Lamhe...It was not a momentary whim. Yash Chopra had been dreaming of making the film for almost a decade but just couldn’t work up the courage. “The idea of a younger man being in love with an older woman and not being able to accept her marrying someone else, had been haunting me for years. The novelty of the romance was that when the heroine is young the hero is old, and when the hero is young, the heroine is older. It was a beautiful subject but too off-beat,” he confessed years later. “I didn’t want to touch it till I’d had a major hit.” And hits had been eluding the dream merchant who had earlier made the cash counters jingle with revolutionary films like Daag, Deewar, Trishul and Kabhie Kabhie.
Kabhie Kabhie, in fact, had been almost a folly. His friends had cautioned him, his foes at cackled at him for casting the “angry young man” in the role of a romantic poet who loses his love and ceases to live. For the first couple of weeks after its release, Kabhie Kabhie had almost lived up to the trade’s prophecy and appeared doomed at the box-office. Then suddenly, miraculously, it picked up and went on to become one of the Bachchan’s biggest blockbusters.
Unfortunately, Chopra wasn’t as lucky with the films that followed and went through a very rough patch in the ’80s. Silsila, released in ’81, was the first casualty. Despite its headline-making casting coup (this was the only film to feature Amitabh Bachchan, Rekha and Jaya), it failed to pack in the crowds. Three years later came Mashaal. It was critically applauded but not commercially successful. Faasle in ’85 again fell flat, even though with this film the love specialist returned to his Swiss snows and sighing sonatas. Vijay which hit the theatres three years later, boasted of many big names but still couldn’t curry favour with either the masses or the classes.
It was Chandni, released the following year, a love story, that proved to be the silver lining in the dark clouds. Buoyed up by its surprise success, Chopra began to dream again...of Lamhe.
Lamhe was a story that revolved around Kuwar Virendra Pratap and his obsession with Pallavi. She’s a few years older than him and chooses another man without realising that Viren has lost his heart to her. When Pallavi and her husband die in an accident, the responsibility of bringing up their newborn daughter is left to Viren. Shattered by Pallavi’s death, Viren moves to London, leaving Pooja to his daai ma. He makes annual pilgrimages to his haveli in Rajasthan, not to celebrate his ward’s birthday but to perform her mother’s barsi. Even though he’s dour and distanced from her, Pooja has decided years ago to marry Viren when she’s grown-up. However, when she confesses her feelings for him during a stay in London, Viren throws her mother’s photograph at her and immediately announces his plans to marry a long-time associate. A heart-broken Pooja returns to India and announces her own marriage plans. Then, when love seems to be losing out a second time, Viren turns up, to discover the truth.
Chopra had conceived the film with Amitabh and Rekha. But during Silsila Chopra’s relationship with his favourite star had soured somewhat, reportedly over the deletion of a song from the film. It took them almost two decades to sort out their differences (With Mohabbatein directed by Chopra’s son Aditya, Amitabh returned to the Yashraj banner). So when Chopra got cracking on Lamhe sometime in the mid-’80s, it was Vinod Khanna he turned to rather than the Bachchan with the role of Viren.
“I thought I’d make the film with Vinod and a new girl but only after I’d had a big hit,” he decided. Searching for that big hit he started Chandni with Vinod, Rishi Kapoor and Sridevi. During the making of Chandni, Lamhe took another dramatic turn.
One day while sitting with Sridevi, Chopra started idly outlining the story of Lamhe to her. By the time he had finished the actress was mesmerised. Her eyes sparkling with excitement, she told Chopra with rare aggressiveness, “No matter what happens I want to be in the film.” She assured Chopra that she would be able to fit Lamhe into her busy schedule and even offered to give him bulk dates so he could complete the film in two schedules.
Lamhe was. Or who they had been written for. But when Yashji narrated the story to me on the sets of Chandni, I was so fascinated by the characters of Pallavi and Pooja, that I knew I’d love to play them,” she admitted later. “The challenge lay in bringing out the contrast between mother and daughter who look exactly alike. The flamboyance and fun-loving nature of the younger woman would not be difficult to project, I knew, because I had done such roles earlier even though this one was slightly different. The older woman’s role required more restraint.”
