LEKH TANDON KO BANNAA THA ACHCHA ENGINEER, LEKIN BAN GAYE SHAANDAR FILMAKER …… Ali Peter John
Lekhraj (fondly referred to as Lekhji in the Industry) Tandon was born in village Chak Chaudah (near Saiyyedwala police station), in tehsil Nankana Sahab of district Qila Shaikhupura in Punjab presently in Pakistan, around 30 miles form Lahore. His grandfather Jaikishan Tandon was a Sahukar farmer ably partnered by his grand mother Radho devi. Lekhjis maternal grandfather Zaildar Gangaram presided over 14 villages as Kanungo. Parents Fakirchand / Rampyari Tandon doted on their son Lekh eldest among five brothers and two sisters. Father Fakirchand studied at the Khalsa School (Lyallpur) and formed a lifelong friendship with his classmate Prithviraj Kapoor the legendary father figure of Mumbai Moviedom. He worked for the Revenue & Excise department in the Govt. of Punjab.
Lekh Tandon is a nationalist to the core and fiercely supportive of secular and democratic alignments. Even when he was in his teens, he received a thrashing from British soldiers in a movie theatre in Murry (a splendid hill station, now in Pakistan), for not respecting God save the queen. As an 18 years old, he was sent by parents to Delhi on August 11, 1947, (just as the smoldering tensions set the nation ablaze) reaching Delhi the following day. His parents and family followed on August 25, 1947 after narrowly escaping certain death in the communal holocaust. Many among the generations of free India have wondered as to how a strong community of non-muslims could be so comprehensively banished from what is now Pakistan. Lekhji has startling tales of that traumatic era to tell the british army fuelled, catalyzed, orchestrated and supervised the selective killing of millions of hindus and Sikhs. That shameless connivance has been successfully blocked from being faithfully recorded in History and obliterated from the tales of partition. The scars of those traumatic days have perhaps made Lekhji and intensely emotional personality an attribute amply reflected even in his work.
Lekh Tandon was an all rounder, fully conversant with all hues of film making the knowledge acquired in his formative years from legendary stalwarts has stood him in good stead. This exhaustive knowledge stems from his exposure to the working styles of legendary cinematic craftsmen.
A young Lekh Tandon arrived in Mumbai on September 17, 1947 at the behest of his fathers dear friend Prithviraj Kapoor to join his son (then a legend breaking ground) Raj Kapoors brand new banner of R.K. Films. Lekhji was an assistant to cameraman V.N. Reddy in director Raj Kapoors debut Aag starring Nargis , Kamini Kaushal, Nigar and Raj himself. Chacha Amarnathji (Brother of Prithviraj Kapoor) thereafter made Lekhji join Ranjeet Laboratories to learn film processing under Amar Kapoor. Raj Kapoor then introduced him to his own Guru the revered director Kidar Sharma. Sharmaji once visited the Laboratory and found a young Lekh Tandon reading a photography journal. The young kids enthusiasm impressed Sharmaji and he soon made him join his Oriental Pictures, as his Chief Assistant. Lekhji learnt his directorial ropes while assisting Kidar Sharma in films viz. Thes (1949: Bharat Bhooshan, Poornima), Neki Aur Badi (1949 – Madhubala, Geeta Bali, Kidar Sharma), Bawre nain (1950 Geeta Bali, Raj Kapoor), Jogan (1950-Dilip Kumar, Nargis), Bedardi (1951 Geeta Bali, Nimmi, Jaswant), Shokhiyan (1951 Suraiyya, Premnath) and Sapna (1952- Bina Rai, Kishore Sahu).
It was but natural for him to move on and Lekhji joined Raj Kapoor as his assistant in 1952 to be involved in Aah (1952 Nargis, Raj Kapoor), Shri 420 (1955 Nargis, Raj Kapoor), Boot Polish (1955), Ab Dilli Door Nahin (1956) and Jagte Raho (1956 Nargis, Raj Kapoor, Motilal, Pradeep Kumar).
