O Teri debutant Bilal Amrohi on how his grandfather Kamal Amrohi’s film legacy shaped him. When my grandfather Kamal Amrohi was alive, I was too young. Our interaction was limited because I stayed in Bandra while he lived in Versova. All the faint memories I have are not related to movies but are pretty much like how it is between any regular grandfather and grandson. But, given the legendary status of his films such as Pakeezah, Mahal, Razia Sultan and Mughal-E-Azam (for which he wrote the dialogues), I was always aware of my family’s cinema legacy. Moreover, I have also seen my father and brother work in films. In a way, you could say, I kind of always knew that I wanted to be in the movies but didn’t know how to get there. When I went to Los Angeles to study acting, I got an academic perspective on why my grandfather’s films were such a phenomenon.
It’s strange, but more than just his films, what would always inspire were the stories that went behind their making. I was fortunate enough to have grown up listening to these stories from my mother and bua. Mahal is not only one of India’s first reincarnation thrillers, it is also the story of how my grandfather made his first film. He was just 22 years old then and only had Rs 17 in his pocket when he came to Mumbai to make films. At an early stage of Mahal, he was involved as a scriptwriter and the studio was ready to pay him Rs 25,000 (a lot of money in those days) for just the story. But he was so convinced about directing it himself that he persisted and finally had his way. It is the same reason that several of his films were revolutionary in their own ways, such as Pakeezah, India’s first colour film in Cinemascope. Even as a kid, I thought it was really cool.
Equally amazing are the stories of the painstaking detailing he would put into each frame. When I work today, the set up seems far more easy and complacent. My grandfather had apparently taken one whole week to shoot a sunset scene with Meena Kumari for the climax of Pakeezah.
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As a kid, my visits to the splendid Kamalistan studios, when it was owned by my grandfather, was a delight. I used to devour the sight of the huge palatial estate with its vast, sprawling land — a rarity in the city — with wide-eyed wonder. Later, it would be in this very studio that I worked on my first film as an assistant director and made a start to my film career.