Her excitement and instinctive understanding of both women encouraged Chopra. He decided that whenever he made Lamhe it would be with Sridevi.
Soon after, when he was still busy with Chandni, Honey Irani came to Chopra with a script she had written. Chopra didn’t much care for this story. He offered her an idea of his own...the plot-outline of Lamhe and told her to develop it. She did. Chopra really loved the script she came up with. He promised her that he’d make the film, just as soon as he got himself a hit.
Chandni stormed the box-office and restored Chopra’s dented confidence. He was flying high and realised that this was the best time to relive a dream. “I knew that if I didn’t make Lamhe then I would never make it,” he said.
It was easy to fit Sridevi into the picture but not Vinod Khanna. Honey had started Viren’s love story with him as a 20-year-old romantic. There was no way that Khanna could ever be made to look like a boy who had just stepped out of his teens. For a while Chopra toyed with the idea of casting a new boy in the role. Many young aspirants were screen-tested. Deepak Malhotra, the fresh-faced Vimal model, was almost finalised when Anil Kapoor sent a bunch of photographs to Honey.
Anil who had worked with Chopra earlier in Mashaal and Vijay, had heard that the producer-director had started work on a new project and was testing newcomers for it. He had an instinctive feeling that something brilliant was happening. He had some photographs clicked and sent them to Honey with the message, “Here’s a newcomer who wants to do the film.” Honey took the photographs across to Chopra who invited Anil over for a meeting and a story narration after which the actor assured him, like Sridevi had done earlier, that he’d do anything for the role.
tapori with his trademark moustache had begun to bore me,” Anil mused later, reflecting on his state of mind at the time.
That was the time he heard Lamhe and decided this was the role he wanted to experiment with. Even when Chopra threw him a challenge, “Will you shave off your moustache?” Anil didn't change his mind. He accepted the dare and reached for the razor knowing that this one time he could afford to play with his look without inconveniencing his other producers and projects.
|Sridevi and Anil Kapoor in LAMHE|
Anil was ecstatic to bag the role that he was confident would reflect his “inner transformation” and decide his next move even though Chopra told him in no uncertain terms that he didn’t want him to prepare for it. No homework was required from the meticulous actor this time. His director wanted his scenes to appear spontaneous, not look rehearsed. Anil was ready to agree to anything!
Deepak Malhotra was disappointed to lose out on the opportunity-of-a-lifetime. He ended up with just a couple of scenes. He was the man Pallavi loves and marries. No one can quite recall his name. It was an unmemorable debut. As soon as Deepak opened his mouth he was greeted with a hoot of laughter. The charisma he’d built up for years disappeared in a flash. After Lamhe the model boy migrated to the States to build up a new business and was rarely seen this side of the ocean.
Deepak didn’t even have the satisfaction of serenading the Queen Bee with a song as is mandatory of a Hindi film hero even though a song had been picturised on him and Sridevi. In fact, this song, ‘Yaad nahin bhool gaya...’ was shot in Kathmandu where Sridevi was based for Mukul Anand’s Khuda Gawah. Before the film’s release Chopra had asserted that the song was integral to the story because without it “Deepak’s role might look ill-balanced”. It was played on radio and TV often enough to catch the fancy of the masses, but never made it to the final print. Deepak’s role did look “ill-balanced”. It was little more than a guest appearance.
Anupam Kher was penciled in as Anil’s nutty dost Prem. An Indian girl settled in London, Dippy Sagar was persuaded to play Viren’s friend-turned-fiance. And Waheeda Rehman was coaxed out of retirement for the role of the daai ma. Lamhe was ready to roll... much against the wishes of Chopra’s unit.
When the film-maker sought the feedback of his team during the scripting stage to his daring love story, he was inundated with negative reactions and innumerable suggestions. Chopra refused to make any changes, any compromises. “I have always believed that direction is a dictatorial job,” he pointed out. “If I take suggestions from everybody and make changes in the story, the film will not reflect me in totality. Many people told me that I should change the last scene but I made the film for that last scene.”
