Tribute


 


“Always on our Minds – Forever in our Hearts”

 

 TRIBUTE TO K.AMARNATH

Indian Film Producer/Director

 

Honouring our dad on his 30th Death Anniversary 

 

 A Tribute to his Lifetime Achievements in the Indian Film Industry

 

K. Amarnath was born Amarnath Gelaram Khetarpal on the 1st of December, 1914 in Mianwali, Punjab, British India (now in Pakistan).  He spent his childhood in Mianwali and college years in Lahore.


We remember him telling us stories about how he happened to enter the film industry. His fascination and love for movies started when he was a young boy in school. At night, after dinner, knowing that his family was fast asleep, he would climb down the first-floor balcony and quickly make his way to a theatre nearby to watch one of the latest Hollywood movies being screened there. The next day, his classmates would gather around him as he would narrate the story and re-enact the scenes from the movie he had seen the night before. He would describe the scenes in such vivid detail and would so accurately imitate the Hollywood actors that his friends would feel as though they too were watching the movie in the theatre with him!! It was sheer entertainment for them. And so, his friends fondly nicknamed him, “Matinée Show”.


He was very strongly influenced and passionately inspired by Hollywood movies made in the 1920s & 1930s
starring great actors such as Wallace Beery, Douglas Fairbanks, Ronald Colman, Paul Muni, Rudolph Valentino, Spencer Tracy & Clark Gable.


K. Amarnath had a dream. All he needed was some encouragement which came from one of his teachers named Parmatma Singh. The teacher, who also knew about my dad’s passion for acting, told the class one day that if they aspired for bigger things and desired to make a difference in their lives, they would have to explore and venture into the world outside their small town. Apparently, our dad took him very seriously. So, in 1932, at a young age of 17, with only 75 rupees in his pocket, a collection made by his close friends and with a warm send-off from them – garlands and all, he took the train from Mianwali to Calcutta – the hub of the Indian Movie Centre in the early 1930s.


After struggling for nearly a year in Calcutta, in 1933 he decided to go to Bombay to try his luck.

Initially here too, things didn’t improve much – no major roles came his way.


But he lost neither his Passion nor his Patience.


My dad had originally come to the film industry to become an actor – with his distinguished personality, good looks & a towering height of over 6 feet, he would obviously have no problems – but fate had something else in store for him. While working as a junior artist at various studios, he realized that the people behind the camera were as important as the actors in front of it. He also realized that the director was more important than the actor – he saw that the director was in full control of the movie. Amarnath steadily acquired knowledge of the entire concept of movie making. As he gained confidence, instead of acting in movies, he decided to focus more on directing movies.


After assisting various directors such as B.R. Patel and Dhirubhai Desai, he got his first break in 1936 when Mr. Lakhia of Metro Movietone offered him the direction of his first movie, “Matwali Jogan” aka “A Girl from Lahore”.


The earliest write-up about my dad, thanks to the preservation of old records at the National Film Archive of India, Pune, can be found in the 1936 May issue of Filmindia – a note by the editor, Baburao Patel:
“The first picture is called “A Girl from Lahore”…….Young Amarnath, a new victim of the megaphone, is reported to have done his best to make the picture attractive from all sides. Well, success to you, Sonny.”


However, his major break came in 1937, when the founders of Mohan Studios, film distributors Ramniklal and his uncle Mohanlal Shah entrusted the direction of their very first enterprise “Danger Signal” to him.


During the era of the early-talkies, many Hindi movies also had alternate English titles – this was to make it easier for the Britishers and foreigners to identify, to watch and have a conversation about them.


The first 5 movies he directed for Mohan Studios were all in Tamil – one of the languages spoken in South India. At that time, in the 30’s, Tamil movies had been gaining a lot of recognition in India. In 1937 he directed 4 Tamil movies within a year. Two of them, “Minnalkodi” and “Veer Ramani” both of them starring K.T.Rukmini and B. Srinivasa Rao, became super hits. He became very well known and popular in South India. They felt a kindred spirit in him, as though he belonged to their own community and the Madras Film Industry endearingly & respectfully started calling him “Amarnathan” – ending his name with an extra “an” like most masculine south indian names.


