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Rewind to the maverick producer, Suresh Jindal, who was proudest of his collaboration on Shatranj Ke Khiladi, by Khalid Mohamed


Suresh Jindal


‘Hirsute’ is the description Sai Paranjpye and I had coined for him. With his abundant salt-and-pepper hair always brushed, and a beard that hid his mouth, often dangling a filter-tip cigarette which he would puff away furiously, Suresh Jindal (1942- 2022), was the sort you could have met at a kavi sammelan or an experimental theatre, and certainly not at a studio or location site serving as a hands-on producer.

 

His other remarkable feature was a booming laughter, even if the production schedule was going awry. He was a mirthful man, even if a trolley hadn’t arrived for hours required for a dance sequence at the Mehboob Studios. “When anyone says reaching in five minutes, it translates as five hours,” he would chortle, lighting up yet another cigarette.

 

A graduate with a science degree in electrical engineering from UCLA, Suresh Jindal had spent four years in the aerospace and electronics industry in California. Yet, the cinema bug had bitten him.

 

 

The word ‘Bollywood’ can never be attached to him because Suresh, a personal friend, wished to change the formulaic system, even if it was from a distance of his antiques and priceless paintings scattered in his South Delhi home, where he lived alone with a pack of pedigreed dogs and a household help.

 

A  force of nature in the parallel cinema movement, among the most well-known films he produced were Satyajit Ray’s only Hindi film Shatranj Ke Khiladi (1977), Sai Paranjpye’s Katha (1982) Mani Kaul’s Nauker ki Kameez (1999),Pamela Brooks’ A Train to Pakistan (1998)besides being a multi-tasker on Sir Richard Attenborough’s multiple Oscar-grabber Gandhi, not to forget the avant-garde 250 Metros (2011) by the revered French theatre stalwart Jean Claude-Carriere.

 

The book authored by him, “My Adventures with Satyajit Ray: The Making of Shatranj Ke Khiladi” places on record how Jindal met Ray when the latter was 57 and the former was just about to turn 33. Jindal wrote, “I was 5’6” tall and he was 6’2”, a veritable giant by Indian standards I was from a well-to-do, non-intellectual, conservative, vegetarian Jain-Bania family from Punjab…Ray was from a distinguished family of Bengal – quite a distance away from my home – that was aristocratic, highly accomplished both academically and artistically and progressive.”

 

While Jindal looked up to Ray, working together also had its share of hurt and disappointments. The book features letters exchanged between the producer and the director.

 

For about five years, he did shift to a seafront apartment in Eden Roc, Worli, Bombay, but moved back to the capital city, disenchanted perhaps by the obstacles that he had to face with his Mumbai peers who considered him ‘an outsider’. Plus Yayati, a young 20yish, assistant, had passed away suddenly, a tragedy which pained him to talk about.

 

Suresh Jindal was proudest of his collaboration with Ray. When a frontline Hollywood studio,  20th Century Fox pulled out of the distribution of Shatranj Ke Khiladi overseas, he was enraged. And was frank enough to express his anger in an interview on the front page of The Times of India, the most widely-circulated national daily newspaper. This he followed up by authoring that tell-all book, ‘My Adventures with Satyajit Ray…”, exchanges between the auteur and the rule-breaking producer.

 


Satyajit Ray & Suresh Jindal

 

Bollywood’s actor-director Tinnu Anand, who had worked with Ray as an assistant director on Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne (1969), Aranyer Dir Ratri (1970), and Pratidwandi (1970), had introduced Jindal to Ray. Jindal’s first impression was that  Ray’s study “looked like a combination of a Renaissance atelier and an alchemist’s lab”. Fortuitously, he was at the right place at the right time because Ray was thinking of making a Hindi film. He had warned Jindal that it would be “at least four or five times more expensive” than his Bengali films, and said, “You may not want to spend so much on my first Hindi film.”

 

When Jindal asked for an English translation of Premchand’s Hindi story, Ray told him that he had one published by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) but would share it only if Jindal promised to return the copy after reading it. Jindal soon learnt that they had slightly different ways of working. In fact, later when Jindal gave Ray an envelope containing ‘a signing amount’ as per the conventions of the Bombay film industry, Ray said, “No, I don’t work that way. And if we are to work together, you will have to work my way. First, I will write a draft of the screenplay, and if it is satisfactory, we can discuss money.”


As a student in the U.S., Jindal had watched Ray’s films and as a fan-boy aspired to meet him and stated in his book that Ray,  “wrote his original scripts in traditional clothbound notebooks called ‘khatas’…they were more like a research scientist’s lab notes than ordinary scripts…he would draw the frames of the shots on the left-hand side and write the dialogues on the right.”