The entire film was completed in just two schedules. One in Rajasthan, and the other in the suburbs of London. Incidentally, Lamhe was the first Hindi film, a major portion of which was shot in London. Before the film went on the floors, Chopra was driving around London in a friend’s car scouting for locations. He chanced upon a huge, picturesque house with 16 rooms. The place was Sandy Way and was 350 miles from London. As soon as he saw it Chopra decided that this was where Lamhe would be shot and moved into the house with his entire unit.
Living under one roof fostered a feeling of togetherness and camaraderie. After the shooting was over Anupam Kher told everyone that Lamhe had been like a picnic. His co-star, Sridevi agreeed with him asserting that she had enjoyed every scene, every moment during the making of the film.
Of course, the idyllic had been rudely interrupted by the news of the sudden demise of her father. It was a terrible blow for Sridevi who had been very close to her father. For a while Chopra had toyed with the idea of flying his whole unit back to India and returning later to complete the unfinished scenes. But the expenses would have mounted and the budget would have gone haywire. It was Sridevi who insisted that they stay put in London. She’d fly down to India and return as soon as possible.
Having reassured her new-found family, Sridevi took the next flight to Chennai and was shocked to see the state her mother was in. It was a traumatic couple of weeks for Sridevi but she coped. And on the eighteenth day, after all the rituals were over, she dashed back to England along with Anil Kapoor where the Lamhe unit was waiting for them.
|Sridevi on the sets of Lamhe|
The first scene Sridevi was given after her return was a comic scene with Waheeda Rehman who had been waiting 18 days for her and was impatient to get back to her family. Chopra was apologetic. Sridevi told him not to worry Once she was in front of the camera she forget everything. “I think the scene was almost flawless,” she recalled later.
One of the highlights of he film was a song-and-dance act in the film performed by Sridevi and Anupam Kher who parody chart-topping numbers from Hindi films down the decades in an effort to coax a smile out of Anil who is in a black mood following an outing. It ended with Waheeda Rehman swinging to the tune of her unforgettable Guide number, ‘Aaj phir jeene ki tamanna hai’ and getting Anil to finally smile. When Chopra had first broached the subject of the parody with Waheedaji she was very reluctant, pointing out to him that after a quarter of a century she was hardly in the form to match steps with Sridevi even if the number was one she’d performed with such grace earlier.
However, her pleas went unheard. When Waheedaji discovered that her choreographer was going to be Saroj Khan who had been assisting dance director Sohanlal and Heeralal during Guide, she began to breathe again, especially when Saroj assured her that unlike the previous occasion, she wasn’t going to require many rehearsals this time. The veteran actress wouldn’t believe her. But when it was time to can the shot she sailed through it with such effortless ease that at the end of it it wasn’t just a surprised and delighted Anil who was smiling, but hundreds of film-buffs too who had packed the cinema halls across the country. Waheedaji’s performance in the film even fetched her a compliment from across the border. Pakistani cricketer Imran Khan saw the film and raved, “I still feel her to be the most beautiful woman I ever saw.”
Though the parody was one of the highlights of the film, Lamhe had its own hummable numbers set to music by the duo of Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma, the noted santoor player, and his partner, world-renowned flutist Hari Prasad Chaurasia. Shiv-Hari had composed the music for Chopra’s Silsila and Chandni too, so it was no surprise when the film-maker returned to them for his most daring dream. The music directors were very excited by the unconventional plot and a film that had very well defined characters and locations. The first half was shot mostly in Rajasthan and one of the most memorable moments was the song ‘Morni baagama bole aadhi raat re...’. This was one of the rare instances when Viren gets to take out Pallavi. She hears a folk singer singing in the desert sands and joins in. “We took an original Rajasthani melody and added our own expressions and orchestration to it to come up with this song which introduced Ila Arun to Hindi playback singing,” informs Pandit Shiv Prasad Sharma. He goes on to add that the whole background score in that half also saw them experimenting with other folk based elements and melodies from the region along with classical ragas. “We even had a beautiful number picturised in one of the temples.”
