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Raj N Sippy, maverick fimmaker who deftly Indianised Western subjects

Raj N. Sippy is a notable figure in Indian cinema, known for his impactful debut and a subsequent career marked by both critical successes a...

Raj N. Sippy is a notable figure in Indian cinema, known for his impactful debut and a subsequent career marked by both critical successes and some notable failures. Making his directorial debut with "Inkaar" in 1977, Sippy quickly established himself as a skilled filmmaker. "Inkaar," a taut thriller inspired by Akira Kurosawa’s "High and Low," was well-received for its gripping narrative and technical proficiency. This initial success set high expectations for Sippy's future works.

In the following years, Sippy directed a series of films that cemented his reputation as a promising director in Bollywood. Notable among these are "Josh" (1981), "Andar Baahar" (1984), and "Satte Pe Satta" (1982). "Satte Pe Satta," in particular, stands out as a classic in Hindi cinema, a comedy-drama that showcased Sippy’s versatility and flair for storytelling. The film’s blend of humor, drama, and music (by RD Burman), along with a stellar cast led by Amitabh Bachchan, made it a significant hit.

Sippy also ventured into innovative filmmaking with "Shiva Ka Insaaf" (1985), the first Hindi 3-D film, and "Boxer" (1984), a sports drama inspired by the Hollywood film "The Champ." Despite their creative ambition, these films did not achieve the commercial success expected, marking the beginning of a challenging phase in Sippy’s career.

The mid-1980s saw a decline in Sippy’s box office fortunes. Films like "Boxer," "Qayamat" (1983), "Baazi" (1984), "Jeeva" (1986), and "Sitamgar" (1985) retained the quintessential elements of Sippy’s directorial style but failed to resonate with audiences. This period highlighted the unpredictable nature of the film industry and the challenges directors face in maintaining consistent success.

Sippy tasted moderate success after a spate of underperforming films with "Satyamev Jayate" (1987), a powerful film that was significant in Vinod Khanna’s comeback phase. Sippy’s last two significant commercial hits were “Loha” (1987) & "Thanedaar" (1990), a film that brought together an engaging storyline and popular performances, notably by Jeetendra and Sanjay Dutt. However, after "Thanedaar," Sippy’s career experienced a notable downturn. Subsequent films such as the long-delayed "Qurbani Rang Layegi" (originally titled Street Songer and launched in 1983 and released in 1991), “Amanat" (1994), “Paandav” (1995), “Kudrat" (1998), "2001" (1998), "Saugandh" (1991) and others, did not live up to the expectations set by his earlier works, both in terms of box office performance and critical acclaim.

The decline in the quality of Sippy's later films was marked and puzzling, given the promise shown in his early career. Factors contributing to this decline could include changing audience preferences, increased competition, and possibly the pressures of consistently delivering hits in a highly volatile industry.

Looking back at Sippy’s career what is noticeable in a significant number of his films, is his ability to wonderfully Indianise Western subjects. After Inkaar, some of his other films like "Josh" (Beggar Cult), "Satte Pe Satta" (Seven Brides for Seven Brothers), "Andar Baahar" (48 Hours) "Baazi" (Walking Tall) and "Qayamat" (Cape Fear) all were taken from Western films. It is to the immense credit of Sippy that he Indianised them as effectively as he did. The other significant aspect of his career was that he started by assisting the great Gulzar in some of his films, but it it’s again amazing that his cinema was very different in feel and sensibility to that of his mentor. 

In retrospect, Raj N. Sippy’s career reflects the transient nature of success in creative fields. His early films continue to be appreciated for their innovation and craftsmanship, while his later works serve as a reminder of the difficulties in sustaining artistic and commercial success over time. Sippy's journey underscores the importance of adaptability and the challenges faced by filmmakers in navigating the ever-evolving landscape of cinema.

By Pratik Majumdar 

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