He was much more than just Hrithik Roshan’s maternal grandfather as today’s generation may know him. J. Om Prakash was a unique personality. Son of a humble Lahore schoolteacher from pre-Partition days who rose to become an educationist, he took to heart his father’s dictum that in life, whatever one may achieve, one must always remain a student.
And so his cinematic journey ended with distinction not just as a filmmaker but also in the industry. He was President of IMPPA, the Film Producers’ Guild for six years continuously, and also headed the Film Federation of India, in which capacity he visited the Cannes Film Festival in 1999 and got special appreciation for his views about whether stars should share a film’s intellectual rights.
He had also been a trustee of artistes’ welfare funds and on the advisory panels of the Directorate of Film Festivals and Central Board of Film Certification and a lecturer at the Pune Film Institute. He was awarded for Lifetime Achievement by the Asian Guild Of London in 2004.
As for his cinema, his films were family entertainers, often with messages on life. When I met J. Om Prakash way back in 2006, his sanctum sanctorum was full of trophies and photograph albums. His picture with Lata Mangeshkar stood next to a big plasma TV screen. When I met him again in 2017, his memory was not what it was, but he still had the clarity to inform me that he bought his Juhu bungalow only because his favourite hero, Dharmendra, told him to pay his last instalment after their film Aya Sawan Jhoom Ke (1969) was released and use the money to buy the house now!
Om-ji worked at a film distributor’s office in Lahore, moving up from clerical jobs to manager. After Partition, he landed in Mumbai, sleeping nights in trains. Because of his accounting skills, he got a job with the late Mohan Segal, who was then making New Delhi. He lived in a chawl in Mumbai’s Chinchpokli area and developed friendship with fellow-inmate Rajendra Kumar, making a mutual promise to work together!
One day, Om-ji got an offer from a financier to produce a film and the result was the beginning of his top banner Filmyug and a big setup Aas Ka Panchi with Vyjayantimala, Rajendra Kumar, Shankar Jaikishan, Hasrat Jaipuri and Shailendra. He also signed on Mohan Segal’s assistant, the late Mohan Kumar, as a director. Later, Mohan Kumar and he have married sisters.
Around this time, Om-ji happened to read the review of a Malayalam film in Blitz and was inspired by this story of a woman whose fidelity is doubted by her husband. By the time he realizes his mistake, it is too late. This was exactly the kind of different social subject he was looking for to become a director. But he wisely decided to wait until Filmyug was consolidated as a banner. And that took a decade, and was to be Aap Ki Kasam!
He then delivered a bevy of hits as producer in Ayee Milan Ki Bela, Aaye Din Bahaar Ke, Aaya Sawan Jhoom Ke and Aan Milo Sajana, introducing talents like directors Raghunath Jhalani in the second film and Mukul Dutt in the last. And when he finally made his debut as director with Aap Ki Kasam, B.R.Chopra called him up to say, “This does not look like the first film of a director. It has the touch of a veteran.”
Om-ji does not exactly recollect how he became the first filmmaker to have an ‘A’ fixation in his titles. There were only two exceptions in the 20-plus films he made—Raja Rani and Bhagwan Dada.
Om-ji always believed in being involved with every aspect of a film—the script, music, sets, camerawork, editing and even costumes. As a director, he had a good record with Apnapan, Aasha and Aakhir Kyon? And his films were meant for family audiences.
“My heroines, even in the 1980s, wore sleeved blouses. Back in my school and college days, I would play the harmonium for stage plays. Qateel Shifai and Faiz Ahmed Faiz were my friends and I would also attend mushairas and read their books as I came to love Urdu. From there came my sense of lyrics and music. In fact I would often suggest thoughts to my lyrics writer and gave the rare mukhda to my music directors.”
A man with an unerring ear for lyrics and music, Om-ji worked in 13 films with lyricist Anand Bakshi and 12 movies with composers Laxmikant-Pyarelal, besides getting the best out of his rarer composers like Shankar-Jaikishan, R.D. Burman and Rajesh Roshan and other songwriters. He had a very good word to say about Kalyanji-Anandji, who scored the music for his unreleased Sahara. “Today, when Saregama gives a 10 percent royalty to the producer, I comfortably get about Rs 15-20 lakhs annually! This shows how being particular about music helps,” he told me.
The cult songs from him are legion—‘Tum Kamsin Ho Nadaan Ho’ (Ayee Milan Ki Bela), ‘Khat Likh Le Sawariya Ke Naam’ (Aaye Din Bahaar Ke). ‘O Maanjhi Chal’ (Aaya Sawan Jhoom Ke), ‘Accha To Hum Chalte Hain’ (Aan Milo Sajana), ‘Yeh Mausam Aaya Hai’ (Aakraman), ‘Zindagi Ke Safar Mein’ (Aap Ki Kasam), ‘Sheesha Ho Ya Dil Ho’ (Aasha), ‘Ek Andhera Lakh Sitaren’ (Aakhir Kyon?) and many more.
Among stars, he had excellent relations with all the top names he worked with, and usually more than once—Rajendra Kumar, Sanjeev Kumar, Rajesh Khanna, Jeetendra, Asha Parekh, Reena Roy and Smita Patil among others. And one actor, Rakesh Roshan, ended up marrying his daughter Pinky.
As we have seen, J. Om Prakash is much more than the grandfather of Hrithik Roshan! As he put it, “Bhagwan Dada was a landmark film for me. Hrithik had a small role as a kid in that film and I was good enough a judge of talent to realize that he was super-star material 15 years before Kaho Naa…Pyaar Hai. Today, I realize with great joy that I was right, and that no actor of his generation can touch him!”
He also raves about son-in-law Rakesh Roshan, who “actually gifted me a room in his Filmkraft Productions office, and designed everything, taking the trouble of bringing all my things and arranging them immaculately here, from my trophies to my smallest personal stationery.”
The eternal student is no more, but has given so much for others to learn.