DOWN MEMORY LANE
Mohan Segal, the multifaceted Bollywood film maker-the iconic Alumnus of SCD Government College Ludhiana–By Opender Chanana(C)
(In the main feature pic Opender Chanana and Mahesh Bhatt felicitate Mohan Segal )
(The iconic Alumnus of Satish Chandra Dhawan Government College Ludhiana, the veteran director who made 23 feature films, of whose life and times ,OPENDER CHANANA takes us to a trip that covers wide spectrum of his experiences relating to his childhood, his training in music and dance and his tryst with destiny that ultimately bestowed on him the privilege to make such remarkable films as NEW DELHI, AULAD, ADHIKAR and box-office hits like SAWAN BHADON) .
Mohan Segal who was Jalandhar born ,lost his father when he was only two and a half years old. Family was not well off financially, though his father was a government officer. No doubt people never used to look favorably at cinema. But his mother was fond of folk music and dance and valued the prize, which he used to get in school competitions. The prize came in the form of almonds and handkerchiefs.
During Holi Master Daulat Ram used to visit Bilga town . Four groups used to perform a sort of Nukkad Nataks, and his group was called Nilowal’s Party. These performances were only organized during Holi celebrations. Master Barkat Ram from whom he subsequently learnt music used to come to Bilga town (in Phillaur Tehsil). “You’ll be surprised to know that the late music director Jaidev too learnt music from him. I recall performing Dhana Bhagat, Draupadi, Teer Haran. The funniest part was that every evening there was a meeting of the Nilowal authorities. They would discuss amongst themselves about the play to be staged the next day. A consensus used to be evolved. Master Daulat Ram would go to the fields in the morning and in that solitude, he would pen the play and songs. He would come back and distribute roles, which suited each character”A.fter breakfast they used to go to the terrace and memorize their dialogues. Lunch was followed by brief afternoon siesta. They were then ready for rehearsals. Master Kartar Singh who used to play harmonium used to compose tunes while they rehearsed “.
Their training involved selecting a play, rehearsing and performing within 24 hours. That training came in handy when he started working for IPTA. He recalled about a play called Jadu Ki Kursi. He put his training to good use. An All-India Conference of Journalists was being held at Sunderbai Hall in Bombay. IPTA had many educated personalities associated with its four sections-Hindi, English, Marathi & Gujarati. Gavankar was associated with the Marathi section while Romesh Thappar was associated with the English section. Jean Bhownagry was there too.
Mohan Segal came forward with the proposal of organizing a half-an-hour play provided someone could write it. He narrated his experience of Bilga Nilowal. Balraj Sahni offered to write the play and promised to deliver the same next day. They met at Mani Rabadi’s place for their rehearsal. He came up with an innovative idea.
(Pic :Habib Tanvir and Balraj Sahni )
Since They had little time for rehearsal were bound to commit mistakes. He gave them a unique format that required improvisation. Habib Tanvir and Balraj Sahni were part of the cast.
He always wanted to come to Bombay.He was clear in his mind. Jaidev too ran away from Ludhiana to come to Bombay. He did have his doubts since he had no one to support him here. His mother was a widow while his elder brother was in jail as he was a political activist. His educational background could also be a hurdle and he thought if he could approach someone in the industry with his degree, he would be asked to look for a job in some office as a clerk. Those days it was essential to know swimming, horse riding and singing. He realized that he must have something, which he could exploit. Hence,he started learning music in Ludhiana itself with the support of Mr. Ugra Sen. He got government scholarship in FSC. Those days it used to be the in thing to go to Lahore. Government scholarship was a big boon. It was Rs.26 and tuition fee.
He had the opportunity to meet Master Barkat Ram while he was doing his FSC at Ludhiana. He used to play with him. He used to play tabla early in the morning to prove his utility to Masterji. On returning from college,He used to cook food and then rehearse.
“…….I used to teach students for which I would get Rs. 5 per hour. That was quite a lot of money those days. Meanwhile I told Mr. Ugra Sen that although I had got first division, I had no resources to continue with my further studies. He helped me to get admission in the college. Meanwhile I had applied for admission to Uday Shankar’s Academy at Almora (India Cultural Center) with a plea to be exempted from paying any fees.
