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Why Manmohan Desai is Bollywood's most commercially successful director ever

“Manmohan Desai was the genius who had the audacity to tell the audience in the very first frame that he was going to be illogical, make a fool of them and they better enjoy it.” -- Amitabh Bachchan

Be it Box Office or enduring value, the propellants of cinema are the hoi polloi, the common people, not the critics: no one symbolized, and underlined, this fact more resoundingly than Manmohan Desai.

Throughout his career, critics derided his films as ‘illogical’, ‘formulaic’, ‘corny’ and ‘crass’, but the audience lapped them up gleefully and turned them into massive blockbusters. What’s more, his films have stood the test of time and are fondly remembered even by the current generation, be it ‘Amar Akbar Anthony’, ‘Naseeb’, ‘Coolie’ or ‘Parvarish’.

Desai certainly had the grasp of the audience’s pulse, current and future, more than the critics.

“When the audience comes to see a Manmohan Desai film, they have set expectations. They want to see my standards tropes -- lost and found formula, bracing action sequences, lilting music and a dash of humour -- all over again. Of course, I present these elements in different styles and packages in different films. A filmmaker should never cheat his audience,” he said in an interview.

As for a handful of people scouring logic in his films, he had a stinging response: “I don’t believe in logic. And I can’t show what I don’t believe in. It takes a lot of imagination and ingenuity to conjure up what my detractors call ‘illogical films’. My audience has always proven them wrong. The audience cannot be wrong. I believe in miracles. I have seen many miracles in my life and my films manifest them.”

And the Box Office performances of his films were miraculous too. In 1977, he delivered four superhit films in one calendar year -- a record that still stands. Four of his films -- ‘Amar Akbar Anthony’, ‘Parvarish’, ‘Chacha Bhatija’ and ‘Dharam Veer’ -- were running to packed houses simultaneously.

No other director ever since has come close to emulating this miraculous feat.

He’s also one of the four directors, along with late Raj Kapoor, Rajkumar Hirani and Sooraj Barjatya, to whip out highest grosser of the year three times. ‘Amar Akbar Anthony’, ‘Suhag’ and ‘Coolie’ were the highest grossers of 1977, 1979 and 1983, respectively.

Although he started his journey as a director in 1960, at the age of 23, with Raj Kapoor’s ‘Chhalia’, it wasn’t until 1970 when he hit the top league. ‘Sachaa Jhutha’, starring Rajesh Khanna and Mumtaz, became a blockbuster and reinforced the status of the then rising star Rajesh Khanna.

It also gave Desai the template he was to use, with stupendous success, for the next 15 years.

‘Lost and found’ and ‘surreal items’, in his own words, became his standard tropes. Be it men of three different religions donating blood to an old woman, unaware that she’s their mother, in ‘Amar Akbar Anthony’; a falcon saving a child in ‘Coolie’; or a dog giving evidence in ‘Sachaa Jhutha’, his films were replete with such ‘items’.

They also had subterranean social themes -- presented with fanfare -- like secularism, love for animals and anti-capitalism.

“I give my viewers an item in every reel and allow them no time to think,” he fessed up.

After ‘Sachaa Jhutha’, he gave a string of hits until he hit the purple patch in 1977. That year, he also collaborated with Amitabh Bachchan for the first time in ‘Amar Akbar Anthony’, arguably his greatest film. But he called it a fluke and revealed that this film took minimal efforts and time to be made.

Desai maintained till the end that ‘Naseeb’ was the most complete film in his oeuvre.

Desai and Bachchan ruled the roost between 1977 and 1985 as they churned out superhits such as ‘Amar Akbar Anthony’, ‘Suhag’, ‘Naseeb’, ‘Coolie’ and ‘Mard’. ‘Desh Premee’ was the fly in the ointment though.

But after the mid-80s, his template started to wear off as the winds of change started to blow across India and Bollywood. His swangsong ‘Ganga Jamuna Saraswati’ bombed abjectly at the turnstiles in 1988 and he decided to hang up his boots as a director.

