With Raj Khosla at the helm of a movie, a few things could be taken for granted: there would be a great story, dollops of emotions, big stars, varied genres, and in all but few cases, great and enduring songs filmed with passion.
After all, Raj Khosla was a volcano of emotions himself, his passion for work showing even when he was down (after a spate of flops between late 1980 and 1989 when he made his last film Naqab). In late 1990, he had revitalized himself and planned a musical mystery (his great forte, as shown by Woh Kaun Thi?, Mera Saaya and Anita, though the last proved a flop).
But Raj Khosla, at that time, still was an emotionally volatile man, thanks to his flops for which (unlike the cocky filmmakers today) he took complete responsibility (“I don’t blame anyone else for this, I allowed my personal problems to come in the way of my work!”) for this phase.
Prone to weep at frequent intervals even at past memories or while watching a cricket match, he was upset with the general setup of the film industry as well, which simply ignored him after his failures.
After all, he was the man behind 27 films, including blockbusters like CID (the first Hindi film ever to make one lakh rupees!), Kala Pani, Ek Musafir Ek Hasina, Do Badan, the three films we mentioned above as well as later blockbusters like Do Raaste, Mera Gaon Mera Desh, Kuchhe Dhaage, Main Tulsi Tere Aangan Kithe potboiler success Nehle Pe Dehla, and his last hit, the original 1980 Dostana, that launched one of today’s foremost banners, Dharma Productions,.
And so, a frail Raj Khosla passed away on June 9, 1991. 25 years later, his films and his music are still cherished.
Khosla believed strongly in woman power-his mother being his main source of inspiration. His films always had strong female characters, whether it was the shrewish yet vulnerable moll of CID (Waheeda Rehman), the character of Suchitra Sen in Bambai Ka Babu (his debut production), Madhubala and Nalini Jaywant in Kala Pani, Asha Parekh in Do Badan, Chirag and Main Tulsi…, Sadhana in the four films they did together (Ek Musafir Ek Hasina added to the trilogy of suspense dramas mentioned above), character artiste Veena in Do Raaste and Laxmi Chhaya in Mera Gaon Mera Desh, Moushumi Chaterjee in Kucche Dhaage, Nutan in Main Tulsi… again, and even Smita Patil in his 1980s flop Meraa Dost Mera Dushman.
In fact, even Geeta Bali, the heroine of his 1955 debut Milap, had a very credible and strong character of a woman who rises above her own needs to stand up for what was morally right.
“A strong story logically building up to a strong climax is indispensable for a good film!” he said. “My teachers, Guru Dutt and S.Mukerji, were masters in their fields. Mukerji once told me to can my shots the way I did my songs, strictly within the ambit of the sequence!”
Among his standout songs (from the filming point of view) as director are ‘Ae Dil Hai Mushkil‘ (CID), ‘Naino Mein Badraa Chhaye’ (Mera Saaya), ‘Lag Jaa Gale’ (Who Kaun Thi?), ‘Maar Diya Jaaye’ (Mera Gaon Mera Desh) and ‘Chhap Tilak Sab Chhini’ (Main Tulsi Tere Aangan Ki) , the Ameer Khusrau poem he incorporated into this film.
Khosla did make that extra effort in his music. Ghulam Ali’s ghazal ‘Yeh Dil Yeh Paagal Dil Mera‘ was integrated into Maati Maangey Khoon, the Aziz Nazan qawwali ‘Sun Le Tu Binati Meri’ in Nehle Pe Dehla and the memorable ‘Gore Gore Chand Se Much Par‘ by Arzoo Lucknowi (the vintage film lyricist who had died in 1955) for his 1967 film Anita, besides Shobha Gurtu’s memorable mujra ‘Saiyyan Roothe Rahe‘ in Main Tulsi…
All this makes it highly probable that his assistant and student, Mahesh Bhatt, learnt his first inclination to work with similar big names among iconic non-film talents and bring in additional composers in his films because of Khosla’s influence and uncompromising stand of songs and their use!
From Music to Direction
Khosla spared no effort and expense for his songs, inspired as he was again by the Guru Dutt school. He attributed his musical acumen (like with any truly musical filmmaker, he extracted the best from multiple composers like S.D. Burman, Ravi, O.P. Nayyar, Madan Mohan, Laxmikant-Pyarelal and small-timer Kamaal Makhdoom) to the fact that his father was listening to a K.L. Saigal song when he was born! He had learnt classical music from the age of six, and as a student, had joined All India Radio, filling in whenever a singer could not make it. He even came to Mumbai to become a singer, did the rounds but only one composer gave him a song.
“After the rehearsal, I went to record it the next day, and found Mukesh rehearsing the same song!” recalled Khosla. “That night I went home and cried all night into the pillow!” Khosla did get a song, though-in Madan Mohan’s debut film Ankhen (1950), wherein he sang the quaint ‘Rail Mein Jeeya Mora‘.
Khosla’s friendship with Dev Anand, with whom he often discussed films and shots, made the latter suggest that he assist a director and then make films so that no one could prevent him from singing in them!
“Luckily for all of you, that did not happen, though Dev took me to Guru Dutt, I joined him as assistant and later became a director!” he had smiled. Later, Khosla went on to do the home productions of Dev himself (Kala Pani, Shareef Badmash), Joy Mukerji (Ek Musafir Ek Hasina), Shatrughan Sinha (Maati Maangey Khoon) and Sunil Dutt (Nehle Pe Dehla) as well. Dutt, who had starred in his Mera Saaya and Chirag, trusted Khosla so much that when he had to take a break while directing his son Sanjay Dutt‘s debut film Rocky, it was Khosla who stepped in.
Khosla’s other gifts to the film industry include N. Dutta, Marathi big-name composer who made his Hindi debut with Milap, Waheeda Rehman in CID and Moushumi Chaterjee in her first signed film Kucche Dhaage. Big breaks also came for Vinod Khanna (as villain) in Mera Gaon Mera Desh and screenplay writer G.R. Kamat, who wrote for most of Khosla’s films from Kala Pani to the 1982 Teri Maang Sitaron Se Bhar Doon.
When his market was down, and he did not want to ask his favourite team of Laxmikant-Pyarelal and Anand Bakshi to reduce their price (they were all Numero Unos), he discovered a humble music teacher and got him to score the superlative music of Naqab. Asha Bhosle told him that the score would be “my second Umrao Jaan“, but the music company did not market the music and the film bombed too.
Raj Khosla, to sum up, was all about excellence in his chosen field-even if that field had been chosen for him by Destiny!