Video: Manmohan Desai and Amitabh Bachchan’s natural camaraderie on the sets of Toofan

On the Amar Akbar Anthony filmmaker’s 80th birth anniversary today (26 February), we look back at his close relationship with the leading man of most of his greatest hits, Amitabh Bachchan.

Sonal Pandya

The 1989 docufilm, Amitabh Bachchan: Follow That Star, on the superstar made by Nasreen Munni Kabir captured many shades of the actor. But the most revealing was his on-set interactions with his directors, most notably with Manmohan Desai, whom he fondly called Man.

Desai was responsible for showing Bachchan’s lighter, comedic sides in the blockbuster Amar Akbar Anthony (1977). Bachchan may not have agreed with the script of Amar Akbar Anthony, but he dutifully followed his director to enact his vision. When the film was a success, he knew that Desai had his finger on the pulse of the people.

The video showed Bachchan shooting for Toofan (1989), directed by Ketan Desai [Manmohan’s son]. At nine minutes into the docufilm, Manmohan chastises his son to get the shot right, because if the film does not work, they’ll be forced to make ad films for the rest of their lives. Bachchan joins in and jokes that he’ll likely be the face of the ad.

Another time, at 19:35, Bachchan offers biscuits to Manmohan Desai as a snack during a break in shooting. To which, he says, “I don’t like biscuits.” Bachchan eats one and says, “It says on the packet, if you eat them, your picture will run.” Manmohan Desai retorts, “You eat it, you need it.” Ketan Desai, sits silently between the two, observing the exchange.

Manmohan Desai famously said in the same Doordarshan interview, “In my work, there is a method to my madness. They call me… I make films which have no logic. I said I don’t need logic. I don’t believe in logic and what I don’t believe I can’t ask my audience to believe in. But there is a method, there is a cause and there [are] consequences.”

He never won any major awards during his 29 years as a filmmaker, but to him, his greatest reward would have been from the audiences who went back again to his films. However, his streak of success in the 1970s did not follow him always and his last film, Ganga Jamuna Saraswati (1988) was a commercial disaster. He produced his son’s films in the early 1990s and later retired from directing.

Bachchan wrote a tribute for India Today magazine after his death in March 1994 where he said: "Manji, as I and many others endearingly addressed him, was a very simple man. But his imagination was so far removed from simplicity, that it touched the unbelievable, leaving those like me who worked with him, and the millions who saw his creation, quite speechless and gasping for breath. His elation at the time of the conception of his films seemed to naturally flow into his actors, writers and technicians so that by the time the product reached the masses it was impossible for them not to be entirely consumed by this heady potent mixture."

Seeing their camaraderie on the shoot, it’s easy to how Manmohan Desai was able to show Bachchan’s humorous side (which is quite evident in the docufilm) to audiences who only knew the angry young man.

Watch the video here, you can watch their interactions at 9:00 and 19:35: