The passing weekend, we witnessed the comeback of maverick filmmaker JP Dutta who had been long-out of the scene for almost 12 years. Dutta, an influence today for the new set of filmmaker who is recognised for his grand style, technique in filmmaking and his presentation of narrative. Regardless of the body of work, the current generation remember Dutta for his 1971 Longewala account based film Border, but it seems a lot of the cinema admirers have forgot Dutta’s socially-out-spoken-yet-commercial cinema he made prior to Border.ki
Spanning his career over the 80’s, 90’s and 2000’s, Dutta was one such director in which his vision was never refused, being financiers or actors but grandness was never doubted. Filmmaking changes necessary when the taste buds of the audience demand other savouries, the question arises if Dutta had changed his style over his career graph? Lets take a stroll down the maverick maker’s career!
Dutta’s first commercial release after losing hope on his first venture which never got completed, in a struggle for almost 10 years he got his first work out to the public. Set in post-colonial Rajasthan, the film deals with six characters who deal with their struggle with identity in a caste oppressed culture regardless of their contribution towards the society. The film established Dutta’s love for the landscape of Rajasthan, but deep within in Dutta opened a can of worms of the hush society within the sands of the desert. Dutta explored the harsh reality of the Thakur’s rule over the Chowdhurys, making the authority on-screen look Nazi-like.
Interestingly, Dutta revealed that the film was based on a childhood visit to Rajasthan in a gossip conversation he heard about a school teacher who had rebelled against the landlords of the town by becoming a dacoit. The teacher being the character of Dharmendra, who despite his strong values for education goes rogue for his principals by rebelling against the local Thakurs and forms his battalion of Army returned (without ‘Shaque’) Mithun Chakraborthy and underprivileged police constable Khulbulshan Kharbanda who fight the shackles of slavery. The film put Dutta on the map after receiving awards and rewards at the box office.
The one man army ride. In Dutta’s body of work this actually is a rare exception as it doesn’t have an ensemble cast. An impressed Dharmendra, decided to sign Dutta for his second outing as a solo Sunny Deol starrer. The subject, quite similar to Raj Kapoor’s Awara and Manmohan Desai’s Parvarish, about a son of dacoit who is raised by a police constable begins to find trouble with the local officer and the dreaded dacoit not letting go of the blood that runs in his veins. Yateem follows a very similar Hollywood western style format with the hero cowboy feel, tacklings the dakus in his escape for redeeming his name.
The film on release was not only overlooked but somewhat instantly forgotten. Cinema at the period was commercially changing with successful ventures such as Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak and Tezaab released in the same year which introduced an entertaining modern form of cinema unlike the daku movies which were dying the death, in the year prior the debacle of Dacait was the first to take the bullet which scarred the minds of the audience with Rakhee’s happenings. One can revisit Yateem today and notice the ‘emptiness’ Dutta had induced in the film.
Salim Akhtar, one of the biggest producers of the time gave Dutta an enormous budget to compliment his vision. Dutta became the favourite for this top line producers like Nadiadwalas, Akhtars etc. Batwara is one of Dutta’s most expensive films for its time which its popularity managed to scrape the producer a profit in bank also. Batwara does not deal with partition of India but begins as a narrative of the fading loss of power of the zamindars and the fast social changes in current India. A royal family which have gradual erosion of power, the Bade Thakur (played by Shammi Kapoor) decides to Batwara his estate with his three sons but the bigger Batwara happens when the entire village splits into two, the Thakurs and the Chowdhurys with Vinod Khanna on one side (Shammi Kapoor’s Middle son in the film) and his best friend Dharmendra leading the other.
Anyone remember Mohsin Khan? Mohsin Khan was a Pakistani cricketer, who opened his innings along with Mudassar Nazar who later married Reena Roy and his good links with the Akhtar’s transformation him into a short period actor. Khan did not exactly become a star overnight as the ones who took the acclaim from the film was Vinod Khanna and Dharmendra.
Many are not aware but Dutta is actually born and raised in Mumbai which is a revelation as his knowledge of the rural landscape is visible in his films. Hathyar marks his positioning in the city. The film deals with the subject of the use of toy guns. A village-toy maker (played by Khulbulshan Khardanda) shifts with his family from the rural to the city lights of Bombay to discover that his toys are no use, children in the jet age are guns fanatics. Sanjay Dutt plays the son of who ironically begins to play with iron guns for his bread and butter, Dharmendra plays the don who buried his values years ago for crime and his younger principled peacemaker sibling is played by Rishi Kapoor.
Dutta claims this to be favourite film but sadly his least successful one. A lot of critics argued that the rural setting had stuck to Dutta’s name in such a way that trying to take a different route caused an engine failure. Dutta on the other hand felt the film failed because he had stuck realism too close to the consumer’s face, the Bombay audience being his main consumers completely rejected the film not wanting to have a reality check on their home city.