When Principal A C C Harvey ( of Govt. College, Ludhiana) recommended for admission of Segal
”…I got the letter from Uday Shankar’s Cultural Center. He agreed to take me.“…….My friendship with Sardar Malik (Anu Malik’s father) began at the Academy. He was already a student there when I joined. He gave music for my debut making film Aulad”.
Uday Shankar named his academy as All India Cultural Center and not a dance center. They were taught subjects like painting’, sculpting besides music and dance. In between he took liking to acting. Uday Shankar organized an All-India tour. Kanu Desai had erected a very good set for their performance when they were on the last leg of our tour at Baroda. Out of blue Uday Shankar came up with a proposal. He informed all of them that students in 4th and 5th year would be given diplomas only after completion of a film, which he was going to make. He wanted us to act in that film. The idea didn’t find favor with all of them. They not only refused but also went on strike. Despite Kanu Desai’s tears and all frantic appeals to students, they didn’t budge an inch from their stand. With the result Uday Shanakr’s Cultural Center broke down there, at Baroda. He went to Madras to plan Kalpana and hired Gemini Studio. He had the support of Sir Chunnilal, a textile tycoon of Baroda. He engaged new set of artists, which included Usha Kiron, Padmini, and Ragini. He had not completed his post-graduation and left a lucrative job with government. Now he had to leave the Academy. He decided to go to South and specialize in Bharat Natyam.
He was advised by his friend Brahm Bhardwaj to stay with his friend Vijay Naik in Madras. On reaching Madras he found that Naik was not there, and as good luck would have it the headmaster of an Industrial High School offered to help him. He was his guest for a day. He kept his baggage at his place and went to Pandanallur by bullock cart.
“…….I didn’t know Tamil and the folks at Mr. Pillai’s place didn’t know Hindi. I put to use my training in natya to convey my desire to learn Bharat Natyam from him. He couldn’t follow the details, but he understood. Next morning Mr. Srinivas, Headmaster of the village primary school was called to act as my interpreter. From him I learnt a bit of Tamil. ‘Po’ in Tamil is ‘Go’ while ‘Wa’ means ‘Come’. After every lesson Meenakshi Sundaram would tell me ‘Podma’. I thought he meant ‘Go’. I used to return to my room. One day Srinivas told me that Mr. Sundaram was angry with me. I came to know that ‘Podma’ meant ‘enough’? He wanted to know if it was enough.”
He put his training at Uday Shankar’s academy to good use. He had trained in all classical dance forms. He used to tell them that although we must learn the classical styles but when it comes to expressing an idea, we must use our own imagination to give expression to our ideas. Hence Mohan Segal used to communicate with Meenakshi Sundaram by using innovative expressions. Mrs. Santanam was also his student and so was Janaki, partner of famous dancer Ram Gopal. He had his arangetram at Kumbakana Vani Vilasa Sabha and the title of Natya Kala Bhushan was conferred on him. A gold medal was also given. He lost them gold medal. How? It’s another story.
He had met Prithviraj Kapoor when he happened to perform shadow play with Uday Shankar’s troupe at Brabourne Stadium. He had asked him, to meet him whenever He happened to come to Bombay again. When he came to Bombay from Madras, he met him. His experience of enacting the role of a villain in films like Afsar was not pleasant one.
Afsar was based on Inspector General and was directed by Chetan Anand while Bannerji directed Humsafar in which he also played the villain. Gags didn’t work in Afsar because with intelligent people like Chetan the audience may not understand what they perceive to be intelligent. There was this scene in Joru Ka Bhai, which Chetan directed -Johnny Walker is shown as being tortured while waiting for his brother-in-law to come out from the loo. The camera concentrates on the torture he is undergoing. That was something the audience won’t find comical. With Neecha Nagarhe joined Chetan Anand as an assistant and also enacted a small role. He also looked after production work. Meanwhile Kuldip Sehgal and Lekhraj Bhakri were on the lookout for a new director for their sixteenth film. Lekhraj Bhakri had already made fourteen films. He was a good writer and had already directed four films. But at a particular point of time in his career he wanted to rest and wanted a new man to direct his film. They were told about Mohan Segal and also knew that he had assisted Ramesh Saigal and Chetan Anand.
