Tinnu Anand feigns disbelief when his vintage is mentioned. “I cannot be that old,” said the 65-year-old director and actor during a recent visit to the Kolkata Book Fair. One of the contributors towards the cult of Amitabh Bachchan through his films Kaalia, Shahenshah and Main Azaad Hoon, Anand is also known for his roles in Pushpak, Nayakan, Bombay and the Dabangg films. The Mayo College alumnus was cast as Crime Master Gogo in Andaz Apna Apna (1994), but was replaced by Shakti Kapoor.

Tinnu Anand (real name Virender) is a second-generation filmmaker. His father is Inder Raj Anand, the well-regarded dialogue and screenwriter who worked in Hindi cinema between the late 1940s and the ’80s. However, Tinnu Anand’s apprenticeship began in Kolkata, under Satyajit Ray. Anand narrated an anecdote about working with Ray during an event that marked the fiftieth anniversary of Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne at the Kolkata Book Fair: Raj Kapoor tried to interest Ray in launching his son, Randhir Kapoor, by financing Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne, but a Kolkata family stepped in to salvage “Bengali pride”.

Anand later spoke to Scroll.in about his stint as a director and actor, his almost-role in Andaz Apna Apna and his performance in Pushpak (1987), and why he will never direct a full-length feature again.

You have been mentoring the group Script Productions, which staged a production of Satyajit Ray’s ‘Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne’ at the Kolkata Book Fair. Tell us about the association.
That is what I love about these young boys and girls. They’ve come to Bombay, they’re trying to make it. I try to be like Mr Ray [Satyajit Ray] was to me, as a foreigner from Bombay who didn’t know Bengali, wanted to work as an assistant, and then became close to him after working with him for five years. That is the kind of spirit I see in them, that’s why I encourage them.

It was heartening to see the bonhomie you share with your peers from your years as Ray’s assistant director. It has been decades since you worked with them in films such as ‘Seemabaddha’, ‘Aranyer Din Ratri’ and ‘Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne’. Do you stay in touch?
I was talking last night with all of them. All the friends I’ve made in Kolkata are still friends. This time, I made an effort to go and meet Soumendu Roy, Ray’s cameraman. I said, I must-must go there, and it was such a warm meeting. Of course, it brought tears to my eyes. He was very active when I knew him. It moved me a lot.

Satyajit Ray’s Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne (1969). Courtesy Purnima Pictures.

Your father, Inder Raj Anand, famously never wanted you to follow in his footsteps.
My father wanted me to be anything else. Maybe because he knew how the film industry was first-hand because he had a long struggle and met with success after many, many, many years. He didn’t want us to go through that.

The other thing was that my brother [Bittu, a producer and the father of director Sidharth Anand] was studying with the nephews and nieces of one of the leading heroines of the time. She got married to her Hindu co-star. My father knew the lady well, and we used to live near each other, on Marine Drive. There were a few journalists sitting with my father, and my brother came and said, you know what happened? She got beaten up by the brothers because she got married to the Hindu actor. My father was shaken up. He was like, my son, who’s just seven years old, brings me this news!

The next day, my father went all the way to Mayo College in Ajmer. He had heard of a school far away from Bombay, with a very strict principal. He couldn’t afford it. We were two brothers. But he made it a point: I am going to put my boys in a boarding school, I don’t want them to be discussing marriages of film actors.

Despite my father’s best intentions, both his sons ended up in the film industry. But in the end, he was happy. The only sad thing was that he could not see the success of his sons.

You trained under Satyajit Ray and then went back to Mumbai to make commercial films with top-billed stars. How did your experience with Ray prepare you?
It was a disqualification for somebody from Bombay to come to Calcutta, work under Ray and go back to make a film. No one wanted to make films around the experimental subjects that I had with me. [One such subject] was about a blind boy and a blind girl. I had to struggle for about one-and-a-half years after leaving Manikda [Ray] for five years.

Rishi Kapoor, who was friends with my younger brother, came up with an idea. He said, my films are selling today, why don’t you produce a film? I’ll act in it and ask Tinnu to direct it. He’s not getting a break, ask him to come up with a story that is not a Ray story.

So I made a film called Duniya Meri Jeb Mein. In between, there was another enterprising young boy, he wanted to produce a film. He came to know that I was very close to Amitabh Bachchan. He said, why don’t you narrate a story to Amitabh, and if he says yes, I’ll give you the film to direct.