The tones in the film like Amrita Singh calling Dutt’s Bombay home a ‘Kabootar Khana’, Dharmendra teaching the tricks of survival in the city and railway tracks being a source of the grim reaper did portray the city in such a manner. Sadly, the film doesn’t even have a huge cult following due to the film never being released on DVD or hardly ever been shown on satellite television making it almost non-existent to many film buffs.
This Magnum Opus takes Dutta back to the roots in Rajasthan with possibly the biggest budget and starcast of its time. A cast of Sunil Dutt (Extended Cameo), Dharmendra, Rakhee, Vinod Khanna, Sunny Deol, Sanjay Dutt, Kabir Bedi, Meenakshi Sheshadari, Raveena Tandon, Divya Bharti (Phew! That’s not even getting to the supporting cast yet!) The film deals with life of the Kshatriyas, their upbringing, customs, values etc. A story of two royal rival families and their respective younger and civilised younger generation who have spent their life in London begin to question the ancestral customs. Dutt and Deol play the young rebellious Kshatriyas with their wishy washy London accents find it hard to adjust to their home eventually become arch enemies in protecting their family’s honour.
The film broadens male testosterone throughout with the bare chested men sacrificing animals, protecting the family dignity and fighting purely out of ego, Dutta surely showcased the flaws of the ‘he-man’. The film was a commercial setback due to the audience not understanding the basic idea of the film, the boredom of the lengthy run and the of course, the overdose of characters. Dutta on the hand expressed he was happy it did not work. He was making something he did not want to, trying to tell a story at the same time keeping the commercial balance of wooing the girls in a sports car on the motorway while being on a cellphone, was just well….was not him.
It wouldn’t be wrong to say if Border is possibly one the best film Hindi cinema has seen in the last 50 years, technically and narratively. Border over the years became this definite format of a war film for many makers that attempted to follow the patriotic movement but what followed was a market full of majors, generals and colonels but no stories or techniques. Funny enough, during the first trial show of Border many had told Dutta he had lost his mind, a commercial war army based film that was heading for doom on day one, but the tables turned. Not only did he win hearts, Dutta became an untouchable filmmaker of the country who won hearts commercially and commendably.
Border is remembered for the sincerity of the artists involved, such well written and performed characters that it stuck in the minds of people even 20 years later. Sunny, Jackie, Sunil, Khulbulshan, Punit were all commendable but one has to give a little special credit to a 21 year old Akshaye Khanna, in his debut year gave a performance in which he stood up to season actors like Deol, Khardanda and Punit Issar. Still today being relevant, as a pro nationalist and an anti-neighbour-nationalist, the film still echoes the hardships of a soldier life and the depiction of pointless battles fought on ground.
Bachchan’s son and Kapoor’s daughter began to their journey with maestro Dutta, The story of a family in crisis as they are forced to shift to Pakistan, they seek the help of drifter named Refugee (portrayed by Junior Bachchan) in which they cross the border, Refugee’s closeness with the family’s daughter begins to get him in trouble with the border security forces with Sunil Shetty as the Pakistani soldier and Jackie Shroff as the Indian guard.
This Launchpad was not the definitive venture for any young star kid, as 6 months prior to the release Rakesh Roshan’s launch pad for his son caught the youth with a fever and was still in theatres when Dutta released his saga. A lot could have been better for the film, critics bashed the film for its 3 hour and 20 minute length and chipped at Junior Bachchan with comparisons to his father. Regardless of this, the film managed to get a decent opening became an average grosser at the box office but Dutta had learned from burning his hands at several stages.
LOC Kargil (2003)
The Hindi cinema formula to a successful film is a great starcast and festive release, LOC Kargil had both yet was a huge bomb at the box office. The film had practically almost everyone from the film industry (except the Deols, Amitabh Bachchan & the three Khans) and released on festival of Christmas, despite having a huge opening a majority of the audience couldn’t sit through the 4 hours and 5 minutes of Army jargon, bleeped abusive language and attempting to remember who was who.
An over-detailed account of the Kargil war in which Dutta tried to give scope to every character and their backstory, but unfortunately the audience could not process so much information in way too much time. The larger element for the film was not the battle capturing the Kargil post but its running length, Dutta had refused at many occasions to snip the film as he felt it would ruin the flow of the film. But regardless, the film has found its life on cable television all these years later which is a regular on every 15th August.
Umrao Jaan (2006)
Dutta took a drastic turn the mid-2000s putting aside the war drama, wanting to explore romanticism. Dutta chose Mirza Muhammad Hadi Ruswa’s novel for adaption about the courtesan Umrao Jaan and her series of unfortunate events. Dutta was clear he was not influenced of his contemporary’s, Muzaffar Ali’s adaption in 1981. A huge production, ensemble cast a definitive ‘Jaan’ in Aishwarya Rai, Dutta put together the right components for a contemporary take on the novel but it was audience who was least interested.
