Interview Hindi

30 years of Shahenshah: Tinnu Anand clears the air on why Jaya Bachchan got writing credit


As the film completes 30 years today (it was released on 12 February 1988), director Tinnu Anand spoke about his Shahenshah journey and how his father Inder Raj Anand completed the script of the climax on his deathbed.

Mayur Lookhar

Shah Rukh Khan enjoys the titles of King Khan and Baadshah in Hindi cinema. But, there is one and only Shahenshah here — Amitabh Bachchan. The irony is that Bachchan got the title not for playing an emperor, but for his role as vigilante in the 1988 blockbuster Shahenshah.

Inspector Vijay Shrivastava (Amitabh) is a corrupt cop by day, but in the dark hours, he redeems himself as vigilante Shahenshah. In actor-director Tinnu Anand’s film, Amitabh represented the voice of the oppressed, a law unto himself who brought the evil to justice by his own rules.

In addition to striking a chord with the meek, the masses whistled and cheered this larger-than-life avatar — one who hid his identity under a black leather armour, right forearm covered in steel armour, he carried a noose, sported a salt and pepper look and punished the bad guys. More than his actual punches, Shahenshah became a legend for its punchy dialogue.

As a film completes 30 years today (it was released on 12 February 1988), Tinnu exclusively shared anecdotes from his Shahenshah journey, clarified that Jaya Bachchan did not write the script and why Amitabh could not pick a fight with Tinnu's father Inder Raj Anand who completed the script of the climax on his hospital bed.

Excerpts.

Tinnu Anand

Talk of power packed dialogues today, we think of Dabangg (2010), Rowdy Rathore (2012), but just say the line, 'Rishtey mein toh hum tumhare baap hote hain' and it reminds us why Shahenshah will always be the baap (daddy) of all punch lines. Isn’t that a fair comment?

I agree because there is a history behind that. My father (Inder Raj Anand) wrote the dialogue. It meant a lot to me then and now even more because Amitabh agrees that dialogues written by my father in Kaalia (1981) and Shahenshah have all become so iconic. Wherever he went, Amitabh was often requested to recite the iconic dialogues from the two films. Advertisement films, hoardings (Amul Butter) have been made on the Shahenshah dialogue. It is iconic and the daddy of all one-liners. There is no doubt about it. With these one-liners, you can easily identify the actor, character and the film.

There must be a story on how the dialogue came about...

I was sitting with him discussing the introduction scene of Amitabh's Shahenshah character. While he was writing it, I felt it was too poetic in Urdu. It felt like beyond the realms of fantasy. My father then told me that the actor you have (Amitabh Bachchan), is a lion of the industry. You have to serve him meat, not green vegetables.

The film turns 30 today. How do you feel when people still talk about Shahenshah?

I’m proud not just because of the praise one gets, but also its commercial success. Being the producer of the film too, I get royalties even after 30 years. When you sell your telecast rights, you sell them for five years. I’ve already sold them for five years, and I also have the booking for the next five years. This is unbelievable.

Be it 'Rishtey mein toh hum tumhare baap hote hain', or 'Kitney aadmi the’, such dialogues defined a film. Today, we don’t have many such powerful dialogues in Hindi cinema. Has such writing gone out of fashion or we don't have such writers any more?

We do have few such dialogues, but I don’t know whether how many of them would be remembered 30 years from today. We don’t have such writers anymore and that’s why such language is not spoken on screen anymore. I think even the actors are to be blamed. Give them dialogues like this and they would make a face, feel it’s too long. Also, people who are not qualified, they pick up the pen to write dialogues. So, it’s important to be educated in that language. Barely a few can speak it. We have Irrfan Khan and Nawazuddin Siddiqui who speak such lines with great fluency. I reckon they have learnt the Urdu language. I love listening to them (on screen). It reminds me of my father’s time.

Pran with Amitabh Bachchan 

My father told Amitabh and me, that Urdu is such a language that when an actor of his (Bachchan) standing speaks it, people may not necessarily understand that dialogue. For example, ‘Tu aatish-e-dozat se darata hain jinhe, who aag ko pee jaate hai paani karke’. This is what Amitabh Bachchan tells Pran when the latter threatens to shoot all bullets into his body. My father knew people wouldn’t be able to understand, but Urdu is a such language that audience will still cheer for such dialogues.

One of the more intriguing things about Shahenshah is how the story was conceived by Jaya Bachchan. She never wrote a film again after that.

No, that’s not true. It was all a lie. It was a just a matter of convenience. I can’t tell you the reason. It’s a known fact that the story was mine. I was the one who surrendered the title to Jaya ji. She didn’t have anything to do with the story. We credited her, but I can’t disclose the reason. It is too personal.

Shahenshah was the last film that was written by your father, the late Inder Raj Anand ji. He passed away a year before its release. What emotions did you go through when you finally watched your father’s last work on the silver screen?

