MUMBAI — As no distributor wanted to touch the film, producer L.V. Prasad released it himself with minimum prints on June 5, 1981. After one week, the prints increased five-fold. “Ek Duuje Ke Liye” became a blockbuster and the year’s biggest hit.
40 years later, it remains a timeless tome of classic love.
Associate producer Ramesh Prasad, son of L.V. Prasad, stated, “The late K. Balachander, the doyen of Tamil cinema who had introduced megastars like Kamal Haasan and Rajinikanth, had written and directed “Maro Charitra,” a black-and-white Telugu film that ran for 100 days in Chennai and was a huge hit in Bengaluru, too.”
Gemini Studios in Chennai was supposed to buy the rights for the Hindi remake, but as luck would have it, they decided against it and the producer, Ram Aranganallal, called up the Prasads. “My father wanted only Balachander for the Hindi version, and he too was very keen to work with us. We decided to retain Kamal Haasan as Vasu but signed Rati Agnihotri who was a known actress down South and had even worked with Kamal.”
Prasad went on, “Our music team – Laxmikant-Pyarelal and Anand Bakshi – were regulars with us for 15 years, and the music was done very fast. All the timeless songs were composed in a matter of days. Laxmikant-ji told us that our inputs were so detailed and clear and the subject so fresh that they were very inspired.”
There were minimum changes made for the Hindi version. Only Vizag, where the original was shot, was replaced with Goa. And then Prasad mentions the highlight: “Speaking of the business aspect, the film earned so much for us that with the profits we set up our post-production studio for even 70mm films. Today, we do work for even international projects and somewhere it all was possible only because of this film!”
The Mumbai premiere was attended by the entire industry, and Raj Kapoor told the senior Prasad that while he personally loved the film, he thought we had killed the film because of the tragic ending. He told him how he had shot two endings for “Bobby” – a happy and a tragic one – and had decided to keep the former climax, leading to that film’s blockbuster success.
Laughed Prasad, “But my father and his director had always been convinced that the impact would only come with a tragic ending. And they were proved right. The film got its depth and Vasu and Sapna attained immortality among audiences only because of this. For all the love stories that live on for centuries are tragedies like Romeo and Juliet and Heer and Ranjha!”
Rati Agnihotri, who played Sapna, recalled, “Though a Punjabi, I have spent several years in Chennai when my father was posted there and began as an actress in South Indian films. Though it was my debut Hindi film, it remains my most happening film, because I worked with the very best in every department, be it my hero, director, producer, technical team or music. Each and every sequence of the film is a story in itself. ‘Ek Duuje Ke Liye’ is a timeless classic, as fresh today as it was when we began shooting around 1979.”
At the tender age of 16 then, Agnihotri said that she had not even experienced all the emotions that she had to portray in the film. “I had never seen the dream world of love and never experienced feelings of rebellion or anger towards my parents! Kamal (Haasan)-ji and Madhavi-ji had worked in the original Telugu film, but my father, who had watched the original, did not allow me to watch it because maybe I would copy the actress!”
Agnihotri also recalled the cliff sequence that Kamal Haasan and she had to climb to carve their names. They had to climb those jagged and hot rocks barefoot because if they wore anything on their feet they might have slipped!
The actress said that the famous sequence where she puts the burnt remains of Vasu’s photograph in her teacup and defiantly drinks it in front of her mother, licking the few fragments stuck to her lips, was done in a single continuous shot. “I never even thought of what the burnt photograph’s pieces would do to my stomach! When we are young we have so much energy and enthusiasm, we eat a lot, and so we are in full fettle.”
Said the actress, “The film still gives me a high – it’s shown every other day on some channel or the other, and you can still relate to this wholesome love story that can make you fall in love again! There are so many sequences that I notice have been copied or imitated in dozens of later films, but there is only one Vasu, one Sapna and one ‘Ek Duuje Ke Liye!’ The chemistry within the team was impeccable, the music superb. I rate ‘Solah Baras Ki Bali Umar’ as my career’s best song, because I was 16 too at that time and the unforgettable words by Anand Bakshi-saab and music have been etched within my soul!”
Kamal Haasan himself had done over 25 films with K. Balachander by the time he made this Hindi debut. “Our bond was of a mentor and a student. He would use all my strengths as actor,” said the actor. “I would also be with him on the sets as much as possible. I would be assistant director, choreograph my songs, or even stand in for cameos if an actor did not turn up, like in his Hindi film ‘Aaina.’”
He added, “I was happy in the South and I was not really looking at a career in Mumbai. But I signed on because it came from the combination of Balachander and Prasad-ji. Even in this film, I helped in the dances, and in conceiving sequences like that of the top on Rati’s stomach. We made only basic changes and additions vis-à-vis the original version. Even the “Mere Jeevan Saathi” song had a similar lyrical concept in the original movie, but from an elevator in Chennai’s famous saree shop, Rasi Silks, in the original, we shifted to the 5-star lift of Hotel Taj Coromandel!”
“Ek Duuje Ke Liye” has three Dadasaheb Phalke laureates in its team – producer L.V. Prasad, writer-director K. Balachander and playback singer Lata Mangeshkar. With dialogues by Inder Raj Anand, the golden jubilee film that blazed past “Laawaris,” “Love Story,” “Kranti” and “Naseeb” like wildfire at the 1981 box-office and is said to have grossed around Rs. 10 crore — a phenomenal amount then.
The songs were sensations, boosting the opening of this – for Hindi cinema – non-star-cast film and enhancing its repeat value. “Tere Mere Beech Mein” (in two versions), “Hum Tum Dono Jab Mile Jayenge,” “Hum Bane Tum Bane Ek Duuje Ke Liye,” “Solah Baras Ki Baali Umar” and “Mere Jeevan Saathi” made up the all-hit score.
Arvind Deshpande, Rakesh Bedi, Shubha Khote, Asrani and Satyen Kappoo were in the supporting cast. The art director was Sudhendu Roy. Most of the remaining team, other than Agnihotri, was repeated from the film’s record-breaking Telugu original by the same director, which included Madhavi, cinematographer B.S. Loknath and editor N.R. Kittoo and key supporting artistes.