Despite Aishwarya being at the peak of her career and getting the international recognition, the audience decided the fate of Umrao Jaan from the first promo. In the same year, films such as Rang De Basanti and Lage Raho Munnabhai which emerged not only becoming successful ventures but highlighted the shift of cinema with the arrival of the new brigadier of contemporary directors. The big scale period dramas were beginning to die a slow death and the three hour plus features were seeing exit signs flashing brighter in the cinema halls. The disastrous fate of the film affected Dutta’s other films in the pipeline in which studios had backed out doubting his vision.
Very few directors of the industry can merge modernity and tradition as effortless as Dutta, his reinvention of the narrative during the 80s barring outside of the commercial cycle of the tried-tested formula. Grand productions and under-the-carpet issues, addressing matters of the less fortunate through the skin of established names. Dutta’s earlier works Ghulami, Batwara, Yateem and Hathyar do seem to be rooted from the same soil with certain layers such as caste, social class, oppression and division.
Its seems colonialism is strong element of Dutta’s features, Ghulami, Batwara, Border, Refugee such titles rewind the mind to the British Raj era. The British Raj and its influence to the country do reflect in his films in a sense of how the country has progressed on since; Ghulami shows that the oppressed are now under the influence of their own kin, Batwara showcasing that division is existent in smaller areas of the country.
Hathyar arguably being Dutta’s best work is still relevant in today’s time; Dutta’s vocals were speaking of a disastrous future which reflected in Bombay riots, the underworld rule in the 90s and the terrorist attack in 2008. Dutta was making a bold statement to the weak of not taking a wrong route, one seeing the consequences in the form of Sanjay Dutt and one become the results in Dharmendra.
A sore thumb Kshatriya stuck out with mixing chalk and cheese in the same plate as an Indian Shephard’s Pie, a mistaken grandeur for storytelling which resulted to a colossal failure. Border and post reinvented the director to something else, his last three features Refugee, LOC Kargil and Umrao Jaan sparked doubts of the director losing his touch.
His recent outing, Paltan which had echoes his 1997 war drama died a fatal death at the box office but Dutta refusing of letting go has already announced his next two features. Refusing to hang up his coat like his contemporaries, Dutta is yet willing to face a long battle but the question is are the audience and the generation still willing to see eye to eye with his vision? Every 3 years the taste of the audience changes and Dutta has been in the industry for 4 decades, reinvention and relevancy in this era is important to the reputable director to keep in the footfalls.
We hope Dutta’s journey continues. Below are the films of Dutta that never made got completed and are in question of a possible revival. Take a visit
Unfulfilled Dreams of JP Dutta
This was Dutta’s first venture as a director, launched in 1977 starring Vinod Khanna, Mithun Chakraborthy, Bindiya Goswami. The film was about two childhood friends who get separated during the partition, leading one to stay in India and the other to leave to Pakistan. Years later, the two meet again during the 1971 war standing opposite sides of the border. The film dealt with issue of prisoners of war, Vinod Khanna playing the one of Indian prisoners out the 90,000 captivated during the war. The film was half done until the producers ran into financial problems, Dutta held production waiting for better days but the bomb dropped when Vinod Khanna quit films and left the country resulting the film being shelved. Dutta recently expressed his desire to revive the film.
Amitabh and Dutta have had a close equation over the years but never got to work with each other, despite give his voice over for a couple of his film he never physically appeared in any of his features. Bandhua deals with the issue of the bounded labourers in Rajasthan leading to unfortunate circumstances of the lead character. The film also dealt with the economic system and the poor farming conditions of the area which lead to high percentage of yearly suicides. After a couple of reels of shooting in 1989, the film was shelved for reasons unknown.
Originally started with Sanjay Dutt, Madhuri Dixit and Raveena Tandon. Started straight after Kshatriya, said to be youthful love story becoming a story about traditional values ran into trouble when Sanjay Dutt was faced with his legal battles just after shooting a small portion for the film. Dutta later had decided to change the cast to Bobby Deol, Mamta Kulkarni and Tabu failed to take off resulting it to be shelved and Dutta moved on to Border. The song ‘Shaire Main Ho Gaya Deewana’ shot for the film was brought by the producers of Vijeta placed in the film.
Dutta had the privilege of having access to Kamal Amrohi’s script vault in which he came across his unused Aakhri Mughal script which did not take off in the 70s, Dutta was set to revive the film. Originally planned as Abhishek Bachchan’s launch pad in 1998, with Dilip Kumar playing Bahadur Shah Zafar and Junior Bachchan playing his son. After taking off, for unknown reasons it was stalled and shelved. In 2007, Dutta expressed his desire to revive the film but still did not see the light of day.
Been in the news for years, Dutta has frequently spoke about making a sequel to his 1997 blockbuster. Originally, LOC Kargil began as Border 2 but Dutta felt it was becoming a commercial campaign to promote a film based on the sacrifices of the soldiers who lost their lives in 1999. In 2013, it was announced in the media that Sunil Shetty and Sunny Deol had been approached for the sequel and the film was definitely on. Jackie Shroff and Akshaye Khanna were rumoured to be approached but later Dutta announced Paltan and made it clear that this will end his war trilogy.