to take revenge on the villains who had wronged them. Though this concept was not found by Manmohan Desai (Yash Chopra’s film” WAQT” is credited as the first multi starrer with this storyline) ge his perfect this concept and totally made it his own.
In the 70’s and 80’s 7 out of every 10 films made in India had this storyline as the main story of the movie. But not all movies succeeded. And even the ones that did succeed did not have the success as a Manmohan Desai film.
Manmohan Desai had his fingers on the pulse of the audience. He knew what the audience wanted and catered to them. He could also make the audience lap up the most ridiculous scenes (more on that later on in the MANMOHAN DESAI NOTES).
The career and films of Manmohan Desai can be separated into two phases or categories if you want.
First, the Non Amitabh Bachchan films.
Most of the films from this period were hits but not as big a hit as the second category. “Dharam-Veer” and “Chacha Bhatiya” (co-incidently both having Dharmendra in one of the leading roles) were blockbusters. But my personal favourite Manmohan Desai movie from this first category is the 1973 Shashi Kapoor, Sharmila Tagore, Shatrughan Sinha movie “Aa Gale Lag Jaa” which had a killer soundtrack by R.D. Burman and songs sung by Kishore Kumar (a very rare thing in Manmohan Desai movie).
The second phase or category is the one for which Manmohan Desai is best remembered thill today. The phase that gave the hindi film industry some of it’s biggest blockbusters:
THE AMITABH BACHCHAN movies:
There has hardly been in actor-director duo or combination who worked so well with each other as Amitabh Bachchan and Manmohan Desai. The succesratio this duo had with their blockbusters can’t be challenged by anyone -worldwide. Though Amitabh Bachchan made successful movies with the likes of Prakash Mehra and Ramesh Sippy as well his best was reserved for Hrishikesh Mukherjee and Manmohan Desai. And the Manmohan Desai universe was always much happier and jolly then the Hrishikesh Mukherjee movies (which were classics themselves).
Another important aspect of Manmohan Desai movies was “national integration” . All religions co-existed happily together and religion was important. Be it John Jhonny Janardhan (Amitabh Bachchan) and the rings with the cross, the Ohm sign and Allah on it that save the heroes (Amitabh Bachchan, Rishi Kapoor, Shatrughan Sinha and Pran) lives in “NASEEB” or the 4 “gundas” from 4 different religions (Shammi Kapoor, Uttam Kumar, Parikshat Sahni and Prem Nath) who change for the better thanks to master DinaNath (Amitabh Bachchan) in ” DESH PREMEE”.
The best of Manmohan Desai -also in this regard (which would do more for national integration then a 100 documentaries produced by the government or Doordarshan) – would release in 1977… a film that would change the path for Manmohan Desai and Amitabh Bachchan…
Amar Akbar Anthony has many sub plots (another strong point of Manmohan Desai movies – the movies had many subplots running simultaneously and by the end of the movie all would be tied up and presented to the audience with a nice ribbon around it) but the main plot is :
A father (Pran) and mother (the world’s worst mom ever- Nirupa Roy- who lost all her children in almost every movie in the 70’s and 80’s) have 3 sons. Due to circumstances they all get seprated. The dad becomes an underworld don, the mom becomes blind as a bonus in this movie, the eldest son Amar (Vinod Khanna) is brought up by a hindi police inspector, the youngest is brought up by a muslim elderly and becomes a famous qawwali singer -Akbar Ilhabadi (Rishi Kapoor) and the middle son is brought up by a catholic priest (Nazir Hussain) and is known as Anthony Gonzalvez (Amitabh Bachchan in topform) a local goon with a heart of gold.
Vinod Khanna is seen in a very unthankful role. His character inspector Amar is very serious and has no humor at all. I am glad that his sreentime is limited as his character is the least fun to watch on screen. I think he might have taken up the role only because he could beat up his biggest rival of that era (Amitabh Bachchan) which was rare in a movie of that era.
