PRAKASH MEHRA tells JYOTHI VENKATESH
Today happens to be the 81st birth anniversary of the late movie mogul Prakash Mehra, who had entertained the viewers with super hit after super hit like Zanjeer, Muqaddar Ka Sikandar, Namak Halaal ,Sharaabi, Khoon Paseena, Hera Pheri etc. The only film of Prakash Mehra-Amitabh Bachchan Jodi which could never be completed and released was Shaktimaan
I have yet to see in my 48 years of career as a film journalist, a gentleman, who is as royal and generous to the core like Prakash Mehra was. Once I remember when they did not serve drinks at a film party at the then Hotel Oberoi Sheraton, known today as Hotel Trident, on the pretext that it was a dry day, Prakash Mehra was so livid with anger that he asked me to leave the party and join him in his swanky car and took me till Worli, where I used to stay earlier before I shifted to Charkop. On the way, he opened the bar which was kept behind the front seat and offered me nothing but Black Label, which used to be his favorite scotch and what followed, was a no holds barred interview. By the way, in those good old days, there was no bar on drinking and driving and in any case, the driver was driving his care and Prakashji and I were seated behind with the drinks
Prakashji liked my company and invited me to his bungalow in Juhu where we continued with the drinks and when it was around midnight, he asked me to join him for dinner. After the dinner, he told me that very rarely did he invite journalists for drinks and dinner at his house and asked his driver to drop me home at Worli all the way from Juhu. It was an evening which I will never will forget all my life.
It would not be at all out of space if I were to state that the status/position that Amitabh Bachchan is enjoying today is all due to Prakash Mehra. Because had Mehra not given him the big break in Zanjeer, Bachchan could have perhaps been even forced to leave Mumbai to Kolkata to continue with his Sales Representative’s job there with the Birds , after he had churned out not one or two but thirteen flops after Bombay To Goa including Bansi Aur Birju, Parwaana, Pyar Ki Kahani etc. Prakash Mehra was one filmmaker, who, when he chose to talk, didn’t mince words or hesitate to call a spade a spade. To pay him a tribute, we reproduce my interview of PRAKASH MEHRA taken fifteen years ago.
Why did you dub your hit Namak Halaal in Bhojpuri?
I didn’t dub the film. It is my friend cum partner for almost 40 years- Satyen Pal Chowdhary who sold the Bhojpuri dubbing rights of Namak Halaal for a throw away price to a third party without even bothering to even consult me. Amitabh Bachchan’s dialogues in the film have been dubbed in Bhojpuri and the producer has been advertising the film as the first ever film of Amitabh Bachchan in Bhojpuri. Satyen has tarnished the image of not only my banner but also that of a mega star like Amitabh Bachchan. If only I wanted I could have easily gone ahead and sued him but I chose to ignore this matter only because first and foremost we have been friends for the last forty years. Besides when even Amit did not mind, I also decided not to retaliate.
Why have you stopped making films after Bal Bramhachari?
First of all I do not think I can cope up with the silly tantrums being thrown by the stars of today, after having been pampered by a wonderful actor like Amitabh Bachchan who used to report on the sets even before I could reach there. I enjoyed making wonderful films like Zanjeer, Muqaddar ka Sikander, Sharaabi, Khoon Paseena, Hera Pheri, Jadugar, Namak Halaal etc with Lambuji as I used to call him fondly.
How do you find the scenario today?
I am aware that today times have completely changed. Today stars charge a bomb though they do not deserve the prices, which they are quoting to the producers. Three years ago, Akshay Kumar played hide and seek with me over the issue of his price. Ultimately in disgust I decided to shelve the project even before I could launch it. My sons Sumeet, Punit and Amit are against the very idea of my directing a film under our banner because they tell me that they feel that I am an out-dated filmmaker who will not be able to keep pace with the changing times.
What do you think of the filmmakers of today?
I think that that a vast majority of filmmakers today piggy back on stars and are mentally and creatively bankrupt. Most of them do not want to work hard on their scripts and prefer to just palm off and ‘recycle’ old subjects. Take for example J.P. Dutta. He is making Umrao Jaan, which was earlier made by Muzaffar Ali. Take Sanjay Leela Bhansali for instance. He palmed off the subject of Bapu’s Woh Saat Din and made it as Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam. He chose to remake the earlier version of Devdas by casting Shah Rukh Khan in the title role and also remade his own Khamoshi as Black.
What has happened to your preview theatre Sumeet?
Sumeet was the only theatre, which had the latest equipments and was being patronized by most of the producers/directors. It was the exclusive theatre of Amitabh Bachchan for watching trials and dubbing. But as of today this theatre doesn’t exist and it has given way for a Pub called Bohemia floated by my son Puneet Mehra in partnership with some Delhi party. Yeh sab waqt waqt ki baat hai. Mera time ab khatam ho gaya hai. Aaj kal naye generation ka time hai. I am disappointed because my sons never gave me any support by coming forward to take charge of my production house and continuing to make films.
You had signed Satish Kaushik to direct a film to revive your banner. What happened?
My son Puneet wanted to produce a film and signed Satish Kaushik, but even after signing him and having paid him the signing amount, my son has changed his mind for the time being to concentrate on the Pub, which he has leased out. Nevertheless my blockbusters and Music rights keep fetching us royalties through re-issue rights which enables me to run my small office and pay the few staff members who are still loyally working with me.
Is your wife Neera on the way to recovery?
It is sad that for the past eight years, my wife Neera Mehra has been lying in comma. Till date we have spent to the tune of around a crore and eighty-two lakhs for her treatment. We hope that she recovers!