They say just when the caterpillar thought the world was over, it turned into a butterfly. Bollywood’s such butterfly epoch — one that would have seen it match/emulate Hollywood — couldn’t realize as the gestation got aborted due to an untimely cardiac arrest Mukul Anand suffered this month two decades ago – September 7, 1997 to be precise. My view may border with exaggeration here, but being a fan of his kind of escapist cinema, I feel a Bahubali-sort flick would have been a reality (in terms of grandeur, if not technology) in the late 90s itself had Mukul Anand lived for few more years. My forlorn hope!
First encounter with Mukul Anand: One fine evening in the early 90s, one of my maternal uncles, asked me to join him for a movie whose name sounded more of a period or religious film. An offer I wasn’t enthusiastic about. In those days, watching films even in a touring talkies (makeshift theatre a near-form of which was shown in Swades) was a luxury, particularly for a village boy like me then. So, I chose to accompany him, something I was not going to regret. I was to be left flabbergasted for the next three-odd hours. The film was Khuda Gawah (1992). It had, as bonanza, two Amitabh Bachchans (for starters, Sridevi is often referred to as Lady Bachchan), Danny Denzongpa, Akkineni Nagarjuna and Vikram Gokhale. Was filmed in the mountainous, littered with stone shards and yet-to-be-divested-of-peace, Afghanistan. The great pair of Laxmikant Kudalkar and Pyarelal Mishra was onboard as the music composers.
Anand worked with big guns like Vinod Khanna, Dharmendra, Mithun Chakraborty, Sunny Deol, Sanjay Dutt, Shahrukh Khan, Salman Khan, Anil Kapoor, Jackie Shroff, Dimple Kapadia, Juhi Chawla, besides, of course, Bachchan and Sridevi. But there was something in him that he, as a director, would stand out. Anand made films on a big scale is a platitude by now. His way of story-telling, dialogues/one liners in the films, choices of locations where they were shot and their cinematography were also iconic. The cumulative effect of it was: the frames looked flashy and royal on the silver screen. Remember the scene from Khuda Gawah in which protagonist Badshah Khan (Bachchan) and Benazir (Sridevi), riding galloping horses, compete to grab a dead carcass? Or gangster Vijay Dinanath Chouhan barging into a Mumbai slum pocket to bay for rival Anna Shetty’s (Deepak Shirke) blood for abducting his sister Shiksha (Neelam) in Agneepath (1990). Triggers for adrenaline rush!
Laxmikant-Pyarelal’s compositions in many of his films deserve a separate mention here. Only L-P could convert “mujhe khaaq kar do, mujhe raakh kar do, mujhe fuk dalo” (Insaaf, 1987) or “bam chiki chiki bam” (Hum, 1991) type atrocious lyrics into euphonies.
They could not live up to their billing in Agneepath. The film, however, scored big in background music department I feel. It should rather figure in the list of films with best background music along with Hum. I can’t resist citing sequences like Chouhan’s emergence from underwater right outside mafia Kancha Cheena’s sea-facing palatial den in Mauritius or Shekhar turning into his original avatar of Tiger (Bachchan in Hum) in an action packed scene as instances with pulsating background score.
The solitary area Mukul Anand was on the same page with other Bollywood directors/producers was the length of his movies. I find them lengthier (like this piece), maybe because am comparing them with contemporary Hindi cinema. Also, he could have refrained from appearing as “influenced by Hollywood” right from his debut venture Kanoon Kya Karega (1984). He would have managed to achieve what he did sans such inspiration. For example, Agneepath had three-four scenes similar to those in Brian De Palma’s cult Scarface (1983). Think of Agneepath minus these “inspired” sequences. The Bachchan-starrer still won’t come across as insipid. Trimurti, his last finished project with zilch class, was his third mistake.
And the biggest blunder, an unpardonable one, Mukul Anand committed was he exited the scene too early, deserting Dus (1997) mid-way. He was only 45, his career still fledgling.
I could only wish somebody had browsed through Mukul Anand’s personal diary to learn about his “maut ke saath ‘appaintment” in advance and then there was a real-life Krishnan Iyer Yam Ye to save him from the jaws of death.
Apologies for the rant, Mukulji. I blabbered as if I knew you in person or was around on the sets when you shot the magnum opuses. But we did meet, right? Through the interfacing white garment screen of that tent-cum-cinema hall in a Maharashtra village? Also through my obsolete Aiwa TV set, on which I saw Agneepath for at least 37 times (must boast) and then stopped counting, for, we had become familiar by then and I had already glided into your filmdom as its permanent citizen.
Rest In Peace.