Mr India: Mogambo Khush Hua: The creating of Mogambo

Amrish Puri ?immortalized the film Mr India through his pitch perfect playing of Mogambo,?so much that it’s difficult to imagine the much talked about sequel to Mr India without him.

What’s even more startling is the fact that when you look carefully at the film Mogambo actually does not do much in the film ?He talks, he threatens, he clicks his fingers on a globe on his throne, he strides, he builds missiles and threatens to blow up India. He threatens, and he threatens and threatens. But actually does nothing !! ?And out of doing nothing he created along with Gabbar Singh from Sholay?two of most famous villains of Indian cinema of all time.

At least Gabbar Singh cut off the Sanjeev Kumar’s arms, ruthlessly killed 3 of his men, Killed A K Hangal’s ( Sachin) son and sent the body back to the blind father, and worst of all, made Hema Malini dance on broken glass.

But poor Mogambo ? Nothing but empty threats, other than where he causes a few beautiful looking and well fed kids to go hungry. For a couple of nights. And then to add to his misery, he finally gets beaten up by an impoverished violinist (Anil Kapoor without his power to become ?invisible). ? How on earth then did Mogambo become one of the greatest villians on Hindi commercial cinema ?

Before I talk about the incredible performance of Amrish Puri, let me give credit to writer Javed Akhtar. ?I know very few script writers that have such an understanding of how to create mythology through dialogue. It’s no coincidence that both Gabbar Singh (with his then co writer Salim Khan) and Mogambo were his creation. ?Also to Javed Akhtar’s credit, he completely understood the ‘comic book’ pitch of the film, knowing that in this tounge and cheek film, the villian can be bloodthirsty only in intention, but never in action.

In fact it was I that insisted on the scene where the cute young girl Tina that everyone loved died in a bomb explosion. ?I was worried that the film would not be rooted and would pass us by as a farce. So I was hoping in that scene Mogambo’s threats would become real and the audience get a sense of real jeopardy. ?Just today my 9 year old daughter, (who finally caught up with Mr India in her drama class last week), asked me

“why did you kill the little girl , Daddy ? That was so mean”

” I didn’t ” I protested. ?She dies in the film. Mogambo caused her death.

” But you are the Director, you could have saved her. ?Why didn’t you ? That was really mean !”

Oh well, can’t win em all.

During the making of the film, I remember constantly asking Mr Akhtar if he had nailed down the character that would later become Mogambo. After all we were already begun filming even with scenes of Daga and Teja, Mogambo’s henchmen. ?I was worried that I could be headed to creating a film that was effectively two separate films. One not quite knowing the other. And then one day Javed Sahib (as we call him) triumphantly said he had written the character, and said the following words to me :

“Mogambo Khush Hua”

Hmmm, I thought – there must be more to that. There was of course. He lived on island. with one ambiton, to destroy and take over India. He was building missiles to destroy India too. But all his grandoise and diabolical plans were completely unachievable unless he threw a group of poor orphans out of an insignificant orphanage in Mumbai. No one quite understood why, and I don’t think anyone cared. ?For ?’Mogambo Khush Hua’ ?and Amrish Puri’s performance was the predominant defining characteristic of the character called Mogambo. .

“Shekhar Sahib, when Kapil Dev hits a six over the grounds, people will shout Mogambo Khush Hua, and when people play three card brag (teen patti) and if they get three aces, the will shout “Mogambo Khush Hua. ?You trust me on that”. ?Javed Akhtar assured me. ?Now this from the man who is responsible for some the greatest one liners of all time (‘Mere paas Ma hai’ from Dewaar) . So I convinced myself he was right. I had to.

Enter Amrish Puri. We had thought of other actors, but it was clear to me (and to others soon) that if there was an actor that could carry of this very very difficult part, it was Amrishji. He was not easy to convince, but then he did not contend with the charm and persuasive power of producer Boney Kapoor.

