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The Magic of Haathi Mere Saathi

en Bollywood News The Magic of Haathi Mere Saathi

Haathi Mere Saathi

It is still the closest Hindi film to Disney. A true children's movie, it is a cinematic milestone in many other ways as well. 40 years after its May 1971 release, Screen revisits the magical world of Haathi Mere Saathi.


Simple story, sure-shot success

Haathi Mere Saathi combined the magic of the marquee with the charisma of a circus. Ramu, the elephant, went that one step ahead of his performing circus counterpart by also weeping, smiling and becoming almost human in intelligence – he was no mere trained entertainer— he was family. And in the end, when he was shot dead by the villain (who aimed at the hero but Ramu took the bullet), not only did children shed a tear but many a parent too.


Raju (Rajesh Khanna) performs with four elephants on the streets for a living. The back-story is that as an orphan, they have saved his life from a leopard. In time, he makes it big, and starts his own Pyar Ki Duniya (The World Of Love), a zoo in which various wild animals reside along with his elephants, among whom Ramu is closest to him.


He falls in love with Tanu (Tanuja), but her rich dad (Madan Puri) agrees to their marriage only after some persuasion. However trouble looms soon after as Tanu feels neglected. Things worsen when their child is born, and Tanu, fearing physical harm to her child from the elephants, tells Raju to choose between the pachyderms and his family. When Raju chooses his lifelong friends over wife and son, Ramu decides to bring the estranged couple together, but thanks to the villainous Sarwan Kumar (K.N.Singh), he has to sacrifice his life.


The story was written by producer 'Sandow' M.M.A.Chinappa Devar, who also overviewed the film and played a small cameo in it. Directed and edited by his brother M.A.Thirumugham, it had screenplay by Salim-Javed, dialogues by Inder Raj Anand, music by Laxmikant-Pyarelal and lyrics by Anand Bakshi.


Milestone motion picture

Not only was Haathi Mere Saathi the biggest hit of 1971, eclipsing the Raj Khosla-made Mera Gaon Mera Desh, but also the biggest grosser ever till then. Its music on HMV (as Saregama was known then) won a Silver Disc for its sales, making it the first-ever Indian gramophone record to do so.


The film was also the first collaboration of Salim-Javed, who were officially credited as screenplay writers. Earlier titled Pyar Ki Duniya, the film also won a special award from the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) for lyricist Anand Bakshi and the rest of the team (including producer Devar, termed then as India's answer to Walt Disney) of the song Nafrat ki duniya ko chhod kar pyar ki duniya mein khush rehna mere yaar.

The Magic of Haathi Mere Saathi

After this film, none of Devar's movies really did well in Hindi cinema. But 40 years down the line, Haathi Mere Saathi remains unmatched in its enduring magic, and Hindi cinema has yet to make another children's feature to match its stature and success.


Writers'block(buster)

Co-writer Salim Khan spells out the USP of the film. "It had a perfect balance of story, drama, music, acting and animals too. The real hero was the animal, not Rajesh Khanna, and it was a story of their friendship. It was almost like a love story between a man and an animal. The screen hero just happened to be married!"

Haathi Mere Saathi

Khan recalls that the film came to them thanks to Rajesh Khanna, who had become a superstar, and had struck up a friendship with Salim and Javed who were associate writers on Ramesh Sippy's under-production Andaz. "He tried to tempt us into doing the film's screenplay, but I told him that I would discuss the idea with Javedsaab as we were planning to team up. Though credited officially only with the screenplay, we ended up writing 90 percent of the dialogues too, even though Inder Raj Anandsaab was credited with them. The reason is that one cannot really write a script without writing what characters actually speak to each other."


Adds Javed Akhtar, "Rajesh Khanna and both of us would meet up socially and share drinks too. One day, he went to Salimsaab and said that Mr. Devar had given him a huge signing amount with which he could complete the payment for his bungalow Aashirwad. But the film was a remake and the script of the original was far from being satisfactory. He told us that if we could set right the script, he would make sure we got both money and credit. 'I can't do such a terrible script,' he said. 'And I can't leave it because I need the money!'"


Akhtar goes on, "We insisted on a totally free hand. We were first amused by the job, but gradually began enjoying it. In 20 days our script was ready. Rajesh had a great equation with Laxmikant-Pyarelal and they had been roped in and the title-song recorded."


Drama and Devar

Akhtar recalls how the basic presentation the trio made to Devar was very dramatic – intentionally. "We were in Rajesh Khanna's bedroom – Salimsaab, Rajesh, the director, Devarsaab and I," says the writer. "As we were giving the narration, at the psychologically correct moment, Rajesh Khanna pressed the Play button of his tape-recorder to play the rousing Chal chal chal mere saathi o mere haathi!"