In the same year, Aamir Khan made his debut with superhit ‘Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak’, and a year later Salman Khan leapt to limelight with blockbuster ‘Maine Pyar Kiya’. The transition had started. A new crop of directors and young stars took over the mantle and pushed the Angry Young Man to the periphery. Love stories toppled Desai’s brand of potboilers.

But it was a hiatus, not the death warrant.

A bevy of successful directors from the current lot owes allegiance to Desai. David Dhawan, Farah Khan, Anees Bazmee, Rohit Shetty and many others have admitted that their films are an extension, and reflection, of Desai’s brand of cinema.

He was a doyen of potboilers and the subsequent generation of directors picked up his template, if not the exact tropes, from his films.

The man who gave so much joy to the people and filled their life with fantasies died a painful death. On March 1, 1994, he jumped from the balcony of his house and committed suicide, ostensibly because of the chronic back pain.

“Perhaps, I will get respect only after I pass away. The future generation will watch my films again and again to understand why they resonated so deeply with the audience. The common people will continue to enjoy my kind of cinema long after I leave this world. That will be my victory,” he said in his last interview.

How prophetic!

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asked in Cinematic Discussion by Unit Manager (35k points)
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3 Answers

+1 vote
Best answer

2nd Biggest Director Ever after RAJ KAPOOR.
His All Big Success are with AMITABH ->
Parvaarish : 2cr+FFs
AAA : 5cr+ FFs
Suhaag : 3cr+ FFs
Naseeb : 4cr+ FFs
Coolie : 4cr+ FFs
Mard : 4cr+ FFs
Dharam Veer is The Only Movie which was Huge Grosser with 4cr+ FFs but AAA was Bigger than DV in Same Year.
Desai has 3 HGOTY (Not inc. Mard) and all of Them Has Amitabh in Lead.
But Desai mostly Movies are MULTISTARRER except MARD & His Mostly Movie has same Story (Bachpan me bichad jana Last scene me ek saath ho jana etc etc)
That's Why He got those Success, I don't know at that time how Audience accept those Movies plus His Movies run time is also Big.
But As Director I Like Prakash Mehra - Amitabh Movies.
Zanjeer (Action)
MKS (Love Story)
Laawaris ( Masala)
Sharaabi (Drama)
All are Different Genre and most Important He always make SOLO movies with Amitabh MKS has 5cr Footfalls & LAAWARIS has 4cr+ FFs & Zanjeer is also Blockbuster the Movie which made Amitabh a Star

answered by Production Designer (12.5k points)
edited by

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+1 vote

Manmohan desai was only director who deliver 10 blockbuster in his career.

answered by Camera Operator (10.2k points)
0 votes

So we can say that Manmohan Desai was to the 70s and 80s what Rohit Shetty is to today's era.

answered by Super-star (165k points)

RS bhi formula movie banata hai per huge hit ke naam per max 2.5 cr ff wali movie hai.


Rohit Shetty is the best commercial director in today's times but he should NEVER be compared to Manmohan Desai, not by a long shot. His movies are superb but with all due respect, they are hardly original although his vision and handling as a director is excellent. Manmohan always had originality and expanded his imagination as director to give a perfect blend of a masala movie. Rohit's work seems to have a South Indian influence e.g. blown up cars and goons flying in the air.

Box Office

Rohit Shetty is a Blockbuster machine with many memorable films and not a single Flop for the last two decades. Problem is that he struggles to give 2cr footfalls in fact only one which is Chennai Express even post 2013, he had holiday releases. Manmohan not only has 2cr footfalls but a maximum of 4cr and one 5cr. Coolie was the highest footfall in the 80s at 4cr.

Not even a one ATBB that he has given and may require some originally with a superstar. Manmohan did that in Amar Akar Anthony with Amitabh Bachchan in which he got most of the credit although it was a multistarrer film.

Lastly, not a single record opener which Manmohan Desai has e.g. Coolie, Mard & Amar Akbar Anthony.

All of this is why Rohit Shetty can never archive and become what Manmohan Desai accomplished in the 70s and 80s. First paragraph on top is partly an example of why masala movies are not easy to make.

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