Every time it is Gokulasthtami, the birthday of Lord Krishna and the Govinda celebrations are on in full swing in a city like Mumbai, I don’t think so much of Lord Krishna but my friend, Manmohan Kikubhai Desai, one of the all time great and if you ask me one of the greatest entertainers of Hindi films or any other films made anywhere. He was a born filmmaker who could do anything to entertain the masses like he took a small time street celebrations like the Govinda pyramid formed by a group of young men to break the “handi’ to not only reach the dahi” but also reap a reward and blended it with a popular song, “Govinda aala re” picturised on Shammi Kapoor in a film called “Bluff  Master” and made it memorable. The song made the film a very big hit. It made Shammi Kapoor a bigger star than he was. It made music directors Kalyanji & Anandji a team to reckon with   and made Manmohan Desai a big name in the business of entertainment. But above all I think that one song has done more service to Lord Krishna than all the other songs and hymns sung in his honour.


The film, “Bluff Master” was Manmohan Desai’s second film. He had the courage to make his first film, “Chhalia” which was the beginning of one of the most outstanding, popular and over- whelming success story in the history of film entertainment. “Man” as he came to be known with success made “Sachha Jhootha” with Rajesh Khanna in a double role. He soon proved that he was not just a “bluff master” who could bluff his audience with his brand of entertainment when he made “Aa Gale Lag Jaa”, a soft, soothing and sentimental film with lots of soul-stirring music. The film took many by surprise, but …


All those who believed that  “Man” had changed was in for a big surprise when he made “Amar Akbar Anthony” which has been the only one of its kind films made during the last thirty five odd years. Many other filmmakers, big and small have tried to imitate him and his films and have failed miserably.

The next most popular and successful “Man” made was “Naseeb”. The most unusual thing about “Naseeb” was the song “John Jaani Janardhan” picturised on Amitabh Bachchan. It was “Man” who was the first to bring about almost the entire star crowd of the industry in the song picturised at the Filmistan Studio. People wondered how “Man” could manage such a big “tamasha”, but “Man” was “Man”, the master who knew how to plan his magic and work it. Farah Khan only paid “Man” her tribute when she picturised a similar song on Shah Rukh Khan in “Om Shanti Om” thirty -fives years later.


“Man” made one big film after another, all of them with crazy ideas with hidden messages and with stars who were crazy to work with him. He made a series of films with almost all the big stars of the industry (list of the films provided below) and was working on several other ideas when he suddenly slipped and some of his ideas refused to work. He also had problem with his back which refused to leave him till he finally left, lost without answering several questions which are still being asked.


  • Manmohan Kikubhai Desai started his career as a director when he was just twenty -three, like Raj Kapoor, the hero of Manmohan’s first black and white film, “Chhalia” with Nutan as the heroine. His father, Kikubhai was involved in the running of a major studio where Manmohan learnt the art of direction from every director he watched at work. He did not officially assist any director


  • He established himself as an entertainer with his very second film “Bluff Master” made with another Kapoor, Shammi Kapoor. He was the first director to use the Ganesh festival in Maharashtra with Shammi Kapoor singing and dancing to that ever green song, “Govinda aala re aala”. It was a trend – setting sequence which is being followed by several filmmakers till this day. The song still starts the beginning of the Govinda festival, especially in a city like Mumbai. Shammi Kapoor says it was “the Govinda song” that really shot him to stardom. “It was ‘Man’s’ knowledge of what the people loved that made him pick up the song from the streets of Bombay and gave it new heights of popularity. It was his picturisation of that one song that gave me inkling that “Man” had a great future as an entertainer of the masses and I was very happy for him when he proved me right when he made one of the greatest entertainers in the history of Hindi films ‘Amar Akbar Anthony’”, Shammi says. Shammi and ‘Man’ did only one film, “Bluff Master” together, but they were the best of friends. Their friendship finally ended in a relationship when Shammi’s daughter, Kanchan married ‘Man’s’ only son, Ketan


  • ‘Man’ never considered himself a great filmmaker. He said his only interest was in making films to entertain the masses “who are not interested in all the ‘rona dhona’ of which they have enough in their real lives. I want to make them forget all their sorrows and miseries while they are watching my film. There are many other learned people to give them reasons to cry and feel miserable. My only goal in making films is to drive away their sorrows and wipe away their tears. The day I feel I am not able to do this much for my people I will stop making films and start a hair – cutting saloon”, he always said when the press asked him for his motto behind making his kind of films


  • He hated boredom or anything that made life dull and dreary. There is this little story he told me himself. One Sunday afternoon he switched on the TV in his room and he heard K.L.Saigal singing, “Jab dil hi tut gaya” considered to be one of his best songs but he found it “extremely painful” and just picked up the heaviest thing on his table and smashed the TV screen. He could not stand disappointment and despair. “Life is beautiful. Life is full of glorious moments and so much excitement. I cannot understand the thinking of people spending their hard – earned money to sit in dark corners and wet their hand kerchiefs which also cost a lot of money to the common man,” ‘Man’ believed


  • ‘Manji’ as many called him when he made a big name for himself was an unabashed fan of Raj Kapoor and touched his feet and Raj Kapoor admired him for his ability to give the people what they wanted most, entertainment unlimited


  • He made “the most meaningful film of his life when he made “Aa Gale Lag Jaa”. The film had a very good story, very good music and very sensitive performances by the third Kapoor he had worked with, Shashi Kapoor and Sharmila Tagore. The film however did not appeal to the common man. ‘Man’ laughed and called his film “Aag Lage Bhaag Jaa” and promised himself never to make a serious film again


  • ‘Man’ was one the first filmmakers to make Rajesh Khanna, the then ruling superstar play a double role in “Saccha Jhootha” but he always said the dog in the film had given the most brilliant performance in the film. But Rajesh Khanna did not mind what he said because ‘Man’ meant magic for him which ‘Man’ proved to him again when he made “Roti” with him which was a very big hit but that was the last time the two worked together.


