Director Manmohan Desai was not a fan of logic. The plot of a Manmohan Desai film has the depth of a cartoon. Manji, as he was popularly known, was a master of inspired lunacy – a sort of cinematic madness that is so entertaining that you never stop to ask how is this possible.
Manji was a big believer in religious unity and universal brotherhood. His best film Amar Akbar Anthony was a paean to this long cherished theme. Of course he promoted secularism in his own inevitable way. Here is a favourite scene where three brothers – one Hindu, one Muslim, one Christian – who don't know they are brothers donate blood simultaneously. They're donating to their mother, who they don't know is their mother. And the mother is equally clueless.
Children were lost at an alarming rate in Manmohan Desai movies. The first few reels were almost always devoted to kids being separated from their parents by natural calamities and villains. In Dharam Veer, one child was exchanged and then re-exchanged so that the villain (the evil minister) thought he was raising the king's son. But actually he was raising his own because his wife had re-exchanged the babies in the middle of the night. Are you following? Me neither.
Manji was a big believer of the animal or the bird sidekick. There was Moti the dog and Baadal the horse in Mard, Allah Rakha and the wonder bird Sheru in Dharam Veer. These non-human friends played a pivotal role in the plot. Basically when all else failed, they saved the day.
Nirupa Roy suffered big time in Manji's films. She lost her voice, went blind, was whipped, and nearly crushed under the wheels of a chariot. And of course she kept losing her kids, but in the end a timely beam of light from a religious statue would fix her ailments and the sons would invariably come back.
There is only one way to enjoy a Manmohan Desai film – you can never ask 'how can this happen?' It can happen because Manji said it could. In Mard, a father inscribes 'mard' on his infant son's chest while the son bleeds and smiles. Then decades later they are reunited because in the middle of a gladiator style fight, the father sees his inscription.
In the same film the father played by Dara Singh also stops the plane with a lasso. And what, you might ask, is the exact time period in Dharam Veer? Dharmendra is wearing odd leather skirts, Jeetendra is in shiny fashions and Jeevan is killing it in velvet suits. Does it matter? Of course not.
Mr B was Manmohan Desai's muse. He tapped into Amitabh Bachchan's incredible comic skills. He also constructed a superman persona for the 'angry young man'. Check out the super cool entry in Coolie – easily one of the best ever.
All this month, Film Companion will celebrate the works of Manmohan Desai. You can follow our series FC Flashback which aims to reintroduce legendary actors, filmmakers and technicians to a young audience.