How will you take the work of a man who, through his interviews, endeavoured to reveal the artist behind the art? The answer is: largely with ease, and only occasionally with a degree of discomfort. Anil Saari, a film analyst — the term ‘critic' is not quite apt for a man who saw a reason behind everything — playwright and poet, had his own dedicated readers. They looked forward to his news stories, reviews, and interviews. Such following was remarkable for a man who seldom kept a film's box office calculations in mind when he penned his reviews.
This collection, Indian Cinema: The faces behind the masks, is more of the same, where with each interview Saari opens a little window on the personality of the interviewee. Of course, he makes sure that the window does not lead to a passage or a doorway. What he reveals is vital, what he conceals is mundane or, at times, too personal to merit public scrutiny. That's the way, the stars and the directors retain their privacy even as they share their thoughts. Be it Yash Chopra or Adoor Gopalakrishnan or Manmohan Desai, they mostly talk of their filmmaking, their inspiration or the changing graph of the medium.
It is fascinating to see the divergent thought process of the likes of Chopra, Desai, and Adoor, all remarkably successful men in their own specific ways of filmmaking. For instance, Desai, who had a spate of hits with Amitabh Bachchan in the 1970s and '80s (incidentally, Naseeb and Coolie came in the early 1980s and not the '70s as the intro to the Desai chapter states), has no qualms about admitting, “One should not give the viewers a chance to think while they are watching the movie. Inside the theatre, the film should engage them totally. Though they can go home and curse you.”
A little earlier Chopra talks of his vision of music. “I ask the writer to write the song first for important sequences because I have to convey a few things in those scenes and the poetry is more important.” But, Gulzar has quite a different take on the subject. Recounting his days of struggle, he talks of his first song in Hindi films, Mora gora ang leyle. He tells Saari, “After Bimalda [Roy] told what he wanted, I met Sachinda [S.D. Burman] and heard the tune for which I had to write the lyrics…”
Elsewhere, Adoor gives a nugget into his ways of filmmaking. He talks of Mathilukal, which was based on a short story by Vaikom Mohammed Basheer. “I was inspired by the story and then worked on the script in the same way as I would have worked on an original idea of my own. I took all the liberty possible with the material … basically I was trying to give the audience the same pleasure I had got when I read the story.” Only occasionally, as in the case of Rekha, the interviewees open their inner selves to the public. The otherwise reclusive actress tells Saari (the interview was done way back in 1985), “I am not psychic but I do have this power of being able to tell what is going to happen in the future. I have this intuition about people … Sometimes, instinctively; you feel you're going to get along with this person for life. Sometimes it's good, sometimes it's bad.”
Revealing more of herself, Rekha goes on: “I do believe that if a person is nice to me, then I don't bother about his background…I take it as a challenge, that if this person is bad, then maybe I can change him or her. I will go out of my way to make friends with somebody who is impossible. I think it is more challenging … it's more human tendency to go for the impossible.” These are the moments which make this collection of interviews worth your time.
The attempt here is to get to the mind, the thought process of the filmmakers rather than only talk in terms of stars, music, and technique of filmmaking. Not that this is a flawless collection: there are times Saari mars his copybook with some avoidable questions. Some of the questions are inane and quite unworthy of being posed to people of the stature of Ben Kingsley, and Shabana Azmi. Then there are some minor inaccuracies, and a few avoidable errors in the framing of questions. Leave them aside. They are like the toll-tax you pay for driving on the highway. The crux here is you enjoy the ride, taking the smooth with the rough.