For Ravi Tandon's 85th birthday today, the filmmaker and his daughter, actress Raveena Tandon, shared memories of his long and storied career.
Ravi Tandon, gentleman director: Birthday special
Mumbai - 17 Feb 2020 10:56 IST
Ravi Tandon, the renowned filmmaker of the 1970s and 1980s, turns 85 today (17 February). Tandon made his directorial debut with Balidan (1971), graduating from being an extra on film sets to sitting in the director’s chair himself.
The reclusive director rarely gives interviews, so it was wonderful to hear, in his own words, the story of how he joined the movies. His daughter Raveena, who joined the industry as an actress in 1991, also spoke about her father’s career and his influence in her own life.
“I wanted to go for medicine,” Ravi Tandon told Cinestaan.com on the telephone. “After graduation, I tried for the pre-medical test, I couldn’t get through at that time. Then I thought what should I do. In college, I was quite good, thodi shakal bhi achchhi thi [I was reasonably good-looking], so I used to do a few dramas. I thought let me try for the film industry.”
Tandon was selected for an all-university youth festival from Agra University and got the idea to try his luck in the movies in Bombay.
“I worked as an extra in Filmistan Studios and used to get Rs100 a month as different characters. I was a policeman and a daku [bandit] running away [from the law]. In six months, I realized why I can’t become an actor,” he recalled. But Tandon still wanted to remain in the world of cinema in some way or the other.
“My dad’s family was all full of doctors and lawyers and my grandfather was a high court judge,” Raveena told Cinestaan.com in a separate conversation. “My grandfather never agreed when my dad told him he wants to join the movies, so my dad actually ran away from Agra and came to Mumbai.
“He and Dharamji [Dharmendra] and Salim saheb [screenwriter Salim Khan] used to stay as paying guests together. That’s how these men of those days knew real struggle and also tasted real stardom. [They] really made it from the grassroots to the top,” she continued.
Ravi Tandon then approached filmmaker RK Nayyar who was starting work on Love In Simla (1960) for S Mukherjee.
“After a few weeks, RK Nayyar kept me as his third assistant in the movie," he said. "I was interested in working and RK Nayyar was happy with me and made me chief assistant in his next, Yeh Rastey Hain Pyar Ke (1963).”
Tandon's work ethic soon came to the notice of the star Manoj Kumar who recommended him to producer Arun Verma.
“He hired me as director for [Balidan (1971)] starring Manoj Kumar and Saira Banu, with music by Shankar-Jaikishan. Unfortunately, the subject which was decided was not my favourite. That was one drawback, and also the financier didn’t let me work. That movie didn’t do well,” the filmmaker recalled.
Another friend of his, Gullu Kochar, told him about wanting to produce a film directed by Tandon.
“I had a subject ready,” the filmmaker said. “Sanjeev Kumar used to be a very good friend of mine since the Filmalaya [S Mukherjee's production house] days. I told him about Anhonee and the hero’s role who is a bit crazy, and at the interval, he turns out to be [somebody else].”
Actress Leena Chandavarkar joined Sanjeev Kumar and Kamini Kaushal on the film which has a score by Laxmikant-Pyarelal.
“Luckily, when Anhonee was released, it was universally a hit. So that is my entry in the film industry,” he said, thanking RK Nayyar, Manoj Kumar and Gullu Kochar who backed him in his journey.
Over the course of his career, Ravi Tandon worked with all the top stars of the day from Amitabh Bachchan to Rishi Kapoor, Smita Patil to Sridevi. Quite a few of his films were thrillers.
“I used to have fun making good films, with twists and turns, like Anhonee, Khel Khel Mein (1975) and Majboor (1974). After that, I thought I should do a hatke [different] film, so I made what I thought was a very good film, which was called Zindagi (1976) in which Sanjeev Kumar and Mala Sinha were the hero-heroine. That was a story of an old [couple]. It was appreciated a lot, but it didn’t give the name in the film industry which was required [at that time],” he said.
Raveena names Zindagi, which was later remade into Baghban (2003), as the one film of her father’s that she would cast herself in, into Sinha’s role.
“I think Majboor is a classic, Khel Khel Mein is a classic, Jawaab as a film is superb, Zindagi has set its own terms. They show the variety of what he’s done,” she said of her father’s work.
Anhonee, Majboor and Khel Khel Mein rank amongst Ravi Tandon's favourites as well, but he said there is another film of his that has been passed over.
“I had made Jawaab for [producer] Premji, with Raj Babbar and Smita Patil in it. According to me, it was a very good film, but, obviously, it didn’t do well,” he said.
Growing up, Raveena recalls being teased at school because Hindi cinema was not as widely accepted in the social strata that her family had reached by then.
“We had Amitji [Amitabh Bachchan] and Chintuji [Rishi Kapoor] and Shatruji [Shatrughan Sinha], Jayaji [Jaya Bachchan] and Parveenji [Parveen Babi] and Moushmi [Chatterji] Aunty, all the stars coming home and then if I would talk about it the next day, they would [say] stop showing off. So most of the time, I used to just keep quiet even though I would know somebody,” she recalled.
“I have always been very proud of my film industry, always. And because this happened during my childhood, I am an even more vociferous supporter of the Indian film industry,” she added.
“I’m so proud of the way my dad handled his career,” Raveena continued. “He was known to be a versatile director. He could handle comedies like Khel Khel Mein and he could even do films like Jawab and Majboor which were psychological thrillers. He was known as a gentleman director. Even now when I met Ashaji [Asha Parekh], Waheedaji [Waheeda Rehman] or Moushmiji, they have got such amazing things to say about him always. Chintuji has remained a friend of his for a very long time.”
Ravi Tandon himself has always been a private person and shied away from undue publicity for himself or his films.
“He has always been happy with himself and always taken a backseat as far as PR [public relations] goes. Which I think I completely respect because, in many ways, I’m quite like him. That is something which is creditable,” she said.
“In fact, he taught me how to be self-made, if you really ask me. I also always wanted to stand on my own two feet because if he came from Agra with nothing and made it all here on his own, I would want to do this on my own and that’s why I preferred to get movies on my own. I never expected him to launch me,” Raveena said.