The mood and the music changed dramatically post interval when the scene shifted to London. “In the dream song, ‘Kabhi main kahoon...’ the orchestra treatment of the interlude was like a symphony,” Pandit Sharma explains. “Lamhe gave us the chance to play around with the different colours of music.”
Sridevi undoubtedly made each melody composed by Shiv-Hari magical with her wide-eyed innocence and dreamy sensuousness. Her efforts flooded Sridevi with compliments and fetched her the Filmfare Award for Best Actress too.
“She’s the most brilliant actress we have. It’s a combination of being a fantastic dancer and a wonderful actress, her fine sense of comedy, the personality she projects on screen and the sensuousness she exudes. She’s a delight to work with because she adds that extra something to every scene. It’s more than what comes from mere talent,” Chopra asserted.
Even Sridevi admitted that her performance in Lamhe was far better than that in Chandni even though the latter was more commercially successful. When asked to choose between the role of mother and daughter, the star agreed that she was more comfortable playing the younger, lovelorn Pooja who was definitely closer to the real Sri and so easier to empathise with. “But now don’t ask me if I have ever been in love with an older man because the answer will be ‘No, never!’” she giggled.
Sridevi has two favourite moments in the film. The scene where Viren cruelly dashes Pooja’s dreams by telling her that he’s not in love with her but her dead mother. And another when soon after this confession an emotionally shattered Pooja drives away from Viren’s London home to return to India, older, wiser and sadder.
If the film didn't succeed at the box-office then the awards and the critical appreciation she got for her performance more than compensated for the disappointment, at least for Sridevi. “I act because I want to and leave the rest to the audience,” she’s say whenever she was quizzed about Lamhe’s box-office fate.
However, Yash Chopra has yet to recover from the unexpected debacle of his film and the fact that it was viewed by a majority of Indians as “morally outrageous”. Even one of his more mature colleagues, film- maker Saawan Kumar, insisted that the relationship between Viren and Pooja was almost incestuous because they were like father and daughter. Chopra disagreed. So did scriptwriter, Honey Irani.
“Nowhere is it hinted that Anil has fatherly feelings for the younger Sri,” she argued. “It is said that the film flopped because people couldn't accept the ending. However, I don’t think I’d have wanted it any different. While making the film we were aware that things could be misinterpreted but we were willing to take the risk. And I’ll take it again, if somebody wants me to.”
Chopra was more scathing in his attack. “Way back in the ’70s, people accepted Daag where a man takes on two wives. In the ’90s they rejected a young girl’s love for her guardian. We certainly are hypocritical in admitting human realities,” he pointed out angrily.
The only reassurance for Chopra was that the film when dubbed in English and released abroad was a big hit. “And it wasn't the foreigners who were crowding the theatres to see the film, but Indians settled abroad,” he informed his critics back home. Lamhe in fact, was one of the early Hindi films to really appeal to an NRI audience. Suddenly, producers and distributors began to realise the potential of the overseas market that hereto had largely remained untapped. Even the music became a rage. Pandit Sharma insists that even today NRIs abroad are constantly picking up DVDs of Silsila, Chandni and Lamhe. “They’re still among the most popular films abroad and their music is still much appreciated,” he beams.
Interestingly, the film was adjudged the Best Film of 1991 by the Filmfare awards jury. Chopra and Sridevi weren't the only ones on the Filmfare honours list. Anupam Kher also won the award for Best Comedian, Honey Irani for Best Story and Dr Rahi Masoom Reza for Best Dialogue. Chopra who couldn’t make it to the awards function because he was stuck on the sets of Parampara later said, “Lamhe was made straight from the heart and deserved all the five awards it got. Every department, every artiste excelled. We took great care to make the film different. No scene had a deja vu quality about it. It’s strange and sad, but I’ve never heard so much praise for any of my earlier films as I have for Lamhe. I’m still confused about why it didn't work. Perhaps the audience couldn't accept the last scene, it’s all in the game. It’s the unpredictability that makes films and film-making so exciting.”
