Review by Ankur Sardana
“there are films which reach to 1 million viewers over a weekend and then there are films which reach to 1 million viewers over 10 years… Sukhdev’s films were the second kind.  Transcendental.” – Ashish Avikunthak (in The Last Adieu)
Author Jag Mohan did a great service to Indian Film lovers through this book. He chronicled a forgotten cult & its hero. A cult of Short Documentary film makers, which should have been studied more, talked-about more and learnt-from more. It describes Sukhdev – the friend, the troubled thinker & the film maker. It also describes the leaders of the documentary movement during the 60s – early 70s & has articles of historic & literary value.
Sukhdev and his films
The inception of cults starts with mystery, a mystery to which one can finally relate to. But it culminates into a lifelong submission only when the cult is able to inspire, draw passion & is able to motivate.
So until one really watches the documentaries of Sukhdev, one would not become a true bhakt. Thanks to Film Division & Youtube, here we go :
My favourite is “Miles To Go” [Especially the first half]
An (angry) article by Sukhdev from the book about sycophant film makers. (Click to enlarge)
Another gem is his film on Jawahar Lal Nehru. How he brings to life a museum visit is just remarkable. “Thoughts in a museum”
We are told that he associated closely with the 20 point agenda of Indira Gandhi & lost a lot of friends because of that, but that doesn’t take away the fact that “After the silence” is shot brilliantly and boldly.
And here’s the second most popular of all his films – “India 67”. It’s a pity that the sound track is missing on Youtube (below). I remember watching it a couple of years ago with sound and it’s viewing is like a journey – #At Start : This man has balls. He is doing what he wants #At Middle : What a shot ! What a shot !! #At the End : B****C**D
And here’s his most popular film – “Nine Months to Freedom“. Much celebrated and written about [Surprise Package : Mother Teresa speaking]
Below is Sukhdev talking about the difference in Personal Cinema and Socially Relevant Cinema. (Click to enlarge)
One should intentionally ignore Sukhdev’s Bollywood forays, for those were not what define his work.
Sukhdev’s fellow superstars
Voice of God
Most of the narration in his movies was by Zul Vellani (except maybe After the Silence). This voice was the voice of that era, the voice of God.
Zul (on stage below) needs a book on himself as well..he is remembered well in this article.
Immediately after watching Khilonewala by Sukhdev, I googled for the actor & discovered Irshad Panjatan. His lecture below is 24 carat gold lesson in expressions and mime.
His act for Pramod Pati (below).
Other than the above mentioned artists, there were many others artist friends in Sukhdev’s film of life, who are present in the book – Pratap (Partap) Sharma, K.A. Abbas, Kaifi Azmi and more.
The volatile trio, quartet, quintet
Jag Mohan (in the book) talks about the contributions of great film makers like K.S. Chari, N.V.K. Murthy & S.N.S. Sastry. Out of the trio I must say that Sastry’s (Shastry) work seems to be quite definitive.
Now, this movie (below) from Sastry is about research facilities for foreign students coming to India ! Have a look and be surprised – “This bit of that India“. This is exquisite stuff. 3-4 layers of narratives, experiments & all that in a film could have been extremely boring.
Sastry made another movie “Flashback”, which is like a summary of the movement that these guys belonged to. It also has a fiery Sukhdev at 8:11 minutes & more again towards the end.
“I am 20” is a bit long (considering the short film format) though quite interesting.I wonder if Film Division would sponsor a project to find these people in 2017 and make another short film on them.
Here’s K.S. Chari’s “Face to Face”
I’m not sure why Pramod Pati is not mentioned in the book (maybe at one place), since he is the uncle of experimental films as well. His film “Abid” (below) is a master stop-motion work. His “Claxplosion” and “Explorer” are again B****C**D stuff ! Some more on on Pramod Pati here on ‘the seventh art’.
The book includes (below) an ode from K.A. Abbas to the fraternity which is prone to excesses. Vulnerable artists who didn’t take care of themselves.
Remembering the era of the cult
While googling on these superstars of that irreverent era, I stumbled across the website of Peter Sutoris, who has chronicled it all in his book “Visions of Development“. He has assembled all the films of the era talked in Jag Mohan’s book on his website as well. The book can be bought from amazon.
There is a (not so impressive) movie from Gulzar as a tribute to Sukhdev
The last adieu – Sukhdev, Kanta & Shabnam
[Sukhdev passed away in 1979 at the age of 46 when Shabnam was only 14. “I was angry with him for dying early and without giving me a chance to know him as I couldn’t spend time with him when he was alive. I knew it was time to confront my ghosts—and above all, make peace with Sukhdev—my father.”] – Full Article
I have seen this documentary twice. Once before watching Sukhdev’s films & reading this book & once after that. Although the appreciation of Sukhdev’s work was paramount in the first instance as well, there was an anger against him as well. “Aise aadmi ko shaadi nahi karni chahiye na fir” – It’s as if Shabnam had to say this once in public. Shout out loud, take it out your system.
The second time I saw this movie (like Shabnam in here interview here), I, the viewer was more forgiving. One finally understood the madness of Sukhdev. And if a lay viewer can feel this way, I guess Shabnam would definitely be at so much peace. It also proves that she has been extremely successful & effective as a film maker.
This is one of the most personal, emotional & relevant films that I have every watched. Any further explanation would demean the experience which would be a highly personalised one.
Here’s what Sukhdev wrote about Post Mortem (Film Criticism)
Watch it here.
And savor the interviews of greats like Zul Vellani, Shyam Benegal, Pratap (Partap) Sharma, Irshad Panjatan, Shashi Kapoor, P.K. Nair, Dileep Padgaonkar, Jatin Das and so many more.
There are discussions in FD Zone on the movie (below)
and here’s my favourite NMK (Nasreen Munni Kabir) putting up a question as well.
An article from Mayank Shekhar in Open Magazine about the movie and Sukhdev.
[ Since there is lot of footage of The Last Adieu, that she couldn’t use, Shabnam is planning to sum everything in a book for which is looking for a publisher. “I can therefore take more interviews as there are many people who I have missed. I’ll write as in when I find time. If I find a publisher, then I’ll really push myself to it.”]
Publishers, please do Indian Film Lovers a favour.