The next 8 movies, he directed for Mohan Studios were in Hindi and were mostly action/stunt commercial movies made mainly for mass entertainment. Altogether, from 1937 to 1951, he directed 14 movies for Mohan Studios and its sister concern, Ramnik Productions.


Being an independent director, during the same time span, from 1937 to 1951, while he was directing movies for Mohan Studios, he also directed approximately 6 more movies for other banners.


In 1952 he created his own production company, “K.Amarnath Productions” and released his first movie “Alif Laila” in 1953. He produced 10 movies under his banner.


Being a producer/director gave him more scope to utilize his talents and knowledge in all aspects of movie-making. He got the opportunity to be involved in the entire pre-production, production and post-production aspect of the movie – right from choosing the actors, music directors, lyricists, selecting shooting locations, giving visual details for indoor sets, choosing different genre-appropriate costumes – to coaching the actors, working with the make-up artists & lighting technicians, listening to the musical compositions and finally overseeing the editing and distribution of the movie.

Being a producer-director, as he would say, had finally made him feel like the “captain of his own ship”!! 

From inception to completion it was “his” movie – he loved it and took “great pride” in his achievement.


K. Amarnath was a very versatile man, he not only produced and directed movies but also wrote the story and screenplay for over 17 of the movies he directed. Most of his heroes represented him – tall and strong, who had been wronged and fought for justice.

Over the years, he had his own tight-knit crew – right from actors to editors to music directors who worked with him in many of his movies. Some of these actors were Ajit, Jayant, Murad, Pran, Mukri, Sajjan, Kumkum, Helen, Pratima Devi and NoorJehan – and in the earlier years, Yakub, Gope, and Indurani.


Though he started his career directing Action/Stunt movies, he moved on to make Romantic movies blended with Social Drama.

Some other Genres of Movies he directed were:

Legendary Romantic Tragedies-Romeo & Juliet style:
“Mirza Sahiban” – 1947 and “Laila Majnu” – 1953

Semi-Musicals:
“Bazar”- 1949 and “Naya Andaz” – 1956 (which was a re-make of Bazar)

Magical/Fantasy – Arabian Nights-Aladdin style movie:
“Alif-Laila” – 1953

Costume-Dramas:
“Mehbooba” – 1954, “Bara-Dari” – 1955 and “Kabli Khan” – 1963

 

His early movies were mostly based in rural areas involving simple village folk whereas his later movies were shot in big cities like New Delhi, Bombay and Hyderabad. Through his various movies, which ranged from action/stunt thrillers to romantic/family drama, semi-musical, magical/fantasy to costume drama, he always subtly conveyed some meaningful life-lesson without being too preachy or didactic.


In the 1950’s and 1960’s, he became well-known as a “hit-maker” in the film industry. The Editor of a film trade magazine, “Mother India”, once mentioned that it was a foregone conclusion that every movie of K.Amarnath’s was guaranteed to be a box-office success and therefore it would be safer for distributors to invest in movies directed  by him than to invest in movies directed by many of his peers.


During the same time, he also became famous for being the “fastest director” in the Film Industry. “Laila Majnu” which was produced by P.N.Arora and directed by him in 1953, was completed in the shortest span of time. Right from selecting the actors, shooting the movie, composing & recording of the music to the post-production of the movie – editing, distribution & the release of the movie – everything was accomplished within two and a half months. All the crew members worked very hard, day & night. The result was astounding – the movie received high accolades from the press and songs from the movie, like “Chal diya Karavaan” and “Aasmaan wale Teri Duniya se Ji Ghabra Gaya” became super hits!

 

Some of the Trivia associated with him are as listed below:

Ajit – K. Amarnath suggested that he change his long name of “Hamid Ali Khan” to something short like “Ajit”. The first movie he starred in with his name changed to Ajit, was “Beqasoor” (1950).

Salim – (Salim Khan – of Salim/Javed fame) – My dad met Salim at a social function in Indore. He offered him the role of Ajit’s younger brother in his forthcoming movie “Baraat” (1960). This was Salim’s first movie.