Devar loved what they had done, says Akhtar, but there was one hitch. That giant of a man who wore a simple lungi, had ash smeared on his forehead and went bare-chested, objected to a sequence in which the hero got drunk. Smiles Akhtar broadly, "Devarsaab did not know Hindi and knew only the rudiments of English. In no uncertain terms, he roared, 'Hero – no sharaafi!' by which he meant 'sharaabi' or drunkard. His logic was perfect – a drunkard hero could not perform on the trapeze! So we showed Khanna suffering from high fever instead!"


The detailed narration later took three days in a Chennai hotel because of the language constraints, despite an interpreter being present! "I recall we were often speaking so loudly that Mr Surinder Kapoor, Anil Kapoor's father, once knocked at our door and asked if everything was okay, because he was staying in the same hotel and shooting his own film in the city!" laughs Akhtar.


He adds, "The script was changed to the extent that after the kind of business it did, Devar remade Haathi Mere Saathi in Tamil! The original of Haathi Mere Saathi has been a hit, but the latter Tamil film was a far bigger blockbuster!" But Khan says that though the film did business to the tune of a crore per territory (at a time when the highest-priced admission ticket was less than five rupees!) and smashed Johny Mera Naam's record of Rs 50 lakh, the duo was only paid Rs 10,000!


"Haathi Mere Saathi, at that point of time, was the biggest hit ever made by a South producer in Hindi. But when we asked for a fair amount to write Devarsaab's next film, he refused. We thus never worked together again!" says Khan.


Akhtar recalls memorable moments with Devar. "He was a colourful, larger-than-life personality who came from a circus background. One day we went to his office, only to discover a real tiger there. He insisted that we sit on the tiger and get photographed! Devarsaab looked like some mahant instead of a producer. But he was an earthy and wonderful human being and I cherish his memory."


Khan also recalls how they once travelled back to Mumbai on a chartered Dakota aircraft belonging to the Hindu newspaper chain as a strike had been suddenly declared by Indian Airlines!

Haathi Mere Saathi

Tanuja, the heroine of the film, also recollects an Ooty shoot where the sky was suddenly overcast and a shower began. "Devarsaab dramatically lifted up his lungi and looking up at the sky, screamed and shouted in Tamil. A unit hand translated that he was castigating God that he was not cooperating! Incredibly, in 15 minutes, the sun broke through and shooting began! This kind, simple, good-hearted man who even moved the heavy trolleys himself and truly believed in dignity of labour seemed to have a direct connect with the Almighty!"


Pachyderm tales

Did her daughters Kajol and Tanishaa ever get to see this film? Chortles Tanuja, "I showed them the film when Kajol was six and Tanishaa around three years old, and for two weeks Kajol did not speak to me!! 'Mummy, you killed the elephant! Because of you, he had to die!' screamed Kajol! And Tanishaa was annoyed too!"


Tanuja loved working with the elephants after some initial apprehensions. "They really began to like me, especially the she-elephant who played Ramu. There is a sequence where he had to push me through a door and fight a snake that was about to bite the baby, but the elephant had got so fond of me that he refused to do so! Finally, they had to shoot separate close-ups of the elephant and my back and of me falling down!"


The actress always loved enacting songs and she especially loved the music of the film, which was "excellent! It was such fun to shoot the songs!"


Chartbusting score

"Laxmi (Laxmikant) and Devar got along fabulously well!" recalls composer Pyarelal. "Devar had an innate music sense and a feel for rhythm, and he loved our title-track. But the tussle came up over the sad song, Nafrat ki duniya, which was the only song sung by (Mohammed) Rafisaab in the film. I recall voicing my doubts. But Laxmi, the director and Rajesh Khanna were staunchly in favour of keeping that song. And the audience cried with the song and Anand Bakshisaab's lyrics."


On the other hand, the title-song was almost a cakewalk. "Laxmi just thought of the lines rhyming haathi and saathi and Bakshisaab wrote a complete song in record time for the situation that was about the animals pushing the brattish heroine's limousine that had broken down on the way!"


Pyarelal recalls Devar coming to their houses with a lakh of rupees each placed on a silver plate when they signed the film. "He repeated this when the work was completed!" he smiles.


Rajesh Khanna was the biggest star of that period, and Haathi Mere Saathi ranks high among the biggest - ever hits of his career. But the film ranks as a classic because it is still unequalled as the complete family fare in its genre for kids – of all ages!

Screen India

More Pages: Haathi Mere Saathi Box Office Collection


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