Pramod Chakravorty – Chak de Chakki
Chakki was at the wrong end of the noose. Plan A had self aborted; plan B was never commissioned. Earlier, success was an option; now it was the only verity. Bombay’s boulevards were not lined with gold in recently independent India and the film industry’s memory extended only till your last failure.Like one of his films, Chakki sat there and time traveled in a flashback from where it all started.
After the mandatory struggle on the city’s sordid streets, he found the silver lining by assisting director Raj Khosla in Milap and CID. Assuming three years training was enough to crack the “hit” code, he was ready to wield the megaphone. Being married to Guru Dutt’s sister-in-law had its perks; he was backed to direct a murder mystery, “12 o’clock” in 1958. The first lesson was learnt the brutal way (as if there is any other); hard work is sometimes inversely proportionate to expected success. His first film child was stillborn.
Failure has a loyal entourage and they stick together; disbelief, doubt, depression. Catastrophe, however, is being consistent with it. Chakki was fast becoming the go to guy on “how to fail at film directing.” In five years, he delivered three flops and got relieved from two projects midway; their excuse was his ineptitude to direct. One of them became his moniker, the “Gangu Dada” director (a miserable film with Sheikh Mukhtar). By all appearances, Chakki had overstayed his welcome.
But before corporations took over, Indian cinema was built by brave-heart entrepreneurs – advocates of guts and glory. Immense personal sacrifice by families at the cost of assumed eternity in public memory. It took a century of inviting trouble, relishing risk and challenging life to take this brand, Bollywood, worldwide.
Chakki was down and defeated. Cornered by circumstance, he knew the time had come to put his money where his mouth was. It was all or nothing. Like the founder of the industry, Phalke before him, he put his family fortune on the guillotine. The last ounce of jewelry was mortgaged. Austerity measures were put in place. And in a time when 20 lacs were required to complete a film, he raised a princely sum of thirty thousand rupees.
This being the last of treasure god Kuber’s largess Chakki, like Joseph Campbell’s Hero, had to find a mentor to complete his journey. He sought the man called “the hit script maker.”
Chakki’s torrential woes were laid on the one they called Sachinda, “Joy is on a roll – Ek Musafir Ek Hasina, Phir Wohi Dil Laya Hun – he turns dust to gold while I convert gold to garbage. I pleaded with his father to do my film. He has agreed to back me with two conditions.”
Still silent, Sachin’s darting eyes froze. He was making mental notes. “First is a great script with only Asha Parekh or Sadhana as co-stars.” That would be tough.
“And second, in this film he wants Joy to be like Marlon Brando.” Talk of miracles.
Chakki stood up and walked to the window. His voice was almost inaudible in the breeze that was picking up, “I have lost everything. Whatever is left I am willing to put on the line. I came here with nothing and will leave the same way; but as God is my witness, this film WILL be made; even if I have to sell myself.”
Sharp as he was, the analogy did not escape Sachinda. India’s first film “Raja Harishchandra” was about a man who sold himself and his family to keep his word and as did the maker of the film, Dada Phalke. His heart went out to Chakki.
“Let’s get to it then,” Sachin finally said as they hugged. Next day began with a spoke in the wheel; an outright refusal by Sadhana to work with the director of “Gangu Dada”.
“Don’t worry,” Sachin assured him, “I wrote ‘Chhaya’ for Asha and we have a good rapport. We shall get a yes from her.” Chakki labored a smile; if only it were that easy.
“I have struggled in B movies with side roles for four years. Now that I have signed with big banners and am getting seventy-five thousand per film, you want me to gamble it all away with a jinxed director. No way,” Asha had spoken.
Chakki crestfallen, looked at Sachin who said, “Asha, at least hear the story.” Asha did namaste and walked away.
Clutching at straws, Chakki hit inspiration. “Let’s talk to her mother. She calls the shots anyways.”
The mother was more forthcoming. “I’ll ask her to listen to the story. If she likes it I’ll talk to her otherwise..,” she trailed off “Meet her tomorrow at lunch time in Prakash Studio.”
Through the ebb and flow of his destiny, Chakki’s resolve was getting stronger. He also knew that one bad omen could upset the apple cart. For him, it was do or die. His epitaph could be one of thousands that were void of words or one of a handful saying “Visionary, Entrepreneur, Independent Film Producer.”
“Tell me you have a script which she will say yes to and save me?” Chakki asked Sachin before he was leaving to meet Asha.
“I don’t but the bard does. He knows best.”
The narration went well. It would have been quicker if Asha had heard of “The Taming of the Shrew.” Yet, the trial by fire was not over. “I’ll charge double to do it. My career could well end after this.” Her tone had finality.
On hearing of this, Chakki, still holding back his steely tear ducts rushed to meet the mother. As the deluge breached human dignity and his tears flowed for first time in years, he negotiated fee of Rs. One lac and promised to pay the rest if the film celebrated a jubilee. The mother, distraught at his condition, agreed.
Sachin Bhowmick wrote a crackling script and Chakki called all his skills to the battle field. The film “Ziddi” became the fourth highest grosser of 1964. Pramod Chakravorthy named his production house “Pramod Films” and went on to give hits like Love in Tokyo, Jugnu, Dream Girl and Azaad for next three decades and introduced today’s superstar Akshay Kumar in Deedar.
Chakki’s story is one of someone who came to a strange city with no support or resources, directionless and yet gained immortality by becoming a director. Sar par kafan baandh ke, these are the men who carved the edifice of Bombay’s dream factory.
Pramod Chakravorty died this day, 12 December in 2004 after having lived his dream.