My first break: Lekh Tandon

How it happened

When I came to films in the 50s, I received a lot of inspiration and support from Prithviraj Kapoor. The father figure that he was, he never discouraged new comers. Working as an assistant director with Raj Kapoor, I was able to learn many aspects of direction. Raj Kapoor was never an autocrat at work. Though he was firm on his convictions, he always took suggestions from his assistants and even implemented many of them giving due credit to each. Working at R.K. was like a school as well as college for me regarding cinema direction.

I received my first break as a director from F.C. Mehra to direct his family comedy, “Professor”. Shammi Kapoor was the male protagonist in the film and his heroine was Kalpana who made her debut in the film. I used to know Shammi Kapoor well since my association with Prithviraj and Raj Kapoor. We shared a common vision of working together. It came true with “Professor”. It was Shammi Kapoor’s most challenging character as he had to perform two roles one that of the youthful lover and the other of the old teacher who comes to teach Kalpana and Praveen Chowdhury.”

How did it feel

Darjeeling was the picturesque location where we shot majority of the film. There was no problem in working with Shammi Kapoor who was already a seasoned actor. Kalpana initially did not know how to face the camera. I had to put a lot of effort to make her perform with ease. Shammi Kapoor also cooperated equally. Kalpana was photogenic but not a very good actress. Once she understood what was required of her, she delivered the goods but took a number of takes. As we shot the song sequence “Main Chali Main Chali” on Shammi Kapoor and Kalpana in the toy train, she matched the inimitable Shammi Kapoor perfectly with a rhythm which she did not show in her earlier scenes. Shammi Kapoor had the rare ability of making any actress appear romantic whilst performing song sequences. In the song sequence, “Khuli Palak Pe”, Shammi Kapoor created a unique motion of rhythm which made Kalpana run towards him expressing her love which we shot in one take. The scenes between Shammi Kapoor and Lalita Pawar were the best ones I shot for “Professor”. An interesting incident took place during the shooting. Satyajit Ray who was also shooting in Darjeeling for “Kanchenjungha” was lacking raw stock for his shooting. Coming to know about this, Shammi Kapoor immediately came to the rescue of Ray by asking me and supplying him the required raw stock. We compensated our lack of the same after it arrived for Ray’s film from Kolkata. Ray was deeply touched by Shammi Kapoor’s genuine gesture and I personally know of umpteen incidents where Shammi Kapoor has helped many in need without taking any credit for his generosity.”



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