Rishi Kapoor as Akbar Ilhabadi has all songs (except for one) fully or partially picturized in him. But don’t be fooled. We are talking about Rishi Kapoor here so he is not there just for the songs. Rishi is terrific as Akbar Ilhabadi and his chemistry with Amitabh Bachchan is superb. They had only done a “Kabhi Kabhie” together before this movie in which there was no room for the Amitabh Bachchan-Rishi Kapoor magic. But Manmohan Desai gave us three films with that magic and this one -together with Naseeb- is the best there is.
Rishi Kapoor is great in his role and the qawali’s and other songs picturized on him (sung by Mohd. Rafi) are fantastic. But as we all know Rishi Kapoor knows how to act and to act during songs. Besides his track with Amitabh Bachchan his track with Neetu Singh and Mukhri (who plays her dad) will bring the house down even today.
Now to the middle brother, the actual star of the movie -Anthony Gonzalvez (Amitabh Bachchan). Amitabh has the biggest role in the movie and it seems like the movie is centered around him. But it’s not that Amitabh had other’s role cut or anything. Vinod Khanna’s track is mostly with Bachchan. Rishi Kapoor’s track is with Amitabh Bachchan and with the mom Nirupa Roy so it’s simple that Rishi’s role is bigger then Vinod Khanna’s. But Amitabh has a track with Vinod Khanna, a track with Rishi Kapoor, Neetu Singh and Mukhri, a track with Pran (the dad), a track with Nirupa Roy (the mom) AND his romantic track (with Parveen Babi) so it is only but logical that his role is the biggest in the movie. It might not have been scripted that way initially but something happened during the making of Amar Akbar Anthony that would change destinies…
In those days making a film took years to finish. To make a movie on the Manmohan Desai scale took at least 3 years to complete. Manmohan Desai was already a well known producer / director. In the mid 70’s he was busy with shooting 4 films simultaneously : Dharam-Veer, Chacha Bhatiya, Parvarish and Amar Akbar Anthony (the last two with Bachchan in one of the leading roles). Now because Manmohan was directing 4 films simultaneously it was difficult being on every set to do all the shootings himself.
A scene had to be canned for Amar Akbar Anthony which would feature just one actor in it – Amitabh Bachchan. Because all Manmohan Desai movies were multi starrers it was difficult to get combined dates of actors because in those days actors would give out “shifts” to filmmakers. So Manmohan Desai opted to direct another scene for one of the other movies which had a combination of stars in it. For the scene to be shot for Amar Akbar Anthony it was just Amitabh Bachchan and the cameramen in the studio.
The situation was : Amitabh Bachchan had tried to woo Parveen Babi during an Easter festival with a song and had been beaten up (again!) by her bodyguard because he was drunk. Now in this scene he was in front of a mirror trying to talk to himself. Amitabh improvised and the scene was shot. Legend has it that when Manmohan Desai saw the rushes of that scene he cried and vowed to never again make a movie without Amitabh Bachchan and that was the birth of a deadly combination that nobody has ever been able to replicate!
This deadly duo would go on to rise to the challenge and give one blockbuster after the other and experiencing one of the worst accidents ever to have happened on the sets of any hindi movie ever… but I won’t get into that in this post. Just a screenshot of that fateful blow…
You might think that in a movie called Amar Akbar Anthony with 3 heroes and many subplots the heroines of the movie might have nothing to do… Leave it to Manmohan Desai to prove you wrong.
Shabana Azmi as the love interest of Vinod Khanna gets the smallest role of the heroines. Which is perfectly understandable as she has only one track -that with Vinod Khanna. And since he has the smallest role of the 3 heroes it is only but logical that she has the smallest role as well. It is fun though to see Shabana in an out and out commercial role (she was also in Manmohan Desai’s “Parvarish” with Bachchan again opposite Vinod Khanna) when you keep in mind her tirade against “masala-movies” later in her career. But she tried to be in those movies herself.
Neetu Singh (Kapoor) has a far bigger role in the movie as the love interest of Rishi Kapoor who is a doctor by profession. She is good in her role and fun to watch as she does justice to her character.