Lekhji opted to move out of the R. K. Films fold in 1957 to prepare the ground for becoming an independent director. He joined his Uncle Prithviraj Kapoor’s Prithvi Theatre in the intervening period and even assisted him in his sole directorial production Paisa (1958). He made several attempts to obtain directorial breaks but success eluded him. Frustrated, he had made up his mind to return to his father in Delhi, but Smt. Krishna Raj Kapoor persuaded him to stay and continue.
1955 was a very special year in Lekh Tandons life he married Sawaran a wonderful lady, who stood by him through thick and thin and imparted a rare profound emotional stability to his life and inspired him to relentlessly pursue his ambitions. Lekh loved and respected her so much that he called her “Maa” . Parents of two sons and two daughters, the Tandons today dote on the exploits of their grand children as Nana / Nani and Dada / Dadi. Lekhji might jokingly or gallantly admit to other shapely fascinations in his life, but the bond between Lekh and Sawaran was something to be seen to be believed and was truly worthy of emulation by all those who dream of close companionships.
In the late fifties period of his struggle (to find his moorings as a director), it soon dawned on Lekhji that he must evolve a full project concept and a complete film script to flaunt, while targeting a break. He developed the concept of “Professor”. His long friendship with writer Abraar Alvi (one of the best ever in the business) came handy and the later developed a brilliant script. Lekhji wanted to produce the film himself but everyone wanting to lap up the project, did not let that happen. Producer F. C. Mehra of Eagle Films signed Lekh Tandon to direct this dream project Professor which went on to became a super duper Golden Jubilee hit and rest is history.
It was a saga of a man who couldn’t be stopped by any kind of obstacles , man- made or god – made . He kept making one big film after another and made a place for himself with films like Prince, Amrapali, Jhuk Gaya Aasmaan , Agar Tum Na Hote , Ek Baar Kaho , Dulhan Wohi Joh Piya Man Bhaaye, Doosri Dulhan and some other meaningful films blended with good and healthy entertainment with music being the highlight . The only film that flopped was Jhuk Gaya Aasmaan ,; the film which had intense love scenes between Rajendra Kumar and Saira Banu which led to rumours about their having an affair even though both of them were married.
Lekhji then shifted his intrest to making T V serials and made more than 15 mega serials and had the opportunity to discover a new actor in Dil Dariya and Doosra Kewal. That new actor went on to be Shah Rukh Khan.
I new him strictly for professional reasons , but it was a kind of miracle when a renowned chemical engineer called Dr Trinetra Bajpai came to Bombay after 18 years and met Lekhji whose great fan he was from the time he was 11 years old and had seen Lekhji’s Professor at a theatre in Lucknow with his mother, Shantikumari Bajpai who was a well- known Hindi writer. He told his mother that he would one day make a film which would be directed by Lekh Tandon . That dream of Dr Bajpai was about to come true . Dr Bajpai had a story written by his mother called “Vyavdhaan” on which directors like B R Chopra and Vijay Anand were eager to make films in the early 70s , but things didn’t work out. Lekhji told Dr Bajpai that the story could be made into a mega serial. And that is how Bikhri Aas Nikhri Preet , the serial which ran for the longest time was made . The success of the serial led to Lekhji making many more serials. He made a feature film on the burning issue of triple talaaq for Dr Bajpai and was in his 80s when he worked 18 hours a day and his health started giving way but he kept working till he collapsed and had to be hospitalized and didn’t return alive. A major chapter had come to a close
Lekhji was also an actor whose talent was recognised only towards the end and he played significant roles in films like Mangal Pandey, Paheli and even in Phir Usi Mod Par, his farewell film as a director which he directed when he was 88 .
I will remember him as a great filmmaker, but i will rmemember him more as a good human being who was a misfit in the bazaar called film industry where being good is almost a sin and a crime of the highest kind
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