He passed away on the first day of my climax. That took me 10 days to shoot. When I went to the hospital, my set was coming up, while the dialogues for the climax were not complete. I was worried as I wanted him to finish the entire 23 pages of dialogue, all to be spoken by one actor in the court. It was a gigantic effort. He saw the worried look on my face. He called me to his side, oxygen mask on, and said, 'don’t worry son, I will not ditch you. I won’t let people say that a father has left his son down by not finishing his climax'. You won’t believe it, on the last day, just before he breathed his last, he sat down with my assistant in the hospital and he put a full stop to the climax.

On the first day of resuming the shoot since my father passed away, I just looked up in the sky and said with folded hands, ‘dad, just come out and help me with these 23 pages of dialogues'. He was there on my side throughout the climax.

Amitabh Bachchan is great actor, but were these 23 pages a challenge for him?

No. He is an amazing actor. He pulled it off comfortably. Like me, he, too, had gone through the same (struggle). He was there to give kandha (pallbearer). We were about to start the climax shoot when we got the tragic news. He had shot the scene where Shahenshah drives a car into the court.

So, finally when the film released in theatres, what emotions did you experience then?

It was amazing even before the release. The advance booking had opened on Monday. We were going to town (south Mumbai). We saw a huge mob outside the passport office in Worli. There used to this theatre called Satyam Sachinam Sundaram outside the lane.  

I’d read a news of about some kind of comfort being given to people that they can go and apply for a passport. I thought the crowd had queued up for that, but I was stunned to find that was not for a passport, but the lane was leading all the way to the advance booking counter of the theatre. I started sweating thinking what people were expecting. Were they expecting Amitabh Bachchan to tear the screen and sit amongst them?

We don’t see such scenes in the age of multiplexes.

That magic has disappeared because of the multiplexes. People waited in queues overnight, with villagers holding lotas (pot) to go for latrine breaks. There were unbelievable stories.

Amitabh Bachchan, too, wasn’t keeping great health then. It is also mentioned that Bachchan and you had some creative differences over a particular sequence. Can you talk about that?

There were no creative differences. It was just that he was uncomfortable speaking certain lines. Amitabh and I had a fight. He said change the actor, and I would reply saying, change the director. This happened with Kaalia (1981).

In Shahensah, it was a disagreement over a costume. He was supposed to wear a police uniform, but he wanted to wear a blazer. I put my foot down. I had visualised this man in a uniform walking into Amrish Puri’s chamber. He asked me where my father was. He wanted to consult him. My father came to the set and explained to him why the uniform was important.

All he said to him was, that if you have three rags in the colours of green, orange and white, and if they are lying in a waste paper basket, if you pick them and stitch them, then it becomes your national flag. You’d give your life and even take a life for it. Similarly, a uniform separates a commoner from a person with authority. The baton is a small stick, but on the head of the baton is the Ashoka pillar. So that is the might of the nation and people need to respect it. Amitabh Bachchan immediately got up and wore the uniform. (laughs)

I reckon Amitabh Bachchan shared an interesting relationship with your father and you.

We had very close relationship with him. What I admire about Amitabh is that despite our fights, he always had respect for the writer. That stemmed from the fact that his father was a writer. Bachchan understood the methodology of writing dialogues. He needed an excuse to fight with me. He couldn’t dare to fight with my father though.

So, were there times when Amitabh picked a fight with you for the fun of it?

Yes. That was his way to tease me. I supposed he was testing whether I could stand up to a superstar.

If we talk of Shahenshah then we can’t help but talk about the innovative costume. Who designed it?

There is a history behind it. When we first started working on Shahenshah, I had designed a certain costume for Amitabh — a black leather costume, with a rope on his shoulder. It didn’t have the steel on the arm. He had fallen ill and had given up on the film. During that one year, Kachins (clothes brand) gave the same costume to Jeetendra for another film. I was furious.

When Amitabh returned after a year, I told him his designer Akbar (Kachins’ designer) will not design my clothes. He got worried as Akbar had designed for him before. I told him 'I’ll get you a costume which is a challenge for me, but you will be proud of it. If you don’t then we will not start shooting'. I then brought in Bada Saab (by Kishore Bajaj). Bajaj and I went through volumes of magazines, till we came across a sword fencing one which had this costume. When Amitabh wore the costume during the trial, he couldn’t get his eyes off the mirror for 10 minutes. It was so impressive.

Finally, on a serious note. Today, we live in a time where crimes, especially against women, have risen.  All we see in the news is rape, murder, corruption, terrorism. Sometimes, one wonders if there a need to have vigilantes like Shahenshah in real life?

No. I’m against that. You need law and order. The main theme of the film is that when you wear the uniform you are weighed down by rules, bureaucracy, corrupt senior officers. But you are bound by discipline. The world over, there are many vigilante films where justice is done. However, the moment you start professing this, there will be chaos in the country. My father used to tell me that if Shahenshah is that strong then why can’t this inspector be as strong while wearing the police uniform? My argument to him was he could be, but he’d be removed by the corrupt officers around him. That is all what Shahenshah was about.