Sunday, July 30, 2006

A Slice of Bollywood: Vijay Anand (1934-2004)

Vijay Anand (or Goldie as he was affectionately known) is most famously known for his flawless Guide. He is also known by many as the younger brother of yesteryear screen idol Dev Anand. Arguably, he is one of the most artistic directors ever to let their work grace the Indian screens. Vijay Anand's work to this day invokes a sense of pride in those who stand by Bollywood's musical history.

With no prior film-education, Vijay Anand first gained some repute when he wrote Taxi Driver (1954), directed by one of his elder brothers and starring the other (almost all his movies have starred Dev Anand). He followed this three years later with a very strong directorial debut in a road-film (one of a few from the 50s) Nau Do Gyarah (1957). But he really came into his own from his second movie Kala Bazaar (1960). A supremely-crafted love-story, it was one of the first hindi films that showed its heroine falling in love twice, first with man who goes abroad for further education and then with a black-marekteer.

Goldie then went on to make the rom-com Tere Ghar Ke Samne (1963) in which he famously shot an entire song just within the stairways of Delhi’s Qutub Minar (it’s a spiral climb 6-ft wide) and the title-song with the drunk-hero singing to his glass of drink, imagining a miniature heroine in it.

This he followed with three movies that not only broke records and heaped awards, but became among top choices for many a critics' "Best of Bollywood".

GUIDE (1965): To date the classiest book-adaptation ever attempted in commercial Bollywood. This tragedy about the life of a tourist guide, his rise on somebody else’s fame, deceit, fall and eventual redemption was in pre-production for sometime, but nothing worked until Vijay Anand was persuaded by his brother, actor and producer Dev Anand to take on the challenge of writing and directing. Goldie initially declined, but later accepted and first announced that he would not do a pure adaptation, but his interpretation of R K Narayan’s classic. What he finished with was his first color film, a sweep of the Filmfare Awards (they were respectable then) and India’s first official entry to the Academy Awards. The subject included a married woman leaving her husband for her own ambitions and falling in love with another man – all taboo for the time. But Vijay Anand handles the matter by expertly side-stepping the issue while showing it up front too. Dev Anand and Waheeda Rehman give the performances of their lives in a movie as easily praise-worthy today as it was when released.

He then gave Indian cinema two of its best Suspense Thrillers TEESRI MANZIL (1966) & JEWEL THIEF (1967). Very Hitchcock-ian, both dealt with a common man caught in a labyrinth plot where anybody and everybody may or may not be involved to prove him insane or guilty. These completely contemporary movies featured it all: Innocent damsel-in-distress, sinister brother/unlce, Femme Fatale, butler, the works! Vijay Anand tells the story with such a tight hold that the suspense at crucial scenes is so killing, it makes one sweat.

Two movies that again stamped “Master” on his directorial impression and forever etched him as a legend. With these movies, he reached apeak, and unfortunately went only downhill after. He did 12 films after that with Johnny Mera Naam (thriller, 1970) and Tere Mere Sapne (social, 1971) being the only ones worth mentioning.

As good as his craft was, Goldie kick-started a now legendary art-form that was until then just another technicality: the visuals of Songs. Kala Bazaar’s Khoya Khoya Chand, Rim Jhim Ke Tarane and most of all Apni To Har Aah Ik Toofan Hai set a standard in how well songs could be integrated with the movie while being done in a unique style. Until then, it was the choreographer who just did the songs, but Vijay Anand started ‘directing’ the songs of his movies. The now legendary videos of Guide’s poetically abstract Kya Se Kya Ho Gaya (the whole song was done in just 4 shots), Aaj Phir Jeene ki Tamanna Hai & Jewel Thief’s Hoton Pe Aisi Baat, Raat Akeli Hai are what inspired a whole career out of Vishu Vinod Chopra (think Ek Ladki Ko Dekha - 1942: A Love Story) & Sanjay Leela Bhansali (think the 4-shot Bahon Ke Darmiyan, Khamoshi - The Musical).

Vijay Anand directed only 18 movies and half of them were small movies with no stars and seen by only himself maybe. But the other half were all super-hits and regarded not just as classics but part of the best there have ever been.

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