The death of Mani Kaul evoked a mixed response, both in terms of bitter and sweet memories regarding the style of his filmmaking, and his personality
There is hardly any occasion of grief in Bollywood that is not met by solidarity. But strangely, the death of Mani Kaul evoked a mixed response, both in terms of bitter and sweet memories regarding the style of his filmmaking, and his personality. If popular filmmakers didn’t exactly see eye to eye with him, his students at the Film and Television Institute of India and the National Film Development Corporation that he pioneered, remember him fondly, even reverentially.
Kaul, who was suffering from cancer, died at the age of 66 after a prolonged illness in his Gurgaon home on Wednesday. A favourite student of Ritwik Ghatak, his films were invariably based on a serious novel, play or a story. So, he was more of an author’s delight than a source of joy for producers and even popular actors whom he never cast in his serious films.
Films like Aashad Ka Aik Din, based on Mohan Rakesh’s famous play centring around Kalidas, Ahmaq based on Fyodor Dostoyevsky novel Idiot (a young Shah Rukh Khan played the central character in it), Ghasiram Kotwal based on Vijay Tendulkar’s political satire on the life of Nana Phadnavis, a prominent minister in the court of the Peshwas, The Cloud Door on Hindu and Muslim erotic literary themes made under the German producer Regina Ziegler, and Dhrupad on the classical raga, marked the high point of his career.
Interestingly, Duvidha, based on a story by Vijyadan Dutta, was remade by Amol Palekar as Paheli in 2005. This big budgeted remake marked Shah Rukh Khan’s debut as a producer too. While Duvidha got the coveted Filmfare Award in 1974, Paheli bombed at the box office despite being colourful, full of songs and star-driven.
Kaul enjoyed the position of an intellectual filmmaker among serious cine critics who always kept him many notches above popular filmmakers like Manmohan Desai or Subhash Ghai. In turn, this generated some uneasiness among them. Mahesh Bhatt admits, “Though the film industry respected him for his genius, there used to be a clear divide between him and commercial filmmakers. If one met at a public space, one didn’t know how to communicate with him.”
If Kaul — who won the Filmfare critics award for Best Movie four times from 1971 to 1993 for Uski Roti, Aashad Ka Aik Din, Duvidha and Idiot — is remembered for his “rigidity”, his sense of humour and large heartedness made people like Kundan Shah, the maker of Jane Bhi Do Yaro, among his best friends. Shah says, “He was great friend, giver, serious, yet full of humour. At FTII, despite getting a nominal honorarium, he never refused to take classes and workshops.” One of Kaul’s students, Rakesh Shukla from FTII, fondly remembers him, saying there was no discipline on film which he didn’t know. “He was among the best teacher we had,” he concludes.