  • It was sometime in 1973 that ‘Man’ thought of making what he himself called “a crazy film”. He chose three major characters, a Hindu (Amar) a Muslin (Akbar) and a Christian (Anthony). He threw all logic to the winds and concentrated on making his film about three brothers lost in childhood and how the three boys are brought up by three different men, a Hindu, a Muslim and a Christian priest. All their mind- boggling adventures and escapades and all their romantic scenes (Amitabh Bachchan, Vinod Khanna, Rishi Kapoor, Parveen Babi, Shabana Azmi and Neetu Singh were the key characters) sent the audience on a rollicking ride of extra- ordinary entertainment and they loved every moment of the film. They returned to the theatres again and again because they had never seen such an entertaining film before. There were cases of people of all ages seeing the film forty and fifty times and even more.


  • The film became a cult film. Journalists and renowned critics from all over the world travelled to Bombay to see the film and meet this amazing man and maker and his never seen before film. He found it difficult to answer their difficult questions and gave them the kind of answers which they found “as crazy and funny as his film” and went back home to write cover stories about “India’s most amazing filmmaker,” “the entertainer who sent more serious messages through his entertaining films than all the efforts made by the serous filmmakers who tried their best to reach their messages to the people that reached nowhere”.


  • There is this other story ‘Manji’ told me. Days before the release of the film, ‘Man’ had a special screening of “Amar, Akbar, Anthony” for some close friends from the industry. Most of them laughed their hearts out during the film but some of the more serious ones were sitting like “dummies with no life in them”. ‘Manji’ said, “I wondered what had struck them suddenly, but did not care to ask what their problem was”. Then, one of them walked up to him and said there was no logic in the film and that all that happened in his film could never happen in real life. He folded both his hands and told them, “Arre bhai, I am a common man and I have made my film for the common man . I knew my film would not appeal to you. You people are very right, there is absolutely no logic in my film and I humbly request all my friends who expect logic in the rest of my film to please leave and not waste their time and energy over my useless film”. He literally made sure that all those who spoke against his film left the auditorium.


  • “Manji” and Amitabh Bachchan formed a very strong bond and did big films together. Amitabh was like an obedient student when shooting for a Manmohan Desai film and asked no questions of his director. When Amitabh met with that near fatal accident on the sets of “Coolie”, ‘Manji’ closed down his office and put his entire staff on duty at the Breach Candy hospital and at “Prateeksha” to be of help to Amitabh’s family. ‘Manji’ loved the man who he just called Amit so much that he even bought two similar vans with the same colour and the same name plate with one number following another and even presented him with several wrist watches which was Amitabh’s weakness .


  • ‘Man’ had a palatial apartment in a building called “Swapna- lok” which was a dream house but he didn’t live there. He preferred living in his old house in Khetwadi, a lower middle class locality where he had spent his childhood and youth. He organized cricket matches for the boys in the area and also played with them. He loved good and well designed clothes which he wore whether he was shooting or was at a party. “This is show business, my friend and you have to show off if you have to be a part of it,” he said.


  • His wife Jeevankala who was his source of inspiration died when he was at the peak of his career. He lived alone in his room in Khetwadi and his son Ketan and his wife Kanchan , the pretty daughter of Shammi Kapoor and Geeta Bali lived in “Swapnalok”.


  • Sometime during the eighties his magic seemed to be failing. Some of his very big films like “Desh Premee” (in which besides all the big stars come from Hindi films he also had the superstars from the south and Bengal, Sivaji Ganesan and Uttam Kumar) “Toofan” with Amitabh Bachchan and “Anmol” directed by his son Ketan Desai who sadly failed to come anywhere near the caliber of his father). The films failed miserably and broke his heart. In addition he was struck with a backache for which the best doctors in the world could not find any cure. He had to lie down on his back all the time and was feeling helpless. It was at this time that love came into his life from the most unexpected source. He and the one time actress Nanda came very close and even decided to get married but that dream came to a shattering end when he took the entire industry by shock when his body was found in the compound of his Khetwadi house. Was it an accident? Did he commit suicide? These are just some of the many questions that ‘Manji’ has left behind and no answers have been found yet. The man who specialized in making lost and found stories was lost never to be found again.


  • This writer had the rare privilege of being very close to him. He often told people that his film, “Amar Akbar Anthony” was inspired by my name Ali Peter John and people still believe it. He even proved it when he often called me out in public as “My Amar Akbar Anthony.” I know no one will call me like that again because there can never be another man like Manmohan Desai again.




  1. CHHALIA (Hit)
  2. BLUFF MASTER (A big hit)
  3. SACHHA JHOOTHA (A very big hit)
  4. AA GALE LAG JAA (A big hit)
  5. ROTI (A big hit)
  6. AMAR AKBAR ANTHONY (One of the greatest hits)
  7. NASEEB (A super hit)
  8. MARD (A super hit)
  9. COOLIE (A block buster)
  10. GANGA JAMUNA SARASWATI (Produced by his friend,
  11. Raamnathan, a multi-starrer)
  12. SUHAAG (Hit)
  13. PARVARISH (Hit)
  14. TOOFAN (Directed by his son Ketan Desai, flop)
  15. ANMOL (Directed by his son again, the only big flop made

under his banner, M.K.D. FILMS).