Along with my team, we set about designing the sets and the ‘look’ of Mogambo. Knowing that each high point of the character in the film would be defined by the words “Mogambo Khush Hua”. How many ways could you shoot the lines, so that at the end of each scene , Amrish Puri would say “Mogambo Khush Hua’ and the audience would react both in anticipation of those lines, loving those lines and also sensing that each time there was a different emotion or style to them ? ?Yes we built a globe along with his throne, gave him rings to click the globe with, used every trick in the book. But finally I knew I would have to depend on the actor. ?Amrish Puri.

Rarely does an actor so embrace a part and give it life that I as a director could not have imagined. Amrishji asked me how I wanted him to interpret the part. I was nervous. I could not just say “Mogambo Khush Hua” to an actor of his stature, could I ? After all this was the same man that had done brilliant performances like the ruthless landlord in Shyam Benegal’s Nishant. And many such films. He had an acute understanding and experience of the art of acting.

So I said ” Imagine you are playing Shakespeare to 9 year old kids that have no idea who he was. Imagine you have to make it feel mythic and entertaining”. ?Amrish Ji got it. Never did I have to give him any more instruction, other than stage directions. ?Each time he brought a new flavour, a new emotion, a different resonance in his voice. He became threatening and lovable at the same time. Each time bringing ?something out of the ordinary for those lines that have now gone down in history.

“Mogambo Khush Hua”

And some time later as I was watching Kapail Dev hit a six over the Sharjah grounds I saw a huge banner go up in the Indian supporters. It said :

“Mogambo Khush Hua”

Javed Akhtar was right. But we needed all the performing skills of Amrish Puri to pull that one off.  Happy Birthday Amrishji, wherever you are.

Sorrow .. to a friend facing tragedy

if you do not feel sorrow

you are not human,

if you don’t deny sorrow and welcome it

you have understood what it is to be human,

if you let sorrow so completely engulf you,

like a monsoon rain, drench you completely, right to your soul

then, when the sun comes out, and you dry out,

you will have experienced your true universal, God like self

and a new beginning

Sorrow is often our path to experience that

which is beyond the ego and the self,

Ashok Mehta, DoP of Bandit Queen, with respect…

It very rarely that a director can say that his learning and career graph was propelled by his relationship with a DoP. But I could say that openly and honestly about Ashok Mehta. I have only done one film with unfortunately. And that is because Ashok refused to come with me to the West where I pursued my creative goals. He refused to be taken away from his roots here in India. I still wish he had come. I missed him a lot.

Ashok unlocked my creative potential in Bandit Queen. He showed me how to be brave and not afraid of expressing myself through the camera and not just through actors and story/plot. He taught me that my instincts were good , but only as good as my courage to follow them through.

Ashok Mehta taught me to be fearless in my visual expression, something that I have now become known for in Hollywood.

Ashok has an innate sense of visual story telling. It’s not just about how he lights, but also how he frames. Subtle shifts in camera angles sometimes, and extreme angles that create inherent emotional charge in the audience at other times. He looks through the camera and instinctively knows what to do to accentuate that which is often hidden in the subtext of the scene.

Ashok Mehta is self taught. Originally from Afghanistan , he started by selling boiled eggs outside a Mumbai studio. Then got a job as a lowly ‘canteen boy’ inside the studio. He begged ?for a job ?as a ‘camera attendant’ graduating to a focus puller and then to cinematographer. ?And the rest is history as he redefined the art of cinematography ?in Mumbai. And taking risks. He shot the interiors Shyam Benegal’s Trikaal almost completely in candle light at a time when film stocks did not have as much latitude.

He does not ask too many questions. Ashok came on to the location of Bandit Queen when I had to lose an original British DP, and walked on to the set and took the camera from me ( I was filming myself by then) and quickly readjusted the lens and the angle and in five minutes and said “lets shoot” !! How did he know what to do – He did not even have time to read the script All I can say he has the ‘Gift”.

