The invisible man

He’s Invisible Man. I’ve never seen him at splashy filmland shindigs — not that I’ve been to gazillions — premieres and award ceremonies. The only occasion I caught a glimpse of the tall, baby-pink complexioned, robust filmmaker was at a Juhu sea-front apartment, obviously taking his retirement from the scene ultra-seriously. He darted the quickest hello, nodded amiably, asked, “What would you like to drink? Thanda ya garam?” Since it was a savage summer afternoon, thanda was the preferred option, with ice rocks please.
I’d gone over to interview Raveena Tandon, who wished to clarify that she had not attempted suicide as reported by practically every newspaper in the sub-continent. “See, I’m hale and hearty,” she grinned gorgeously. By then, Dad Ravi Tandon had evaporated from the scene. I wanted to chat him up. Hello, here was the director of so many bit-ticket, duper-super hits. He’d directed Sanjeev Kumar, Amitabh Bachchan, Neetu Singh-Rishi Kapoor, Rajesh Khanna, Smita Patil, Sridevi and so many more. Yet his filmmaking credo has not been chronicled, a travesty to which so many directors have been subjected, and I’m not even talking of the black-and-white 1950s. There were quiet workers who brought about that feather-lightness of being to the Eastman colour movies.
Raghunath Jhalani, Dulal Guha, Nasir Husain, I wish someone would at least organise retrospectives of their feel-fabulous movies. Much is made about the significance of entertainment, but it’s merely of the moment, who’s tossing out which hit currently. “Do you think I could talk to your dad about his cinema?” I had asked Raveena. “Yes, you must, but he’s shy. Why don’t you ask him right now? Daaaad, where are you?” Dad didn’t emerge from his room upstairs. “Ooof, he probably thinks you’ll bite him,” La Tandon gave up, returning to the topic de jour, “So yeah, why are you guys so desperate to kill me off?” Ha ha, thanda consumed, I scooted, forgetting Mr Tandon like the rest of the world, till this very moment.
And that’s because I stumbled upon Bindu the Buxom’s deadly disco item Hungama ho gaya from Ravi Tandon’s Anhonee (1973), hauling me back to its first-day show in Mumbai’s Central cinema. Bindu’s disco thumpathon came on just before the intermission, the audience screamed for an encore, compelling the projectionist to show it again. Wow! Today, the item retains its saucy spirit. Ditto the picturisation of Khullam khulla on Neetu-Rishi in Khel Khel Mein (1975). Here was a director with a zest for life, for happy music and hippy hootenanny hoots. Yet at his peak, Mr Tandon did not figure in the award merit lists. Then neither did Nasir Husain, who with a sigh, accepted the Filmfare Lifetime Achievement for veterans, presented at a point when he was terminally ill.
Nasir Husain, the master blender of hilltown romances, didn’t ever complain of neglect. Neither has Mr Tandon. If he has been photographed, it’s essentially as Raveena Tandon’s father. I guess there was a generation of directors who were just not clued in on the publicity whirligig. Today at the age of 76, Mr Tandon has not boasted about helming Bachchan’s Majboor (1974) and Khud-daar (1982), or of extracting a heart-tugging performance of Sanjeev Kumar in Zindagi (1976). Incidentally, Zindagi, co-written with a literary flourish by Sagar Sarhadi, showcased Sanjeev Kumar as a patriarch who is callously treated, during his advancing years, by his grown-up children. That Rajesh Khanna in Avatar (1983) and Amitabh Bachchan in Baghban (2003) portrayed virtually the same character buffeted by creepy children, could hardly be a coincidence, could it?
Mr Tandon’s last film Nazrana (1987) was dedicated to its heroine, Smita Patil, who passed away prematurely. The film wasn’t box-office dynamite and began the director’s self-willed fade-out.
He had started out as assistant to Sunil Dutt on Yeh Raastey Hain Pyaar Ke (1963). On turning director independently, he evolved a straight, no-frills style of narrative, ensured the emotional quotient with the presence of sisters and moms in the script and remained patently unpretentious.
Quintessentially sentimental and life-loving, he’s readymade for a warm hug from those who care to give him his dues. But then he’s Invisible Man, content with his yesterdays when entertainment didn’t mean dirty pictures.

The writer is a journalist, film critic and film director

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