H.S. Rawail: Death of a faded giant

Last Updated: Fri, Sep 24, 2004 13:45 hrs

The death of filmmaker Harnam Singh Rawail was a minor snippet in the back pages of Mumbai’s newspapers.

The unsung passing away of a once-distinguished filmmaker left some of the more sensitive souls in the film industry stung with dismay. “This is the same filmmaker who made a monumental film like Mere Mehboob in the 1960s. It’s so sad to forget those who contributed so much to Hindi cinema just because they haven’t been professionally active in recent times,” says filmmaker Arjun Sablok.

Rawail indeed contributed considerably to mainstream Hindi cinema. Born in Lyallpur he came to Mumbai as a teenager with only dreams of making movies and no money in his pocket. Rawail soon moved to Kolkata where he wrote several scripts before turning director with Dorangia Daku in 1940.

He made several action and comedy films in the 1940s and 50s, but finally discovered his forte in the popular genre known as the Muslim Social when he made Mere Mehboob. A huge blockbuster featuring Ashok Kumar, Sadhana and Rajendra Kumar in a love triangle. The film’s music score by Naushad is a perennial favourite.

Rawail returned at least thrice to the ‘nawabi’ Muslim culture of Mere Mehboob to make the 1971 follow-up called Mehboob Ki Mehndi. A resounding flop featuring Rajesh Khanna and Leena Chandravarkar the film again revealed the director’s keen ear for songs and music (this time by Laxmikant-Pyarelal).

Rawail’s third Muslim Social was the love legend Laila Majnu, a huge blockbuster with Rishi Kapoor and Ranjeeta Kaur in the title roles. The film was again rendered remarkable by the music score composed by Madan Mohan. When the composer passed away before the film’s release, the music was completed by another composer Jaidev. The film boasted of Madan Mohan’s most successful score ever. Laila Majnu was also the last really successful love legend of Hindi cinema.

Rawail’s fourth Muslim Social Deedar-e-Yaar produced by the film’s leading man Jeetendra was a remake of sorts of the mythic Mere Mehboob. The film scripted by H.S Rawail’s son Rahul Rawail, was one of the biggest boxoffice disasters in the history of Indian cinema wiping out the senior Rawail’s career a movie maker.

Though H. S Rawail is identified with Mere Mehboob his most remarkable film was Sangharsh in 1968. Based on a novel written by the eminent Bengali author Mahashweta Devi, Sangharsh set in the 19th century focussed on the lives of bandits known as the `Thugees`. The remarkable drama had exceptional performances by stalwarts like Jayant, Balraj Sahni, Sanjeev Kumar, Vyjanthimala and Dilip Kumar.

H.S Rawail’s son Rahul paid his father’s best work a compliment when he titled one of his film Jeevan Ek Sangharsh in 1990. Like the father, the son seems to have made his most successful films in the middle of his career. But unlike the senior Rawail isn’t identified with any one genre of cinema.

“The important thing for a filmmaker is to keep surprising yourself and the audience,” says Sanjay Leela Bhansali, an ardent fan of Rawail’s Mere Mehboob and Sangharsh.