Sanjay Khan’s first movie signed as a hero was “Woh Din Yaad Karo”. He was signed in January 1965 – but the shooting got delayed and the movie was released in 1971.

Minoo Mumtaz’s debut film was “Bara-Dari” (1955).

Helen got her first break as a main/solo dancer in “Alif-Laila” (1953).

NoorJehan’s last project in Bombay, before she moved to Pakistan to settle in Lahore, was “Mirza Sahiban” (1947).

Mohammed Rafi always “considered” his chorus singing with G.M.Durrani for the song “aji dil ho kaaboo mein to dildaar ki aisi taisi ” from “Gaon ki Gori” (1945), to be his first Hindi Film song.

Lata Mangeshkar had listed “Sajan ki Galiyan Chhod Chale” from “Bazar” (1949), as one of her ten best songs.

 

K. Amarnath had a keen ear for melodious music. From over 150 wonderful songs available online, below are some classic ever-green songs from movies produced/directed by him:

“Tasveer Banata Hoon” – Bara-Dari – 1955 – sung by Talat Mahmood

“Meri Neendon Mein Tum” – Naya Andaz – 1956 – sung by Kishore Kumar & Shamshad Begum

“Chori chori dil ka lagana” – Bada Bhai – 1957 – sung by Asha Bhosle & Talat Mahmood

“Muft Huye Badnaam” – Baraat – 1960 – sung by Mukesh

“Ankhiyan Sang Ankhiyaan Lagee Aaj” – Bada Admi – 1961 – sung by Mohammad Rafi

“Dil Bekarar Sa Hai” – Ishaara – 1964 – sung by both, Mohammad Rafi and Lata Mangeshkar

 


K. Amarnath was highly respected in the film industry. He was a religious, generous, family-oriented man with strong moral & ethical values. All these fine qualities were projected on the main characters and reflected in most of his movies. Some of his movies also conveyed his patriotic sentiments
 and many of them came under the umbrella of Nehruvian Socialism.


Just like in his younger days, our dad remained an ardent fan of English movies all his life. Every Saturday, the four of us would look forward to our family outing, “dinner & a movie”, with our parents. We never missed any of the latest Hollywood or British movies running in downtown Bombay cinemas, at Metro, Eros, Regal, Strand, New Empire or Excelsior.


Many an evening, our family and some friends would get together with my dad and just like in his younger days, to our delight, he would excitedly enact the scenes from movies he had seen long ago as a young schoolboy.


In conclusion:

In 1936, he was only 21 years old when Metro Movietone gave my father his first break as a movie director.

In 1937, he was only 22 years old when Ramniklal & Mohanlal Shah of Mohan Studios gave my father his major break. He directed over 14 movies for Mohan Studios.

In 1940, by the age of 25, he became very successful and was one of the highest paid directors in India.

In 1952 he created his own production company – “K. Amarnath Productions”.

In 1953 “Alif Laila” the first movie under his banner was released.

His office was located in the famous Ranjit Studios, Dadar, Mumbai.

In the 1950s & 60s, when he was producing and directing numerous hit movies, many young actors would line up outside his office to get a role in his movies. He was well-known in the film industry for giving opportunities to new deserving aspirants.

Four of the movies directed by him, namely “Gaon ki Gori”, “Mirza Sahiban”, “Beqasoor” and “Bara-Dari” are listed in the top-grossing films of 1945, 1947, 1950 and 1955 respectively.

He directed and produced movies in the 1930s – 40s – 50s – 60s and early 70s – over 35 movies. Though prints of many of his movies are untraceable, fortunately, 15 of them can be viewed online at present.

 


K. Amarnath passed away at the age of 68, on May 14, 1983.

 

In his lifetime he fulfilled his great passion for making movies and helped many along the way.

Love & Respect to our dad, a great man and a greater father.


May his Soul Rest in Peace


1st December 1914 – 14th May 1983

 

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REFERENCES

PUBLISHED: MAY 2013

UPDATED: MAY 2018

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