A gift that has gone somewhat unfulfilled in Indian Cinema unfortunately. For his attempts to raise the art of the image beyond the needs of stars, schedules and mundane plot lines ultimately frustrated him. I think he just looked to God and said “whatever !!”.

Ashok should film. He should teach. He has so much to give that it would be a crime to not learn from him. He is a visual genius

Bhopal: A voice of concern from Udipi in Karnataka

This is from a very concerned citizen, Mr Balakrishnan Reddy :

Sir, I saw and heard your comments about the Bhopal tragedy. We almost have similar situation happening in the coastal Udupi district of Karnataka. The 1200mw coal based power project is being built by the rich Congress MP Mr. L. Rajagopal’s company Lanco in total violation of the Environment Protection Act. They have shifted the project from the approved site, did not conduct public hearing, the chimney is on the flight path to Mangalore Airport and seems to be vibrating when a heavy vehicle passes on the nearby roads, vandalized the properties of the project affected with goons from the underworld, no rehabilitation, and compensation at the rate they preferred.

Several explosions took place in the site and a large of number of immigrant laborers died without even registering cases by the police. The seawater is discharged into agricultural fields and streams and a large number of drinking water wells are now poisoned. The Company cleverly is bribing the BJP govt as well as some in the Congress. Justice P D Dinakaran has not heard the PIL filed in 2005 and now not posting before other benches as he does not preside over the court at the moment. We are in a very difficult situation and though we do get coverage from the local press occassionally in Kannada it is inaffective at the national level.

I wrote several letters of representations to all the concerned authorities including Jairam Ramesh but no result. The only source could be the TV channels such as CNN IBN, NDTV 24×7 and Times Now who can expose the truth behind this power project. the proejct is granted without competitive bidding as required in Electricity Act and yet govt has offered soverein guarantee, escrow cover and revolving letter of credit and have also issued NOC for further expansion. I tried my best to attract the attention of these channels but they seem to be more interested in the North. I wonder whether you could help us to expose these people.

Bhopal Gas Tragedy : The great sell out by the government of India.

25 years after the greatest industrial accident in the world. 25 years after over 25,000 perished in an agonizing death on the terrible night when the deadly gas leaked out of the Union Carbide chemical factory in Bhopal, India. Or in slow tortureous deaths in the few weeks following that night as people saw their loved ones wither away with little medical help. And as the city of Bhopal began to look like a huge mortuary.

And 25 years later after the hundreds of thousands that were affected by the gas have mostly perished to it’s long term effects, the court finally delivered their judgement today.

It’s a completely irrelavant judgement. For those on whose shoulders lie the responsibility of this avoidable, irresponsible, completely mismanaged accident, have long since made their deals with the government of India and gone. It was one of the greatest and most brutal sellout by the government of India and it’s courts of the people of India.

Union Carbide (a US corporation) that sold an outdated and unsafe technology to it’s Indian co, did a $ 470 million pay out to the Government of India and completely absolved itself of all responsibility, blaming local mishandling. Their CEO, Warren Anderson was spirited out of India, aided and abetted by the Government, within a few days of the accident – never to return despite summons by the courts. Had this accident occurred in the US and be bound by US laws even 25 years ago, the legal compensation would have wiped out the market value of Union Carbide and many Insurance Co’s with it. It would have run into 10’s (if not 100’s) of billions of dollars. And the compensation would have continued today as the people of Bhopal continue to suffer from the thousands of cases of cancer and incurable birth defects in children born to the parents of the people that inhaled the gas on the terrible night. And as toxic waste continues to seep into and through the ground water 25 years later.

But who cared about the poor people of Bhopal ? Certainly not our own Government who like cannibals preyed upon their own people. Apparently very little of the paltry $ 470 million that was paid went to helping the people that suffered, a large part being diverted to the pockets of corrupt officials. The excuse used was that you could not tell who was a victim of the gas tragedy and who was not. As if.

