TRIBUTE Despite having an eye on the box-office, Raj Khosla managed to bring into his films good storytelling and social responsibility. Deepak Mahaan
To entertain is a difficult task at any given moment. To entertain without being crass is a more complex and tiresome job. However, despite the teeming odds, several directors in Hindi cinema have made interesting films with entertainment as the pivot. Sadly, there have been few to serve wholesome entertainment of a high standard with uncanny regularity and social responsibility within the confines of commercial cinema and its box-office expectations. Like Raj Khosla whose birth anniversary falls this Friday.
Hailing from the Guru Dutt camp, this director of rare pedigree believed that the essential purpose of a film was to provide healthy entertainment without turning the story into a mediocre or indecent exposition. In keeping with ‘lineage’ and the adage that a good storyteller can always engage and delight audiences, Khosla made films that were not just socially relevant and engrossing but also highly successful at the box-office despite their unusual storylines. Like a good chef who mixes spices, oils and ingredients in appropriate measure and then heats, grills, fries or bakes the concoction in the right temperature to create a delectable dish, Khosla created interesting human drama by weaving script, dialogue, sound, music and emotion to satisfy the masses.
He may not have been intuitively brilliant like his mentor Guru Dutt, nor sublime like Bimal Roy, nor as sophisticated as Vijay Anand in his directorial skills, but he certainly was a fine craftsman with the gift of creating fascinating visuals that never allowed audiences to lose interest in the happenings on screen. This art, imbibed through his internship with Dutt and his lifelong interest in music, gave him a unique perspective and understanding of ‘moving drama’. A trained vocalist who came to Bombay to become a playback singer but turned to direction on Dev Anand’s advice, Khosla’s fine ear for sur (note) and taal (rhythm) allowed him to determine the tempo and tone of a scene with unerring clarity. Though his lifelong passion for singing did not result in any musical creation, it certainly helped him give a certain pace to all his stories, and one can instinctively feel a lively cadence in most of his films. This panache to hook audiences with his rhythmic sense of screen images made everything from comic, suspense or romantic capers to social drama become hugely palatable.
Irrespective of genre, Khosla coerced audiences to participate in the lives of his characters, sharing their laughter and tears instinctively. The scene from “Do Badan”, wherein Manoj Kumar is insulted at a party by his beloved’s father, or the riveting court duels of “Mera Saaya” make it clear how Khosla seizes attention without trying too hard. Showcasing exemplary frames of tight-knit imagery, his shot-taking also enhanced his films’ emotional quotient. Similarly, the unusual love story within the moral dilemmas of social relationships in “Bambai ka Babu” exhibits deft craftsmanship of high calibre. The silent as well as lyrical interactions between Dev Anand and Suchitra Sen are worth going miles for. The song picturisation of “Dekhne mein bhola hai” and “Deewana Mastana” take your breath away and are lessons for any young filmmaker on how lyrics, music and image have to blend to make an eternal impact. The chutzpah of Dev Anand and Madhubala, as also the ghazal scene between Dev and Nalini Jaywant with Rafi’s mesmeric “Hum bekhudi mein tum ko pukaare” in “Kala Paani”, are brilliant and pithy in structure as well as content.
With “C.I.D.”, “Ek Musafir Ek Hasina”, “Woh Kaun Thi”, “Mera Saaya”, “Do Raaste”, “Prem Kahani”, “Main Tulsi Tere Aangan Ki”, “Dostana” and other films mentioned above, Khosla regularly proved his directorial dexterity. Star director-actor Manoj Kumar defines Khosla as “an affable human being with a fine sense of poetry, music and philosophy” who “created scenes of everyday life with ease.” It was as if “he had his nose to the ground and could read human instincts” and also guess a winner from a distance. No wonder, Raj Khosla gave a chance to Mahesh Bhatt when he was a novice, and he was the first to appreciate Manoj’s scripting skills by allowing him to rewrite the screenplay of “Woh Kaun Thi” after the actor pointed out certain flaws in the earlier draft. According to Manoj Kumar, Khosla made the famous suspense film without a single dissolve, something totally alien to such an eerie subject!
Like the other man from Ludhiana, Sahir, Raj Khosla too carved an abiding place for himself in the Indian film history, leaving behind a body of work that anyone can be proud of. Like the poet, Khosla too had a legion of female admirers since he was said to bring out the best in his heroines .(Vinod Khanna would disagree as Khosla made him a rage with “Mera Gaon Mera Desh”.) But the impression isn’t wrong as he did bring out the best in Geeta Bali, Madhubala, Asha Parekh, Nutan, Nalini Jaywant, Mumtaz and Sadhana on screen. Even women playing minor roles, like Parveen Chaudhary and Laxmi Chhaya, proved their mettle under his baton. Perhaps Raj Khosla did have his heart in the right place. His favourite heroine, Sadhana, summed it up well when she once said, “Raj Khosla could see with his mind what many couldn’t see even with their eyes.”