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Since 1st March, 1999
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Return of the actor-director
celebrity circus

Shah Rukh Khan has finally met his match. The triumph of the underdog, which was wonderfully scripted, directed and enacted in Chak De! India, has been used so skilfully by Aamir Khan that Taare Zameen Par breasts the tape with one victorious sprint.

Aamir Khan makes an outstanding debut as the director of this sensitive, Oscar-material film. Recommended while viewing TZP: a couple of handkerchiefs, especially in the second half and the climax in particular. One can almost see awards function organisers weeping because Taare Zameen Par will be up there in the nominations but Aamir will not attend any of their events!
Importantly, with two prominent actors, Aamir Khan and Ajay Devgan officially catapulting themselves into the exclusive producer-director-actor bracket, Hindi cinema has come full circle. The successful days of Guru Dutt (until the flopping of Kagaz Ke Phool robbed him of his nerves), Raj Kapoor (the most successful film-maker of them all who knew when to step out of the hero’s Bally shoes), Manoj Kumar (who went great guns only as long as he was facing the camera) and V. Shantaram (whose trajectory was somewhat similar to Raj Kapoor’s), are now making a slow return.

Down the ages, most actors have fancied themselves as directors. Dilip Kumar may have directed Ganga Jamuna and given the official credit to Nitin Bose, but he was notorious for sidelining his directors because he was sure that he knew better. As a rookie reporter, one had seen Asit Sen, the official director of a Dilip Kumar starrer, sitting outside the sets in Rajkamal Studios. Shooting was in progress inside with the hero directing the day’s work while Asit Sen himself had been benched!

Even after DK became a character actor, the itch to sit in the director’s chair lingered in his system. It was fulfilled the day Dilip Kumar officially turned director with Sudhakar Bokade’s Kalinga, a film that remains in the cans, unfinished, to this day.

In his prime, Shammi Kapoor was also rumoured to have called the shots with pliable directors like Bhappi Sonie in films like Brahmachari. Like Dilip Kumar, Shammi too had a decent run as a character actor (Zameer, Vidhaata, Prem Rog) but the longing to turn director made him go official twice over — Irma La Douce became Manoranjan and there was Bundelbaaz with Rajesh Khanna. When both flopped, Shammi Kapoor’s directorial ambitions were thwarted.

Dev Anand’s tragedy was that Navketan fluttered best when he was the actor and someone like kid brother Vijay Anand was the director (Guide). With Vijay as director and Dev as actor, films with other production houses also turned out to be quality products. The day Dev Anand decided to grab the director’s megaphone and conversely, bro Vijay Anand wanted to put on makeup and act, their days were numbered. Except for an energetic Hare Rama Hare Krishna and, to a smaller extent, Des Pardes, none of Dev Anand’s enthusiastically directed films (Ishq, Ishq, Ishq, Heera Panna et al) could match the success he enjoyed purely as an actor.

There have been a handful of actors like Feroz Khan, Rakesh Roshan and Shekhar Kapur who have done well as directors. However, none of them was an A-list star. Flop heroes Rakesh Roshan and Shekhar had to reinvent themselves as directors which they did with remarkable success. Feroz Khan stood up and began to be counted when he launched himself as producer-director-actor with extreme flamboyance in films like Apradh, Dharmatma and Qurbani. Surprisingly, FK the filmmaker succeeded best when he was his own hero. Once he began making films with younger heroes like Anil Kapoor (Jaanbaaz) and his own son Fardeen (Prem Aggan), the magic and energy strangely vanished.

And so there has been a big gap between the glorious days of Raj Kapoor (when a young, successful hero also produced and directed his own films) and this weekend, when an enviably successful actor called Aamir Khan released his first directorial film, the sensitive Taare Zameen Par. In a couple of months, Ajay Devgan, still sought-after as an actor, will make his debut as director with U, Me Aur Hum. While one isn’t sure of Ajay’s directorial abilities (his unofficially directed Raju Chacha was a disaster), it is a fair bet that it is Aamir Khan who will bring back the days of the socially committed actor-director.

Bharathi S. Pradhan is managing editor of Movie Mag International

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