Remembering the master raconteur

Always ready with an anecdote, director Lekh Tandon was a simple man full of ideas and admiration for talent

Published - October 27, 2017 01:50 am IST



Short in stature but giant in temperament, Lekh Tandon was a raconteur par excellence. This trait, coupled with brilliant wit, made him a darling at any social gathering and though one met the genial director at a late stage in his career, one can vouch that his animated conversations came from his heart. Till his dying day, he was unafraid of speaking the truth; bitterly opposed to the communal nonsense of our times, he was a staunch supporter of secularism with an abiding love for Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Prithviraj Kapoor and Mohammed Rafi in equal measure.

Lekh Tandon reminded me of the tiny bluebird that has a steadfast look, a heaving bosom but a mellifluous voice that makes people watch its persona and performance in amazement. Someday one may share his pithy observations and tirades against the communal forces but today as a homage, one would only recount some of his sweetest memories that he shared abundantly along with his great spread of food.

Though Prithviraj Kapoor was his father’s friend, Tandon’s adoration and affinity to the great star-actor of theatre and films was no less than Raj, Shammi and Shashi Kapoor. Deliberately flunking the engineering entrance examinations, Tandon took refuge of his uncle to persuade his father into allowing him an entry into films. What made him eternally worship “Papa ji” was the gesture when Raj Kapoor did not increase Tandon’s wages after working as an assistant in “Aag” and “Barsaat”. Not wishing to hurt his self esteem yet wanting to help Tandon tide over his constraints, Prithviraj gave him a regular monthly booty as a fee for a film to be made at a future date. Tandon related, “Much later, I realised the contract was a ruse to help me and my wife live well without burdening me with any guilt pangs! It was as if he was taking care of his own child whom he didn’t want to suffer in any way”.

Rescue act

Similarly, he always credited his directorial debut to his old friendship with Shankar Jaikishan. Tandon recounted that producer F. C. Mehra was reluctant to offer him a contract but learning his plight, Shankar Jaikishan marched into Mehra’s office and offered to do his film provided Tandon was given the directorial baton. Mehra was stunned since this number one music team of film industry was a guarantee for commercial success in that era but were unavailable to many even at an astronomical sum! Mehra happily acceded to SJ’s request and the rest is history.

Rafi’s versatility

Mohammed Rafi was his darling since the beginning of “Aag” but his contribution to success of “Professor” brought them enormously close. Tandon once disclosed that when the opening stanza of “Kaun Hai Jo Sapnon Mein Aaya” was almost complete, he realised Rafi was singing it in Shammi Kapoor style. Tandon interrupted and informed the singer that the song was being recorded for Rajendra (Kumar) and “Rafi sahab immediately switched to singing in Rajendra’s style, leaving everyone astounded by his versatility. The man could change his tone, texture and nuances according to character, situation, scene and requirements of the director.” Saying it would take many rebirths to recount Rafi Sahab’s goodness, Tandon said he had seen “only two funerals in India that had massive outpouring of spontaneous grief and tears from millions... one when Mahatma Gandhi died and the other when Rafi Sahab departed”. Not given to hyperboles, Lekh Tandon’s comment is a profound observation.

Although everyone from Shammi Kapoor to Shabana Azmi hailed him as a brilliant director who mounted his screen canvasses as beautifully as he recounted, alas his death came as a result of a brain stroke. Nevertheless, in his case, “death is not extinguishing the light; it is only putting out the lamp because the dawn has come” as generations will enjoy their days with the films of this lover of Gandhi and Nehru's ideals and morals.

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