Parveen Babi as the love interest of Amitabh Bachchan has the biggest role of the heroines. First of all she has a track as Anthony’s love interest. But she also has her own track as the daughter of the villain (Jeevan) who is brought up by her ” uncle” (Pran) who has a bodyguard (Yusuf Khan -NOT DILIP KUMAR). She does justice to her role as well and this was Parveen at her best. Though Parveen was a superb team with Amitabh she would star in 2 more Manmohan Desai-Amitabh Bachchan movies in which she would not be paired opposite Amitabh. In “SUHAAG” she would be paired opposite Shashi Kapoor (and Amitabh with Rekha) and in “DESH PREMEE” Amitabh would have a double role no less where he would be paired with Sharmila Tagore (making a comeback) and Hema Malini. Parveen Babi would be the daughter of the elder Bachchan and the sister of the younger Bachchan. Her hero would be the one time semi-successful actor Navin Nischal (who by the way was the hero in the film “PARWAANA” in which Amitabh Bachchan would be the cold blooded villain much before Shah Rukh Khan’s Baazigar and Anjaam act).
The main villain in the movie was Robert Seth portrayed by character actor Jeevan (father of Kiran Kumar – “Khuda Gawah”, ” Khudgarz”, ” Baaghi”). Jeevan who had been famous for playing Naratmuni in many films was an actor who could be seen in many Manmohan Desai films and with Amar Akbar Anthony he made a great comeback as a villain.
Manmohan Desai loved to work with his set of actors. You could ususally see the same actors in most of his movies with an addition here and there. And since his movies were multi starrers and had many storylines there was a need for multiple villains. Therefor it is strange that Amar Akbar Anthony is the only Manmohan Desai movie in which the famous 70’s and 80’s villain Ranjeet makes an appearance. His role is not that big. He is the stepbrother of Shabana Azmi, henchmen of Jeevan and the son of Nadira.
Which brings me to Nadira who makes a guest appearance in this movie as the eveil stepmother from hell of Shabana Azmi and mom to Ranjeet’s character. Though her screen time is limited she makes an impression. But for an actress of the caliber of Nadira nothing less can be expected.
There are many more characters in the movie. If I would go into all the character this post would become a novella. But 3 characters have to be mentioned : Yusuf Khan as Parveen Babi’s bodyguard Zubesco. This is the movie which made people recognize and remember him. As it happened with MacMohan in ” SHOLAY” and with Manek Irani in Manmohan Desai’s other Amitabh Bachchan-Rishi Kapoor classic ” NASEEB” there is no escaping them in this movie and he would always be remembered for this movie. Though it might be worth knowing that his association with Amitabh Bachchan goes as far back as Amitabh’s first solo lead hitfilm ” BOMBAY TO GOA” in which he had an even bigger role then in Amar Akbar Anthony.
Nazir Hussain is no stranger to the movie buff. The man has played father to everyone… He even played father to Dev Anand (Jewel Thief and many more) and Sunil Dutt -father of Sanjay Dutt – (Heera). Here he plays foster father to Amitabh Bachchan. Only called “father” in the film his role is an important one as hei character is a catalyst to move the story further at a certain point…
The last character I just have to mention is Tayab Ali seth played adorably by character actor Mukhri. As the father of Salma (Neetu Singh) who is against her relationship with Akbar (Rishi Kapoor) Mukhri almost steals the thunder from Rishi Kapoor and Amitabh Bachchan in their scenes with them. A veteran of almost 250 films spanning more then 6 decades he shows his comic timing brilliantly in this film that would go on to him seeing more roles in films with Amitabh Bachchan and Rishi Kapoor most notably “COOLIE” and ” SHARAABI” (the latter one featuring him as Nathulal-ji with the famous “moochhe”. Who can forget this classic Mohd. Rafi song picturized on Rishi Kapoor and Mukri in this movie…!? It was recreated for a movie and picturized on Imran Khan and Sonakshi Sinha but that only is proof that nothing beats the original and nobody can beat Rishi Kapoor at his own game when the man is in his element…
Now for the music of Amar Akbar Anthony. Except for a very rare “Aa Gale Lag Jaa” which had music by R.D. Burman (and which I think is the best Manmohan Desai film soundtrack ever) his movies had music by the music composers Laxmikant-Pyarelal.