The other award winner, Anupam Kher was brimming over with ecstasy. This was his fifth Filmfare Award in a row. He’d won the trophy every year since he entered the industry except in ’86 and ’87 when the Hindi film awards were not announced. If there was anything that marred the joy of the moment it was that he’d got the award for Best Comedian instead of Best Supporting Actor. “If I was the best comedian then Sadashiv Amrapurkar should have been best actress instead of best villain,” he retorted tongue-in-cheek.
|Sridevi with Anupam Kher in Lamhe|
Perhaps the jury’s decision was influenced by the parody sequence and that hilarious scene in the London department store where a lady watching Prem’s antics asks, “Is he a retarded child?” Kher admitted that there was a lot of him in Prem. “I used no get-up. I was just my natural self. Working with Sridevi was also great fun. She’s a great sport and loves to go berserk. Anil’s restrained performance was a perfect foil to our giddy-headedness. I consider the role to be one of the three landmark performances of my career. Though the film didn't do well, Lamhe will go down in history. Like Kagaz Ke Phool,” he asserted forcefully.
The award came too late for Dr Rahi Masoom Reza. Just months before, the veteran writer had moved on to another world and the trophy was collected on his behalf by his son, cinematographer, Nadeem Khan. Khan informed that his father who had always been a rebel, a man with unconventional ideas and outlook, was very excited when he read the story of Lamhe. He was convinced it could turn out to be the greatest film to hit the Indian screen... or it could crash. The latter happened. However, Khan insists that his father was more than satisfied with his work in the film. “He said they were the best lines he had written in a career spanning 25 years. He even said that he deserved the Filmfare Award for his dialogue in the film. But when the film flopped, he didn't think he’d get it,” Khan recalled, when he walked up on stage to receive the award on his father’s behalf.
Khan insisted that Dr Reza should have been there to accept his award. “He’d have been so proud winning the trophy. It wouldn't have been like what he felt when he got it for Tawaif. He wasn’t impressed with his work in that film.”
After the awards function, Nadeem Khan drove straight to his father’s house. It was empty. His father was gone. With a heavy heart Khan walked into his father’s room and placed the trophy there. “I spoke to him. I didn’t see him but I know he heard me. He must have for this time the occasion was special,” Khan recalled emotionally, a week or two later.
The one who missed out on an award was Anil Kapoor. The Filmfare Best Actor award went to Amitabh Bachchan for Hum. That year the competition had been really tough. Aamir Khan had been in contention for his frothy act in Dil Hai Ke Manta Nahin, Dilip Kumar for his intense portrayal in Saudagar, Sanjay Dutt for the crippled poet of Saajan and Anil for his off-beat Lamhe. For Anil losing out even to a worthy rival like the Bachchan must have been a double disappointment because the film hadn't worked at the box-office too.
Anil however insists that the film’s inability to pull in the crowds didn't demoralise him because he knew that the film was far ahead of its time. “I was prepared for the fact that it might not be accepted but I was confident that 10-20 years down the line, people would see the film and like it,” he pointed out.
Like Chopra, Anil maintains that he has yet to come across anyone who hasn’t liked the film. The film did well in the big towns and cities and was a blockbuster overseas. Where it took a blow was in the smaller places where people found it difficult to reconcile to the ending. “We never thought that people would see a father-daughter relationship in it all. Just because I helped bring Pooja up, she didn't become my daughter!” Anil questions incredulously.
Today Anil rates Lamhe as one of the finest films of my career. “My foundation as an actor was laid with 1942 — A Love Story (’94) and Lamhe, films in which I didn’t project myself as Anil Kapoor the star, but which tried to be true to the character,” he explains. “Lamhe set the base for Virasat. It prepared the audience for a different me. And when Virasat came along, they were ready. I was accepted.”
Anil was also reassured by the kind of appreciation he got for his performance in the film. “ A box-office high is easy, it can happen to anyone,” he pointed out to anyone who asked him about the film’s debacle. “But isn't it something that Dilip Kumar has gone on record about my performance in a Sunday paper?” Touche.
From Screen India.