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Raj Khosla@100 - The maverick auteur of Indian cinema

Raj Khosla, a name synonymous with versatility and innovation in Indian cinema, is celebrated for his eclectic approach to filmmaking. Havin...

Raj Khosla, a name synonymous with versatility and innovation in Indian cinema, is celebrated for his eclectic approach to filmmaking. Having stepped into Khosla's birth centenary year on May 31, we delve into how during his career which spanned from the mid-1950s to the early 1980s, he carved a niche for himself by seamlessly transitioning between genres, leaving an indelible mark on the Hindi film industry. 

Starting his career under the tutelage of the legendary Guru Dutt, Khosla's journey was characterized by his collaboration with prominent figures such as Dev Anand and his distinctive directorial style that embraced both commercial appeal and artistic depth.

Khosla's entry into the film industry was marked by his association with Guru Dutt, one of Indian cinema's most revered filmmakers. This apprenticeship honed his skills and laid the foundation for his unique cinematic voice. Khosla's directorial debut, "Milap" (1955), went relatively unnoticed, but it was his second film, "CID" (1956), that catapulted him to fame. 

"CID," starring Dev Anand, Shakeela, and Waheeda Rehman, was a neo-noir thriller that captivated audiences with its taut narrative and suspenseful atmosphere. The film's success was instrumental in establishing Khosla as a director capable of handling complex genres with finesse. The crisp storytelling, sharp dialogues, and memorable music by O.P. Nayyar set a high standard for crime thrillers in Indian cinema.

Khosla's versatility shone through in his ability to switch effortlessly between genres. After the success of "CID," he directed "Ek Musafir Ek Haseena" (1962), a musical romance featuring Joy Mukherjee and Sadhana. The film was a box office hit, largely due to its melodious soundtrack composed by O.P. Nayyar, with songs that continue to be cherished by music lovers.

Khosla made interesting films like Solva Saal (1958) which was a movie based on one night in a young girls life who gets ditched by her boyfriend and eventually rescued and brought home by a journalist. Then there was Bambai Ka Babu (1960) which had a young man pretending to be the dead son in a family and ending up falling in love with his “sister”. Khosla’s ability to handle different types of stories and tell them with a uniform finesse and aplomb made him an industry favourite.   

His foray into emotional dramas was marked by films like "Do Badan" (1966) and "Chirag" (1969). These films showcased Khosla's talent for crafting poignant narratives that resonated with the audience's emotions. "Do Badan," featuring Asha Parekh and Manoj Kumar, was a tragic love story that highlighted Khosla's ability to evoke deep emotional responses through his nuanced direction and compelling performances by the lead actors.

Raj Khosla also ventured into family dramas, creating films that reflected societal norms and familial bonds. "Do Raaste" (1969), starring Rajesh Khanna and Mumtaz, was a quintessential family drama that became a significant commercial success. The film's exploration of familial responsibilities and conflicts struck a chord with the Indian middle class, making it one of Khosla's most beloved works. Khosla repeated the lead pair of Do Raaste and added Shashi Kapoor to the cast of his love story with a backdrop of the Indian Freedom Struggle in Prem Kahani (1975) which although not a blockbuster like Do Raaste, managed to do reasonable business.  

Another notable family drama was "Main Tulsi Tere Aangan Ki" (1978), which delved into themes of sacrifice and social stigmas. With an ensemble cast including Nutan and Asha Parekh, the film's narrative was enriched by its strong character development and emotional depth, reaffirming Khosla's reputation as a director who could handle intricate human relationships with sensitivity.

One of the most fascinating aspects of Khosla's career was his collaboration with actress Sadhana in a trilogy of mystery films: "Woh Kaun Thi?" (1964), "Mera Saaya" (1966), and "Anita" (1967). These films are considered landmarks in the thriller genre of Indian cinema.

"Woh Kaun Thi?" is particularly remembered for its haunting atmosphere and the iconic song "Naina Barse Rimjhim Rimjhim," composed by Madan Mohan. The film's success was followed by "Mera Saaya," a courtroom drama intertwined with supernatural elements, and "Anita," which explored themes of identity and deception. This trilogy not only showcased Khosla's mastery of the suspense genre but also highlighted his ability to create strong, enigmatic female protagonists

Khosla's versatility extended to action films and dacoit dramas, a genre he significantly influenced with "Mera Gaon Mera Desh" (1971). The film, starring Dharmendra and Asha Parekh, is often credited with setting the template for later dacoit films, including the iconic "Sholay" (1975). "Mera Gaon Mera Desh" combined action, romance, and social commentary, making it a comprehensive entertainer that resonated with a wide audience. After Mera Gaon Mera Desh, Khosla made another successful film with the backdrop of a dacoit saga but loaded with emotional drama…Kuchche Dhaage (1973) starring Vinod Khanna, Mousumi Chatterjee and Kabir Bedi. The uniqueness of the subject and Khosla’s effective way of storytelling made it into another super hit film. 

Despite his early success, the latter part of Khosla's career saw a decline, marked by a series of box office failures. Dostana (1980) was his last commercially successful film, although it mraked the beginning of the end for Khosla as a filmmaker. Films like "Teri Maang Sitaron Se Bhar Doon" (1982), "Daasi" (1981), "Sunny" (1984), "Mera Dost Mera Dushman" (1984), and Naqab (1989) did not perform well, signaling a downturn in his directorial prowess. Personal struggles, including battles with alcoholism, further impacted his career, culminating in an untimely and unfortunate end.

However, Raj Khosla's contributions to Indian cinema remain unparalleled. His strong background in music ensured that his films were adorned with memorable soundtracks, and his innovative song picturization set new standards in the industry. Khosla's films are remembered for their narrative strength, emotional depth, and the director's ability to handle diverse genres with equal adeptness.

The current generation of cinema audience who have a liking for the past will remember Raj Khosla was a maverick auteur whose eclectic filmography and pioneering spirit left an enduring legacy. His work continues to be studied and celebrated for its artistic brilliance and commercial success, making him one of the most influential directors in the history of Indian cinema.

By Pratik Majumdar 

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