The cast assembled for Shatranj… were top-grade talents: Sanjeev Kumar, Saeed Jaffrey, Shabana Azmi, Amjad Khan, Farouq Shaikh, Farida Jalal and Sir Richard Attenborough.



Sanjeev Kumar & Saeed Jaffrey in Shatranj Ke Khiladi(1977)

 

While Shatranj Ke Khiladi did not score the commercial success of Rajnigandha , it did ensure the producer’s collaboration with Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi as an associate producer. Attenborough had acted in Shatranj Ke Khiladi before he produced the Oscar-winning Gandhi with Ben Kingsley. One of the close contenders for the Gandhi role had been Naseeruddin Shah. Of course, many films have been made about the life of Mahatma Gandhi, but this one has never been bettered.



Vidya Sinha & Amol Palekar in Rajnigandha(1974)

 

After this, Jindal produced Sai Paranjpye’s film Katha (1983) depicting life in a Mumbai chawl. Based on S. G. Sathye’s play Sasa Aani Kasav, it showcased Deepti Naval, Farooq Sheikh and Naseeruddin Shah. Jindal’s penchant for adaptations of literary texts, was followed up by  Sturla Gunnarsson’s take on  Rohinton Mistry’s novel Such A Long Journey (1998)  which detailed  the life of a Parsi family in 1971 during the rule of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Jindal assembled an impressive cast comprising Roshan Seth, Om Puri, Soni Razdan, Naseeruddin Shah and Irrfan Khan.

 

In addition, Jindal was a supervising producer of  Dance of the Wind (1997) directed by Rajan Khosa  with actors Kittu Gidwani and Kapila Vatsyayan. The narrative told of a classical singer who loses her voice when her mother, her guru, dies. Shubha Mudgal had composed the music score. 

 


Deepti Naval in Katha(1982)


Next, Jindal was an executive producer on Naukar Ki Kameez (1999) directed by Mani Kaul based on a novel by Vinod Kumar Shukla. The acting crew included  Pankaj Sudhir Mishra, Anu Joseph and Om Prakash Dwivedi.




 

Yet, Jindal was restless and discontented and turned to spiritualism as a student of Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche aka Khyentse Norbu in 2004, and later an advisor to the board of the Khyentse Foundation. He had been drawn towards  Buddhism much earlier when he had spent a year studying at the University of California, Berkeley.

Vis-a-vis, Jindal’s life in the US in the 1960s, he wrote that he was exposed to “the headiest experiences of the century” which included “the space race to the moon, the computer explosion, freedom rides against segregation in  South America, flower power, psychedelic drugs, love-ins, environmental protection, gay liberation, hippie and the anti-Vietnam War protests by pacifists.” Eventually, he was into Buddhism, Dharma and Sangha with the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala.


He made a brief return to films when his guru Dzongsar Khyentse Jamyang Rinpoche aka Khyentse Norbu – who was also a film director – asked him to be the executive producer: Vara:A Blessing (2013) – with actors Shahana Goswami, Devesh Ranjan and Swaroopa Ghosh. Vara Mohamed Adamaly – was based on Sunil Gangopadhyay’s short story Rakta Aar Kanna. It was not only a creative project but also an act of service towards his beloved teacher.

 

It was a one-of-a-kind journey undertaken by any Indian film producer.  Above all, without his lobbying with the Delhi government, it is quite possible that Sir Richard’s Gandhi would have never seen the light of day,since it had become the subject of an acrimonious controversy: Why should a Britisher make a film on the Mahatma?, it had been argued, even by the otherwise free-minded ‘New Wave’ filmmakers.

 


Neena Gupta, Ben Kingsley & Supriya Pathak in Gandhi (1982)

 

For his role in creating a global interrelationship in cinema and the allied arts, he was awarded  Chevalier de L’Ordre des Arts et Lettres by the French government. Despite such honours, towards his later years, Suresh had resolved to extinguish his dreams of a new world of cinema, and had found solace in Buddhism.

 

On a personal note, I had approached him for the remaking rights of Katha,  during a trip to Delhi. Over lunch, he had stated, “It’s yours for gratis. Except maybe for two paintings by you.” He didn’t fail to tell me that filmmakers Sanjay Leela Bhansali and Rohit Shetty had sent him feelers for the Katha rights, adding, “They would have made a holy mess of it. I trust that you won’t.”

 

As it happened the remake was imperilled by mountainous production problems, it was completed but canned. My last conversation with Suresh over the phone went on the lines of, “You shouldn’t even have tried,” he had said remorsefully, “You have to be a shopkeeper there, not a filmmaker.”

 
















Khalid Mohamed is a Mumbai based film critic, producer, screenwriter & filmmaker

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