They were broke during those days and often used to play cards at Radha Kishan’s house. Pandit Mukharam Sharma used to come there. One of his stories was lying unused with one producer who was supposed to make a film, which was to be directed by Chaturbhuj Doshi. Panditji wanted to narrate the story of Aulad to me. I liked the story, and it was my first chance to hear a story independently and give my opinion. Lekhraj Bhakri and Kuldip Sehgal too heard the story and liked it. Lekhraj Bhakri called me outside and told me that though he liked the story he wouldn’t use it for my debut film. Mohan Segal told him that since both of them had liked the story at least forty to sixty persons in a lakh would like it. He had no knowledge about box-office. He asked him about the budget. It was two and half lakhs. He asked him if he could recover three lakhs. He nodded in confirmation. Then where was the need to fear since he would recover his money and also provide an opportunity to a new man to direct the film? The story was finalized. All artists too were new-Nirupa Roy,Usha Kiron and Balraj Sahni. Sardar Malik who gave music was also new. Prem Dhawan penned lyrics. After completing four reels they wanted to show the rushes to the distributors in order to get finance. K. K. Kapoor, the eldest brother of owner of Copper Chimney, used to be a big distributor and financier those days. A trial was arranged, and Mr. Kapoor told Kuldip that he wouldn’t touch this film with a pair of tongs because the wife adopts someone else’s child and tells her husband that the child was her own. The husband is ready to marry again since his wife can’ t conceive. “But with the blessings of God the film got completed. We had to forgo Roxy Theater, which we had booked for its release since our film was not ready in time. Opera House used to be known as the graveyard of films. Films released there used to flop. Kuldip Sehgal booked Opera House for release of Aulad. The well-known distributor from CPCI Shri Jagganath Dhand was his friend. He told Kuldip bluntly that if he released the film at Opera House, he wouldn’t’ t release it in CPCI. Kuldip had no option but to release it at Opera House. The first week’s collection was Rs.12, 000 out of total weekly collection of Rs.19, 000. I told Lekhraj that it was a flop. He didn’t agree with me and wanted to wait for the second week’s collections. It turned out to be Rs.13, 000. He was convinced that the film would sustain itself at the box-office on its own strength as it had no stars and he proved right. It went on to complete 26 weeks.”
He also made New Delhi. He had signed Kishore Kumar with Shashikala. But Om Sehgal went on to buy land and invested his money. Krorepati got stuck which I he supposed to complete in three months’ time. He had confirmed dates of Kishore. Om cancelled the seven days of his shooting and the same happened during the next two months.
He also made Apna Haath Jagganath later on. It was the era of established banners. Stress was laid on the story and the subject. That was his approach too then. That’s how he convinced his producers in finalizing the subjects of Aulad and Adhikar. “We worked on the treatment collectively. When we made New Delhi, the State’s re-organization committee was in session. Initially I wanted to make a film on inter-communal marriage. But Hindu-Muslim riots broke out in Jabalpur in 1954. We thought if we took up this subject the reaction from both the communities would be negative. Hence, we decided to take up inter provincial marriage as our subject. That’s how we all used to discuss the subject, the story. Now things have changed. The banner, the subject used to be the main criteria then but now it is the star value.”
“….Narendra Suri was Ramesh Saigal’s assistant. He also hailed from the same locality as mine in Jallandhar. He had promised him that if a chance came my way, he would provide him with an opportunity to direct. He announced Lajwanti after New Delhi. He did a good job.
He wanted to give a chance to his assistants. He assigned the job of direction of Dr. Vidya to Rajender Bhatia. A Marathi film Shikleli Bai inspired it. It didn’t come up to my expectation. Majboor was assigned to Suri once again. The story of sacrifice didn’t go well with the audience. We used Dr. Iqbal’s couplet in the end, which went on like this-Nasha pila ke girana to sub ko aata hai. Maza to tab hai jab girto ko thaam le saaki’. We thought we had a great subject on our hands.
Vyajantimala worked in two three films while Kishore worked in 5 films with him. “I used to take up subjects that were satire on prevailing social values. There was no place for melodrama in a satire. The genre used was comedy. That was the correct treatment. Kishore was a good singer, a sophisticated comedian and suitable for certain subjects.”
