A few weeks ago, Shakti Samanta passed away. Then Feroz Khan. Now Prakash Mehra. The golden era is coming to an end. Manmohan Desai and Prakash Mehra regaled us with some memorable films. They were arch rivals, working with the same actor — Amitabh Bachchan. Having grown up on their films, besides interacting with them subsequently [as a journalist], both Man-ji [as MKD was affectionately called] and Prakash-ji made films for the masses, the aam junta. Prakash-ji was a simpleton, who dared to call a spade a spade. I would often meet him at his office at Sumeet [his studio in Juhu].
I would often bump into him while going for a preview screening. He would either be seated inside or taking his evening walks outside his office. Prakash-ji kept himself updated with the film industry happenings, even when he stopped making films. He was saddened by the fate of JAADUGAR in particular and also dejected that his near and dear ones had deserted him after this monumental flop.
Isn’t it surprising that the man who made such memorable hits like ZANJEER, HERA PHERI, MUQADDAR KA SIKANDAR, NAMAK HALAAL, LAAWARIS and SHARAABI was written off the moment he delivered JAADUGAR, ZINDAGI EK JUAA and BAL BRAHMACHARI? But such are the ways of this industry. You’re as good, or bad, as your last Friday in Bollywood… The media had a great time pitching Man-ji against Prakash-ji. Both would hit out at each other at regular intervals. Man-ji gave a classic quote once, “Only a ‘Mard’ [Man-ji’s film] can make a MARD. Only a ‘Sharaabi’ [Prakash-ji’s film] can make a SHARAABI.”
It sent shock waves within the industry at that point of time. I met Prakash-ji subsequently and he thundered, “Tell Man, only a ‘Coolie’ [Man-ji’s film] can make a COOLIE.” I didn’t interact much with Prakash-ji [as much as I did with Man-ji; he was amongst my father’s dearest friends], but I realized that Prakash-ji had a great sense of humour. He would crack jokes even during those evening walks, at the spur of the moment. The humour, in my individualistic opinion, reflected in his movies.
I remember watching NAMAK HALAAL at a preview screening at Sumeet with my father and I could see Prakash-ji staring at the faces of the guests, to gauge the feedback. He was never the recipient of those lofty awards, nor did he hanker after them. His awards were the ‘House Full’ boards that one witnessed outside theatres, screening his films. Prakash-ji was a super person, a wonderful storyteller. The void will be difficult to fill.