Twelve years ago, I caught Vijay Anand in a rare chatty mood. Rejuvenated after a break in Karjat, he flashbacked to a childhood that would have ended abruptly when his father, advocate Pishori Lal Anand, suddenly decided to become a sanyasi and renounced the world.
“It was Chetan sahab who marshalled his meagre resources and ensured that the family survived. Without him we’d have starved,” he admitted.
For Dev and Goldie, more than an older brother, Chetan Anand was a second father. For me he was a history teacher who went on to make cinematic history after he failed to clear the civil services exams. Had that not happened, I’d have probably been groomed on Bollywood box office trash and joined the stream of tabloid gossip instead of appreciating Hindi cinema for classics like the rebellious Neecha Nagar, the patriotic Haqueeqat and the poetic Heer-Ranjha.
Chetan sahab’s home, 41, Pali Hill, was also home to some of the film industry’s best creative talents, including Zohra Sehgal and Guru Dutt. Their exchanges translated into path-breaking films like Neecha Nagar that put Indian cinema on the world map with a Palme d’Or at the first ever Cannes Film Festival in 1946. A friend who knew the maverick actor-filmmaker well tells me that Satyajit Ray had, in 1949, invited him to lecture on Neecha Nagar at India’s first film
society dedicated to features in Kolkata. He politely declined saying he wasn’t qualified to give a lecture.
Fifteen years later, they met again at Kolkata’s Grand Hotel. Chetan sahab was the recipient of the BFJA award for Best Hindi Feature Film for Haqeeqat while Ray’s Charulata was adjudged the Best Bengali Film.
As they shook hands, Ray told Chetan sahab he’d seen Haqeeqat, “Strong visuals, excellent music but no story.” He retorted, “It is a mosaic, not a story.” Both laughed, and later, Ray praised Haqeeqat as the only true war film from India.
War and peace
The film relived the 1962 Indo-China war through the stories Chetan sahab had drawn out from real army officers. His son Ketan has been promising us a coloured Haqeeqat for the last few years. Personally, I prefer the black-and-white classic whose kaali Diwali made me weep as a teenager even though Navketan was named after Ketan.
Chetan sahab flagged off the family banner with Dev-Suraiyya’s Afsar in 1950 which was based on Nikolai Gogol’s satire, Inspector General. It flopped, as did Aandhiyan that came two years later, and the production house might have shut shop had Taxi Driver in 1954 not raced to success. I’m told that while picturising the song, Dil jale toh jale he had reprimanded his younger brother for his loose-limbed walk, telling him not to be the Leaning Tower of Pisa but express some pathos too. Silently, Dev complied and walked three steps.
To his surprise, his elder brother hugged him after the shot saying, “Dev, superb!” Dev wept on his bhaiji’s shoulder.
After Joru Ka Bhai and Funtoosh, Chetan sahab branched out on his own in 1956 to launch his own banner. After two duds, Anjali and Kinare Kinare, Himalaya Films was in trouble but then, Haqeeqat struck gold. Instead of following up with a massy commercial movie, Chetan sahab wandered the streets of Mumbai with his camera trailing a 15-month-old toddler in search of his mother. Aakhri Khat, that arrived two years after Haqeeqat, was deceptive in its simplicity as it underlined the loss of innocence in a fast-growing material world.
Film in verse
Chetan sahab’s uncompromising ways and disregard for the market may have strewn his career graph with more misses than hits, but these movies once rejected are now applauded. Only Chetan sahab would have dared to make a film in verse inspired by Heer, a poem by Waris Shah, with colours that corresponded with different emotional moods.
“For the first time, thanks to Haqeeqat, money was rolling in, and my father was advised to consolidate his position. But he was determined to use colour meaningfully and decided to risk everything on Heer-Ranjha that was dubbed a ‘foolish gamble’ by many,” Ketan says.
The lyrical experiment brought out the best of Kaifi Azmi, Madan Mohan and Chetan Anand and on his 15th death anniversary on July 6, I’m sure the breeze on Juhu beach, close to where his shack was, will echo with the strains of Yeh duniya, yeh mehfil, mere kaam ki nahin. Had he been around, he’d have been 91, and maybe we would have sat and spoken about cinema, unadulterated and unforgettable, but some dreams die too soon.