25 years later, are we making the same mistakes ? The law is supposed to be a deterrent to crimes being committed again. This judgement just proves that you could do anything in India and get away with it. Even kill thousands and thousands of people.

If there are people who read this blog and would like to share personal experiences in Bhopal on that tragic day, I will happily publish them, just so we do not forget, nor forgive.

Heart of Darkness, Guest Column by Sudhir Mishra

The Naxal crisis has blown up in our face because of our vanity. We have failed to see it as a valid militancy because at the heart of it is desperate poverty. Extremism is often the curse of the impecunious. While the insurgency in Kashmir can still be seen as a diplomatic tangle, or terrorism originating in the North-East as a war of identity, the Naxal crisis is naked in its despair. Unless urban India rises up to the obscenities of inequality that have underlined this militancy, it will be akin to Nero, the Roman emperor of yore, fiddling his thumbs whilst Rome was burning.

Lets start with a very simple beginning: lets pay attention to the crisis. One obvious symptom of the malaise is that the only interface between the government and the people cannot be the police. It must be development work.

One argument could be that how can development work start when extremism is so rampant. To this, I wish to say, that even in Uttar Pradesh, where I am currently, there is barely any Naxal activity, but there certainly is no developmental work happening either! We need to stop asking the question, Why is Bihar poor That is elementary. Let us instead ask ourselves, How did Bihar become poor If this crisis is about tribals losing their land because the government wants to go on a mining binge, let tribals too participant in this orgy. There must be a vision of a state, and it must be shared by all. There are some very respected names who have worked on a grassroots level with very specific areas, men with a deep knowledge of peoples grievances and unjust histories. The government should be eager to engage them. I dont see that.

I am not proposing Gandhism, even though some great Gandhians have done radical work in the worst-affected zones in the Naxal heartland, districts that have seen generations of negligence. What I am saying is that given the problems of a pluralist society such as India, if there can be a Special Economic Zone (SEZ), there is always scope for a Special Government Zone (SGZ).

That said, Naxals will have to give up violence. There is a deep irony at the heart of this bloodshed: a poor policeman posted in the middle of nowhere (nowhere for us on the fringes, geographically at least) is also choosing such a job out of desperation. He must be poor. Killing him is not the way to win a war. The war can only be won by consensus. And our urban classes, that can celebrate a Fashion Week with exotic variations of fabric, but fail to see the irony of a cotton farmer killing himself a hundred kilometres away, will have to see the grotesque injustices that still exist at the heart of their beloved nation. We should lose our vanity and come to terms with the fact that there is a desperately impecunious nation at the centre of all this. The economic liberalization has hugely benefitted the urban middle-class. Let us begin to share the spoils, as they say.

The answer to the Naxal crisis is dependent on urban Indians reaching out. They owe a great responsibility to the disadvantaged, because if a nation is to progress, it must take all people along with it. I want to be optimistic and believe that this may be possible. But as Desmond Tutu of South Africa once said, Of course there will be forgiveness. But first let there be justice.

(Published in the Mumbai Mirror on May 30th 2010)

Sudhir Mishra has been blogging on cinema at PassionForCinema, and has now begun a new blog on cinema as well as life beyond just cinema, at <a href=””></a>

Paani research pic, under the mumbai flyovers

just am


without questions

about existence

accepting that I

just am

but now

i learn every moment

who i am not

before i know

who i am

and then, simply

that i am not,

we die

as we are born

Cannes diary : Dining in Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland

It’s very exciting to be on the Jury of the Cannes film festival. Especially when the Jury is headed by the man I affectionately (but also seriously) call ‘the Salvador Dali of Cinema’. Tim Burton is a compassionate and gentle person that is so eager to learn about other people and cultures. He is also completely fascinated by India, so I have invited him to come and see if there is something he would like to shoot in India.

India is a country that accepts mythology and magic realism as an essential part of it’s culture, as does Tim Burton in is film making. It would be fascinating to see Tim Burton’s visual take on some of our tradition folk tales.

