One of Bollywood’s most underrated directors passed away quietly at the age of 88. Lekh Tandon gave us a slim slew of scintillating cinema starting with the blockbuster Professor in 1962. The oddball comedy paired Shammi Kapoor with, of all people,Lalita Pawar! Many decades later Reema Rakeshnath remake Tandon’s blockbuster –very shabbily—as Dil Tera Aashiq.
After directing the much-loved musical Jhuk Gaya Aasman (Rajendra Kumar-Saira Banu in an afterlife comedy), Prince (bringing together the Professor hero Shammi Kapoor with Vyjanthimala for the first time and last time) Lekh Tandon directed Dulhan Wohi Jo Piya Man Bhaye in 1977.
The small-budget film starring two newcomers Prem Kishen (actor Premnath’s son) and Rameshwari Talluri became the biggest hit in the history of Rajshri Productions. If we look at its austere budget and the staggering profits, Dulhan Wohi Jo Piya Man Bhaye was even bigger than Rajshris’ Hum Aapke Hain Koun.
After the hit Agar Tum Na Hote in 1983 Lekh Tandon kept a low profile as a director choosing to act in films like Ashutosh Gowariker’s Swades, Amol Palekar’s Paheli and Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra’s Rang De Basanti.
Shabana Azmi who did two remarkable films with Lekh Tandon says, “Sad to hear he has passed away. But what is wonderful is that he did so with his boots on. He was working in his latest film with the enthusiasm of a newcomer. I did two lovely films with him Ek Baar Kaho and Doosri Dulhan a film way before its time on surrogacy. Shekhar Kapur often says that he learned a lot from Lekhji. He was an underrated filmmaker.”
Perhaps Tandon’s most celebrated film was the historical Amrapali in 1966 recreating the legendary romance between the courtesan Amrapali (Vyjanthimala) and the Magadh emperor Ajayshatru (Sunil Dutt). The film’s opulence and periodicity had stunned the world then as it continues to do now.
Sanjay Leela Bhansali an ardent admirer of Lekh Tandon’s work says, “Amrapali inspired my historicals Bajirao Mastani and Padmavati. The way he recreated the war scenes and specially the way he presented the amazing Vyjanthimalaji in those incredible songs like ‘Tumhe Yaad Karte Karte’, ‘Jao Re Jogi Tum Jao Re’, ‘Tadapyeh Dil Raat Ki’ and ‘Neel Gagan Ki Chaon Mein’ were definitely my reference point for Deepika Padukone in Bajirao Mastani and Padmavati.”
Bengali legend Victor Bannerjee who worked with Lekh Tandon in Doosri Dulhan says, “I owe my living happily in Mussoorie to Lekh Tandon and Professor is one of the very few Hindi films I’ve seen and I absolutely loved its tomfoolery. But, Lekhji was also a follower of Sri Ram Krishna Paramahansa and hence a deeper individual than he let on to be.”