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by Pratik Majumdar February 2 2024, 12:00 am Estimated Reading Time: 6 mins, 5 secs

The box office failure of Dacait was perhaps the single biggest reason for Rahul Rawail to never be the same filmmaker again. He tried coming back with Mast Kalander and Jeevan Ek Sunghursh, writes Pratik Majumdar

When Rahul Rawail made his presence first felt in 1980, it wasn’t a major one to start with. Gunehgaar, his debut film about a young man and his group of friends struggling with life against the law and mainstream society was radically different from what commercial Hindi cinema was dishing out at the time. Rishi Kapoor in the title role was cast in a role that was diametrically opposite to his established on screen chocolate lover boy image. Parveen Babi, Ranjeet, Rajendra Kumar and Asha Parekh formed the rest of the cast in a film that showed undeniable promise from the young director. The film sank without a trace at the box office and was in fact not even released in all territories.

The next film from Rawail came out the following year 1981. It was under his mentor Raj Kapoor’s RK Films banner. Biwi O Biwi starring Sanjeev Kumar, Randhir Kapoor and Poonam Dhillon was one of the funniest and most underrated comedies to come out at the time. Unfortunately this film bombed too and got wiped out from public memory soon. 

Then Rawail made a film that would bring him in the news again, albeit for the wrong reasons. Rajendra Kumar’s home production, to launch his son Kumar Gaurav, Love Story, would turn out to be a super duper hit but not before Kumar took off the name of the director from the film. Post production differences between the producer and director reached such levels that Rahul willingly distanced himself from the film and it was released without an official director’s name in the credits. A film from Rajendra Kumar was all that the titles said. 

However the astounding success of Love Story brought credit to Rahul Rawail and soon Dharmendra signed him to direct his son Sunny Deol’s debut film Betaab. Betaab, also starring Amrita Singh, turned out to be a bumper hit and Rawail was officially given a chunk of credit for the film’s success and also the lead pair’s appeal. Following the success of Betaab, Rahul Rawail formed a solid partnership with leading man Sunny Deol and the two would go on to make some memorable films together.

Arjun, would surely rank as one of the best (if not THE BEST) films of both their careers. The story (brilliantly scripted by Javed Akhtar), of an unemployed educated youth used as a pawn in the scheming games played by politicians resonated with audiences. At his best, Rawail bridged the gap between art and commerce by making sensible films, which had dollops of commercial ingredients as well.

Arjun was perhaps the pinnacle of that formula. Whilst Arjun was being made Rawail made Samundar, a more out and out commercial entertainer, yet again with Deol. The movie, almost entirely shot in the Maldives, had great photography and music, and it did reasonably well at the box office although not matching the success of Betaab and Arjun, the earlier collaborations of the actor and director.

After Samundar, Rawail launched his own production with Dacait, starring Sunny again in the title role. His crew for the film was the same too. Akhtar, Baba Azmi, RD Burman, all regulars with the Rawail-Deol team were signed up. Dacait turned out to be one of the best dacoit movies ever made in Hindi cinema. Instead of the usual genre depiction till then, Javed’s detailed script dived into real reasons as to why anybody went against the law. Shot at actual ravines, Dacait was an authentic depiction in every sense. Whoever saw the rushes and the preview shows praised it to the skies. As expected from a Deol-Rawail film in those days, the film had a bumper opening. The joy however was short lived as the film, despite its fabulous opening, nosedived and inexplicably flopped. 

The box office failure of Dacait was perhaps the single biggest reason for Rahul Rawail to never be the same filmmaker again. He tried coming back with movies like Mast Kalander and Jeevan Ek Sunghursh. But gone were regulars like Javed (Mast Kalander was written by Salim) and RD Burman (music of Jeevan Ek Sunghursh by Laxmikant Pyarelal was abysmal). Rawail was seen as making a desperate plunge to out and out commercial films and moving away from his perfectly balanced art and commerce approach of his earlier works. And he failed at every attempt.

Future films like Bekhudi (a teen love story where he launched Kajol), Aur Pyar Ho Gaya (Aishwarya Rai with a two-film-old Bobby Deol), Anjaam (perhaps the most gruesome film Shah Rukh Khan did, which repelled more than scared) were disasters. Brief snippets in the films showed the old spark and magic, but the moments were far and few between. And overall they were results of a filmmaker who had lost his confidence. Yoddha, starring his favourite Sunny once again after a hiatus, also flattered to deceive. Arjun Pandit, with Sunny, promised a bit more than his previous films but also failed. The audience was changing fast and patience for Rawail to find his mojo was rapidly declining. 

The last few films of Rahul Rawail, such as Kuch Khatti Kuch Meethi, Buddha Mar Gaya and Jo Bole So Nihaal failed miserably, too, at the box office, leading many cine-goers from the current generation to wonder what all the fuss about him was. But to any lover of Hindi cinema from the early 1980s, a revisit of his classics from 1980-87/88 would be ample proof of the genius and brilliance of a man called Rahul Rawail. That will never change.

Read more about him, his life and his association with the greatest showman of all time, Raj Kapoor, in his semi-autobiographical story told to Pranika Sharma, Raj Kapoor: The Master at Work. 

A brief synopsis:

'If cinema did not exist, I would be non-existent.' - Raj Kapoor. In this warm, thoughtful memoir, veteran filmmaker Rahul Rawail goes back to his days spent in R.K. Studios where he was nurtured and taught to handle the ropes of filmmaking from the Master himself. Through stories only he can tell, Rawail delves not only into the techniques of the legendary filmmaker, but also into hitherto unknown aspects of Raj Kapoor's eccentric personality-his quirky sense of humour, his insights into life, the relationship he shared with his crew and his associations with artists of three generations. The book also examines how the lessons he learnt under the tutelage of Raj Kapoor carried Rahul Rawail through directing his own blockbuster films including Love Story, Betaab, Arjun and Dacait. Raj Kapoor: The Master at Work offers unique insights into what it took for Raj Kapoor to be an exceptional filmmaker, with his understanding of human emotions, virtues of music and the art of visual storytelling. Within these pages, one sees behind the enigma who lived and breathed cinema, in his before-seen role as a teacher, mentor, parent and guru.  

It is available to buy here:

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