Mohd. Rafi had been Manmohan Desai’s favourite playback singer from day 1. Though Mukesh did sing in Chhalia that was no wonder since the hero was Raj Kapoor. And Raj Kapoor = Mukesh. But from Budtameez and Bluffmaster onwards it was Mohd. Rafi’s show all the way. Except for the R.D. Burman soundtrack for which Kishore Kumar sang some of the best songs ever in a Manmohan Desai movie. Even in the late 70’s and 80’s when Kishore Kumar was the number 1 singer (as far as hits and output was concerned) Manmohan Desai chose to have Mohd. Rafi sing for the heroes in his movies. Mohd. Rafi even was the voice of Amitabh Bachchan in Manmohan Desai movies. Probably the only Manmohan Desai movie with Amitabh in the lead which had Kishore Kumar as the voive of Amitabh Bachchan was Amar Akbar Anthony and it was this movie that gave the Amitabh Bachchan – Manmohan Desai their biggest hitsong (sung by Kishore Kumar).
Even though Kishore Kumar was the voice for Amitabh Bachchan in the movie the most number of songs in this movie were sung by Mohd. Rafi as the voice of Rishi Kapoor (barring one song in which Shailendra Singh sang the mandatory Rishi Kapoor song after ” BOBBY”) and Mukesh as the voice of Vinod Khanna.
As far as the female singer… there was no question about that. There is only one song picturized on the heroines and Lata Mangeshkar sang for all 3 heroines!
Though Kishore Kumar and Mohd. Rafi have sung duets, Mohd. Rafi and Mukesh have sung duets and Mukesh and Kishore Kumar have sung duets this film will go down history as the only film which had a song sung by the three most well known and successful hindi film playback singers Kishore Kumar, Mohd. Rafi and Mukesh. To make it even more special the nightingale of India, Lata Mangeshkar joined in for fun…
Like I mentioned at the beginning of this article when you watch a “masala-entertainer” you don’t look for logic… because you won’t find it. And in the Manmohan Desai universe the most unprobable, unlikely and impossible things happen. But they are presented with such conviction that you don’t realize that it is not possible. You lap it up. It is only after the film when you discuss the movie that you think…”Hey what happened here?”
Here are AMAR AKBAR ANTHONY’S MANMOHAN DESAI NOTES:
- The blind mom has an accident and is brought to the hospital where Salma (Neetu Singh) is the doctor (AND WHAT A DOCTOR -see note 2 for that). As luck would have it all her 3 songs are there. She is in need for a blood transfusion and all three sons donate blood to her. Here it comes: The blood of all 3 sons goes into a bottle simultaneously which at the same time is administered to Nirupa Roy (the mom)
- Neetu Singh is a doctor like mentioned before. Just before the climax Parveen Babi faints. Neetu Singh listens to her pulse and congratulates Parveen’s dad with the fact that she is pregnant.
- On the day of his wedding to Parveen Babi *****SPOILER ALERT***** finds the murdered body of “father”. Just before he realizes that “father” is no more he brags about his new costume which is specially made for his wedding. It is a white suit. He realizes “father” is dad, finds a locket in the victim’s hand which he recognizes, rushes to the owner of the locket and accuses him… wearing a black costume *****END SPOILER ALERT*****
- The villains are aware of the characters of Amar Akbar and Anthony. Still the 3 brothers disguise themselves and enter the villain’s den trying to rescue the girls and avenge whatever happened. While in disguise (because they do not want to get recognized) they sing this for the villains:
Watch this movie for nostalgia purposes and for the newer generation see what we grew up on… For the newer generation see why Amitabh Bachchan and Rishi Kapoor are considered the best of the best ever. Watch this movie just to see HOW a ” masala-movie” should be made and how it CAN work!
AMAR AKBAR ANTHONY (1977)
produced and directed by Manmohan Desai
cast : Amitabh Bachchan, Rishi Kapoor, Pran, Neetu Singh Kapoor, Parveen Babi, Vinod Khanna, Nirupa Roy, Shabana Azmi, Jeevan, Jeevan, Ranjeet, Mukri, Nadira, Yusuf Khan, Kamal Kapoor and Nasir Hussain
music by Laxmikant-Pyarelal
playback by Kishore Kumar, Mohd. Rafi, Lata Mangeshkar, Lata Mangeshkar, Mahendra Kapoor, Shailendra Singh and Amitabh Bachchan
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