For the first dinner with the Jury, the Chef had designed the dinner as an ‘inspiration’ from Tim Burton’s movies ! Everything looked like it was from the Mad Hatter’s dining table. And while it was terrific looking an delicious, I kept waiting for the rice ! After all what’s a meal without rice and dal, or roti and dal ?

Just 5 days into the Water Crisis, and people of Mumbai are living in fear. And in thirst.

Death toll up to 7 in riot over water tanker in Malabar Hill, Mumbai

The driver of the water tanker, Suresh Salve succumbed to his injuries in hospital, as the death toll in the ‘water tanker riot’ rose to 7. Harish Malvade, the guard who fired the first shot killing Pradeep Amre, the 11 year old boy from the local slum, is fighting for his life even as the police waits to question him. Sources say the gun was unlicensed.

The riot apparently broke out as the people from the slum tried to stop the tanker and ask for water. The driver tried to force the tanker through the crowd, injuring some people, and riot broke out. The driver was pulled out and almost beaten to death.

Meanwhile the parents of the boy, Pradeep Amre are leading a morcha of over a 100 slum dwellers demanding an investigation into why a thirsty young school boy was shot for trying to steal a water from the tanker. The Mumbai police are trying to bring the situation under control as the riots threaten to spread to other parts of Mumbai. The water situation continues to be precarious and water tankers are being brought in to Mumbai, but are often unable to get to their destination as they are waylaid by armed gangs.

This is the 5th day of no piped water supply in Mumbai.

There are questions demanding to know why an armed guard was traveling with the water tanker. A news bureau report has confirmed that the guard was hired by the new Water Mafia that has emerged in Mumbai. Hotels and Housing Societies in the posher areas are now dealing directly with the Water Mafia to supply them with water as the BMC distribution systems have broken down, and the State Government is trying to bring the situation under control. Promising that supply lines will be restored as water becomes available. The reservoirs are low, as the demand in the city far outstrips the supply of water.

Meanwhile, the State Government has asked schools and colleges to shut down till the situation eases. Five Star hotels have become a refuge against the water crisis, and in the city are already full. Reportedly they are charging upwards of Rs 75,000 per night, but are not taking any bookings over two to 3 nights as they cannot assure any water supply beyond that. Hotels too apparently are dealing directly with the Water Mafia.

Airlines and trains are reportedly showing heavy loads of people leaving Mumbai, and airlines are putting up more flights. The water crises is a financial bonanza for airlines and hotels in the short term, but the chairman of one airline said in a press conference that in the long term such a crisis will drastically reduce the amount of traffic in Mumbai.

The US government yesterday issued a travel warning to it’s citizens in Mumbai, and are reportedly moving staff to their other consulates within the country till the water crisis eases out.

Citizen groups are co operating with the police and the State Government. The biggest fear is that sectarian violence will break out as local political parties step up their call for a ban of entry of people to Mumbai. The State Government has appealed for calm and said any panic will only make matters worse. They are promising to repair the pipelines that have been damaged. Reports are coming through that some of the pipelines were deliberately damaged by the water mafia to create the shortage.

In the meantime the Army has been called in to ensure that water tankers get through to Hospitals and other essential services, but there have been reports that some of that water has been diverted to the houses of ministers.

Just 5 days into the Water Crisis, and people of Mumbai are living in fear. And in thirst. NGO groups are angry, saying they have been warning of this crisis for a long time. Mr Debankar Rao of the Dekho foundation says that if the recommendations of the Infrastructure Committee had been implemented, this crisis could have been averted :

a. Better Water Management, with 30% of Water wasted in leakages etc, and stopping the nexus between the municipal corporations and the water mafia.

b. More equitable distribution of water through a steep rise in water charges beyond certain levels of consumption.

c. Creating employment and education opportunities in rural areas through implementation of the Broadband Connectivity Policy, in order to stem the pressure on population in Mumbai.