People still entertain lot of misconceptions about Kishore. It was only after he had differences with his wife that he became mentally shaken and started misbehaving. Kishore was a unique character. Two incidents, well known by now, come instantly to his mind. He once told him‘Segal Sahib naye naye note jab milte hai to unki khushboo kitni achi lagti hai’. He was a neglected character. He didn’t enjoy his family’s patronage. Ashok Kumar and S. Mukherji didn’t lend him any support. It was Phani Majumdar who gave him the first opportunity to sing. Once he stuck notes on one side of the wall in his house. It was someone, maybe his wife, who wanted to know why he was doing it. He replied that he was trying to figure out how and when the second half of the wall too would fill up with notes. That was his brand of humor. Bordering on eccentricity. That may have led to differences between the husband and wife.
(Pic:Rekha and Segal discuss)
What about that enigma called Rekha? Did he see in her the potential to become such a charismatic star and such a good actress while making Sawan Bhadon?I’d sent Navin to FTII, Pune despite his initial hesitation. Chaman Nischal, his father, was my friend. Chaman wanted me to take Navin under my wings. Why did I send him for training? Sawan Bhadon was made after Sajan. The industry was facing crises. Delivery of prints had stopped. Distributors were not willing to take films. I had completed Sajan substantially through his own borrowing. He had not picturized songs when he showed it to the distributors. It had stars like Manoj Kumar and Asha Parekh. Shankar Jaikishan were the music directors. Till that time, he never felt the need to keep a trial of his films. But during the days of crises, he was asked by the brokers to keep a trial. The distributors considered me as an honest producer. Hence, he had not made the film till that time from the point of view of selling it to the distributors. “I realized that stars were not the main criteria for selling the film but the film. Manoj was not selling. The same applied to Asha Parekh and Shankar Jaikishan. It was Mohan Segal’s test. If stars did not sell, why not make a film with new faces and talent.
Thus began the search for new faces for Sawan Bhadon.”Dhirendra Kishan, the famous still photographer was a friend. He sought his suggestion and he referred he to a South Indian girl who had been signed by producers Shatrujit and Ku1jit Pal. He invited all of them to his home- Rekha, her mom, uncle and Dhirendra Kishan. They casually chatted during dinner and he found the girl very extrovert and very confident.
He told her she was suitable for the main role. She had her doubts. She told him she was dark complexioned. He reminded her about Waheeda Rehman whose dark complexion enhanced her beauty when right kind of make-up was applied. ‘What about this, the fat on my tummy’? Rekha retorted. “We’ll make you wear a kurti and not a blouse’. She wanted us to take her test, but I told her that I was concerned with her personality and the test would be taken care of by cameraman. I was impressed by her personality. We started the film. Rekha did have a Tamil accent. But she was very hard working. She would ask for the entire scene and not just her cue. She could remember the dialogues of other artists as well. I instructed Mohan Kavia, a scholar in Hindi, to take care of her Hindi. By the time the film was complete, Rekha was in a position to dub her entire role. I was the first producer to take up the cause of training of artists and technicians. Although talent is inborn one needs professional training to give expression to the talent.”
when asked ,as a filmmaker which are the films that find a special place in your heart. Adhikar, Aulad and New Delhi-he concluded by mentioning these three films without hesitation. These three films alone will stand the test of time.
Mr. Chanana is also an alumnus of Satish Chander Dhawan Government College,Ludhiana-India.This premier institution completes t’s 100th year of establishment.
He has been associated with Drama- and Cinema right since college days and was also awarded college colour then.
Mr. Chanana makes Film Documentaries in Mumbai and his documentary, LIVING ON THE EDGE-
DEGLAMOURIZING BOLLYWOOD depicting poor plight of cine workers has been rewarded globally with 337 awards till date ,thus recognising issues raised by him. Kudos to Opender Chanana for his relentless efforts for a cause so dear to him.
( Administrator: Brij Bhushan Goyal with Team : https://theglobaltalk.com/ is thankful to Opender for writing on Mohan Segal also an illustrious alumnus of Govt. College, Ludhiana )
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