Thursday, May 20, 2021




             ( Avtar Kaul )
   ( Avtar Kaul with friends sitting  on the steps leading to Jahangir Art Gallery,Mumbai)


Avtar was born in Kashmir . While his family moved to Delhi in 1949, he joined them later after completing his studies. Arriving in Delhi as a graduate, he joined Ministry of External Affairs in 1958 . In 1960, he moved to the US  and enrolled  to learn film direction  in a film institute in  New York city.In the US, he learnt everything about film making  .He returned to India in 1970, with his American wife Anne, and settled in Mumbai.  In India , he worked with Ivory Merchant production house . By now he had acquired wide knowledge of  world cinema, Indian films and the French 'New Wave Cinema' .

It was during this period ,  the Film Finance Corporation helped  Mrinal Sen to produce  Bhuvan Shome, Basu Chatterjee to make   Sara Akash and Mani Kaul for his Uski Roti.The trend that came to be known as 'Parallel Cinema 'had already become visible.  Avtar Kaul was keen on adding his name to this Parallel Cinema  . With the encouragement of FFC chairperson BK Karanjia, Kaul set out in 1972 to make his first film. He started looking for some good script.

The film is based on the Hindi novel Athara Sooraj Ke Paudhe, by Ramesh Bakshi. Avtar Kaul picked up the book from Delhi book shop. He liked the novel and decided to make a film based on the novel. That is how 27 Down was born. He sounded his younger brother , Predhuman Kaul about the project.Pradhuman Kaul quit his job with the Indian Air Force to help on a production that was a challenge for the brothers . Predhuman Kaul remembers  this :

“I had never seen a shoot before that. We shot on more than 40 actual locations. The film could be made only because the people involved with the film were all young.The most prominent crew member was Raakhee, who had already a movie star. Avtar  initially wanted to cast director Bimal Roy’s daughter Aparajita in the lead role. Rakhee came on the recommendation of FFC’s BK Karanjia. She accepted the role because she liked the storyline."

Avtar Kaul  signed Bansi Chandragupt as art director for the project. Bansi Chandragupt  worked with Satyajit Ray,  Jean Renoir, Mrinal Sen, Shyam Benegal, Basu Chatterjee, Ismail Merchant, James Ivory and Aparna Sen. Narinder Singh ,the well known sound recordist was also signed for the project. Narinder Singh had also worked with Mrinal Sen.

The film had many  first-timers that  included A.K. Bir, the Film and Television Institute of India-trained cinematographer who was 22 years old at the time and had never shot a feature.The crew faced many problems. Raakhee was a known face, and the crew had to show her travelling in trains or walking through crowds . Shooting with her in public spaces and  platforms was difficult and tough.  For some   shots, the unit  had to seek the help of the police. However , everything kept rolling and moving in positive direction.

And Avtar had complete confidence in M.K. Raina who had already graduated from NSD and was noticed for his acting skills in some popular Hindi plays .

The production took nearly two years as  Kaul brothers ran out of money. Theyhad initially  pooled around three lakhs from their sources .The film cost them around eight lakhs and they had to raise a loan of about five lakhs.

As filmmaker, Avtar  was a hard taskmaster. He didn’t even spare his brother. “He would shout at me if I made a mistake,” Pradhuman Kaul said. “A unit member was combing his hair while recording sound. Avtar yelled, you should have a boom in your hand, not a comb"
The shooting at ever busy VT station  Mumbai was done in a secret manner  .Nobody knew that a film was being shot. M. K. Raina in his dress appeared like a genuine TTE (Travelling Ticket Examiner).  Even people were seeking   information on trains from him. By the time people came to know about shooting, the team 27 Down  had packed up. The camera was placed away from public gaze.

My friend Yusuf Bhat told me this:

" Avtar was a very friendly person. I vividly remember he  had taken two rooms in YMCA, Mumbai Central and  used run his office from there. He used to live probably in Meher Apartments ,Anstey Road those days. Initially, Avtar Kaul had selected me as editor of the movie. I had signed the contract. The movie was named 58 Down. The name was subsequently changed to  '27 Down.' The film had Bansi Chandragupt as  art director. Then Narinder Singh, the sound recordist was also very brilliant. Avtar was very focussed. He made everyone give 100% to the film. He wanted me to be present at every shot whether indoor or outdoor. I had little time for that . Then we had arguments in the editing room .  The negatives were handled by me at the 'Famous Cine Laboratory ',Taradeo. He was thoroughly professional in his approach.  He didn't agree to some suggestions. I moved out from the project. But he was a great man. I was paid full remuneration as per the agreement. I believe I was paid 3500/- by him. That was a big amount those days.  I am talking of 1972 . Late Ravi Patnaik edited the film after I left.27 Down got Filmfare award but Avtar Kaul didn't live to receive it."


( Agreement copies of Yusuf Bhat , Editor )

The film was completed with MK Raina and Rakhee in lead roles. It created some sensation with its cinematography, direction, handling of the story and dialogues.Arvtar  Kaul was planning  to make another film with M K Raina in lead role.
27 Down was finally completed in 1973. It had been screened at the Locarno Film Festival the following year, where it was given an award .

July 20, 1974, Avtar Kaul was invited to dinner at a sea-facing bungalow in Walkeshwar in south Mumbai. A.K. Bir was at his rented apartment with a few friends. That night, Bir got a call from Delhi, informing him that 27 Down had won two National Film Awards. It was a time to celebrate. A.K . Bir remembers this:

“We were expecting Avtar to come and celebrate. However, at around 1am or so, I got a call from the police, asking me to identify a body.”
They learnt that  Avtar Kaul had gone to beach. He was sitting on a  parapet along with a friend who  lost  balance and slipped into the  Arabian Sea. Kaul dived in to save his friend , but neither survived. The roaring Monsoon waves proved fatal.
Avtar was taken first to one hospital and then to another, and he died on the way.

Praduman Kaul wasn’t in Mumbai at the time the tragedy struck the family. He had returned to Delhi to look after his ailing wife.  Predhuman remembers:

““It was shocking for all of us. We had heard that he was getting the award just the previous night.”

Avtar Kaul's wife , Anne, had lost her father around the same time, and couldn’t travel to India for the funeral. Anne, returned to the US halfway during the shoot.

Avtar Kaul’s untimely death was a great setback to his brother Predhuman.. He was deeply disturbed and could not do anything in cinema after that. He returned to Delhi and worked for a while with a theatre group and later joined an insurance company.

( Avtar Mota)

Creative Commons License
CHINAR SHADE by Autarmota is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 India License.
Based on a work at http:\\\.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.