Mainstream Bollywood directors from the last century who have faded into oblivion or still remain active in film-making

By Devraj Singh Kalsi

The commercial reception of a film is a significant indicator for its director to decide whether he should take the plunge with his next film, go on a sabbatical, or let his last outing be recorded as his swan song. Sometimes the failure of a film overwhelms him with a missionary zeal to prove he can still deliver a blockbuster. Sometimes he takes the verdict a tad too seriously and decides to call it quits. This is a harsh way to judge oneself because it is never easy to gauge what the audiences want to be portrayed in films.

Vanishing from the scene disappoints film buffs who do not expect a promising director to pack his bags and leave forever. Ideally speaking, he is expected to make the necessary amends in his next offering instead of disappearing from the sets like a coward who could not face rejection. While it is true that producers become skeptical of having such directors on board, these days it is not impossible for a good director to get a leading producer to trust his vision once again. He does get a chance to be judged on his entire body of work and not on his last film that tanked at the box office.

Film directors who delivered smashing hits in the 90s were supposed to remain behind the camera for another two decades at least. But we witnessed the disappearance of successful directors as the new generation with a different taste arrived on the scene. Gradual fade-out appeared to be the most legitimate denouement of this transition. Film director JP Dutta, who gave blockbuster hits like Border and a slew of well-crafted movies such as Yateem, Batwara, Ghulami, and Refugee, failed to create magic with LOC Kargil and Umrao Jaan. He returned after a long hiatus of more than a decade with another war-action thriller, Paltan in 2018. Unfortunately, the fate of the film did not herald a second successful stint. But he deserves kudos for not hanging his directorial boots yet.

Talking about oblivion, the most striking example that comes to mind is Mansoor Khan. Recognised as a creative force to reckon with, it took just two consecutive duds for him to say goodbye to film-making. With Akele Hum Akele Tum and Josh failing to rouse the crowds like Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar and Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak did, Mansoor Khan called it quits. A director with just a decade of film-making experience – largely based on Hollywood remakes – should have given himself more time instead of concluding that his best phase was over. Although he returned as a producer in 2008, film lovers regret the early retirement of Mansoor Khan as a filmmaker.

Director Aziz Mirza gave us cool hits like Shahrukh-starrer Raju Ban Gaya Gentleman and Yes Boss in the 90s. Earlier, he directed popular TV serials such as Nukkad and Circus in the late 80s. With Chalte Chalte, Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani, and Kismat Connection not generating buzz at the box office, he took a sabbatical that has been stretched for more than a decade now.

Muzzaffar Ali gave us significant films such as Gaman and Rekha-starrer Umrao Jaan. He made grand announcements of mounting Zooni but the project was shelved. When he finally returned with Awadh-based period drama, Jaanisar in 2015, he failed to recreate the erstwhile magic and fell short of expectations. His son, Shaad Ali, also a filmmaker, gave a resounding hit in 2002 with Saathiya starring Vivek Oberoi and Rani Mukherji. He showed promise with Bunty Aur Babli but his subsequent ventures like Jhoom Barabar Jhoom were damp squib. Kill Dil, Soorma, Ok Jaanu have not fetched the same kind of reception, but he is still trying to reinvent himself to connect with the young audiences. With age on his side, he should be back in the saddle.

Another name that comes to mind is that of Rahul Rawail who arrived with Love Story in 1981 and followed the trajectory of success with Betaab and Arjun. He kept making films throughout the 90s with mixed box-office responses. His films such as Jo Bole So Nihaal in 2005 and Buddha Mar Gaya in 2007 received a lukewarm response, prompting him to read the writing on the wall. In his long eventful career, he launched many new faces who become stars later – including Kajol in Bekhudi.

Dharmesh Darshan arrived with awesome hits. Raja Hindustani and Dhadkan scripted new history and raised expectations from the sensational director who, unfortunately, slumped with Mela and Bewafa soon, unable to stave off the downward spiral that culminated in Aap Ki Khatir in 2006. The impact of public rejection on the psyche of the director is often devastating. His hibernation phase has been going on for more than a decade now, raising grave doubts of a comeback in the future. Something similar happened with Lawrence DeSouza who churned out hits like Saajan and Dil Kya Kasoor and then floundered with disasters like Sanam Teri Kasam, Dil Tera Deewana, and Indian Babu in 2003.

A meteoric rise and then a nosedive is what defines John Matthew Matthan who got noticed for the taut film, Sarfarosh but could not reach the zenith with Shikhar in 2005. A New Love Ishtory in 2013 did not reverse his fortunes either and since then he is missing from the scene.

Raj Kumar Santoshi began his roller-coaster success with Ghayal in 1990 and kept going strong with different kinds of films such as Damini, Andaz Apna Apna, Lajja, Pukar, Halla Bol, Khakee, Ajab Prem Ki Gazab Kahani but Phata Poster Nikla Hero in 2013 put brakes on his juggernaut. Fortunately, he has overcome the drubbing and is back with Bad Boy slated for release this year. Mention must be made in the same vein of Indra Kumar who began his successful sojourn with Dil in 1990 and then topped it with bumper hits like Raja, Beta, Ishq, Masti, and many more. His other notable sequels like Total Dhamaal in 2019 and upcoming Full-on Dhamaal suggest he knows how to deliver wacky entertainers even today.

Not many know that Prakash Jha arrived as a director in 1984 with Hip Hip Hurray starring Raj Kiran. He continues his smooth journey with Aashram in 2020, giving us memorable hits like Rajneeti, Gangajal, Mrityudand during the long career spanning four decades. Applying the same parameters to assess tenacity to carry on despite box office turkeys, one must include the showman Subhash Ghai who began in 1976 with Kaalicharan and remains active behind the lens – giving us Kaanchi in 2014 with new actors in the lead. He deserves accolades for his passion for film-making just like Ram Gopal Verma who carved a niche for himself with Company, Rangeela, Satya, and Daud and continues his cinematic journey in 2021 despite croppers, exploring new genres and trying out remakes to prove he is not a burnout case yet.

Abbas-Mastan, who began in 1992 with Khiladi and delivered Baazigar in 1993, have continued making action thrillers and their romantic flick starring TV anchor Kapil Sharma in 2017 was a fiasco. They have not retired and are scheduled to return with Penthouse soon. Such boldness to rise again is what makes filmmakers stand out for their spirit of conviction.

Rajiv Rai gave Tridev, Vishwatma, Gupt, and Mohra in the 90s. He had to flee India because of threats to his life. When Rajiv returned some years later, he made Pyar Ishq Aur Mohabbat and Asambhav, but these films did not click. He has been inactive since 2004. A slick filmmaker of his stature appears out of sync today.

Also worth noting is the case of Shimit Amin who gave Ab Tak Chappan in 2004, and then returned with Chak De! India in 2007. Rocket Singh in 2009 further solidified his credentials as a filmmaker of repute. He worked as a consultant for Shudh Desi Romance and has returned as an episode director with A Suitable Boy in 2020. His appears to be the case of attraction for international film-making – quite like what happened in the case of Shekhar Kapur who established his versatility with Masoom, Mr. India, and Bandit Queen before making Elizabeth abroad. While Bollywood did not find him active for so many years, one hopes his career pans out in the international arena as we saw it happening in the case of Ritesh Batra after The Lunchbox.

About Author 

Devraj Singh Kalsi works as a senior copywriter in Kolkata. He writes a monthly column in published in Singapore. His articles, stories, and essays have been published in The Bombay Review, Café Dissensus, Kitaab, Deccan Herald, The Statesman, and The Assam Tribune. His first novel, Pal Motors was published in 2018.

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