It was a long shot. It took me one year to narrate my script to Amitabh. But I also like to get after something and then achieve it. After a year of running after Amitabh, he said yes to my script. And that was Kaalia.

Amitabh Bachchan in Kaalia (1981), directed by Tinnu Anand. Courtesy Iqbal Singh.

‘Duniya Meri Jeb Mein’ was not very formulaic. It had Shashi Kapoor without a heroine.
It was not different, it was commercial. Actually, I wanted to cast Amitabh as the brother. But Rishi said, it’s the start of my career and you’re pitching me against the best actor of this country. Take Shashi Kapoor. We didn’t have the money to pay the actors, and Rishi was coming for free, so we succumbed and went to Shashi. It took me five years to make that film because of Shashi. He was so busy. He used to do five shifts in a day, give two hours.

Now this is where Ray comes in. I didn’t set out to become a Ray. No one can do that. No son can ever become what a father is. But I learnt the technique of editing your script before going on the floor. Everything had to be worked out, so that you didn’t waste raw footage, which was very expensive. You edited in your mind, on paper.

This is what I learnt from Mr Ray. He had his drawings. Even the camera movements were written down. Which I also tried doing in Bombay, but the actors came late and everything went haywire. How could I shoot a film in which Rishi Kapoor would come only after 10.30 and that was when Shashi Kapoor used to leave my set?

This was obviously a world apart from the sets of Satyajit Ray.
Yes. This isn’t the kind of filmmaking I learnt from Mr Ray because his actors were always there before him. And that is what I also thought, that all my actors would be sitting down on a bench.

Here, these people weren’t available to me. I used to die of nervous breakdowns. Fight master Veeru Devgan used to say, why are you worried? This is how we’ll do it. See, he’s coming at 10, so we’ll take master shots with duplicates. And when he comes, we’ll punch in and go over the shoulders. This was not possible under Ray.

Soumitra Chatterjee and Sharmila Tagore in Aranyer Din Ratri (1969). Courtesy Priya Pictures.

Through your collaboration with Amitabh Bachchan, you contributed to his image as the Angry Young Man. How different were the films from the 1970s and the ’80s from what we see today?
Times have changed. You see anger on the screen all the time. Our anger was aimed commercially. This is more realistic anger. So what would you like? Would you like the commercial anger that you don’t believe? Or would you like to see that anger as in reality, which is cinema today?

Amitabh really brought in that angry young man. Because at that time, people wanted to revolt, and he was the right person to project that image.

The moviegoing experience of the ’70s and ’80s was quite different as well.
True. When we were growing up, we never had air-conditioning. The only place that was air-conditioned was a train or a theatre. So we went to theatres not only because of the films, but to relax sit in air-conditioned luxury. Producers made three-hour films to satisfy you for the money that you paid for your ticket. If you made a one-and-a-half hour film, they would beat you up and tear off the screens because you had cheated them of that luxury.

Now, you have mini-theatres. They have reduced the duration of the films because they want more shows in a day. You are soon going to be watching films only on digital platforms. Even your TV is going to be extinct.

It has been 21 years since you directed a film. Why did you give up filmmaking?
I had made a film called Major Saab [in 1998]. Unfortunately, that film was being made when Amitabh, as the producer, had gone bankrupt, and that gave me a lot of heartache. Our unit was revolting against Amitabh and me. The film industry doesn’t forgive. If you are in trouble, they will put you down even further instead of giving you a helping hand.

We were shooting the film in Pune. The unit had come from Madras. My camera unit would go on strike every second day, saying they had not been paid. This wasn’t worth the heartache. I decided not to direct. I decided to give heart attacks to my producers as an actor rather than a director.

Sona Sona, Major Saab (1998).

How does acting compare to directing?
I was lucky that I had a second profession, which is a much more lazy profession. As a director, I would never sit down, I was always on the go. As an actor, you are led from your car to your air-conditioned makeup van. Two girls will come ask you, sir, would you like some coffee or tea? Nobody asks the director.

Acting is the only profession in which you are paid well, looked after well and pampered, even for tantrums.

In Singeetam Srinivasa Rao’s ‘Pushpak’, you play a hitman whose weapon of choice is a dagger made of ice. It is counted as one of your best performances.
I have worked in about 150 films, and no film was shot the way Pushpak was. Kamal Hassan was the hero, and he was there all the time, whether he was shooting or not. The entire cast had to be present. The art director used to be present. The cameraman was taking part in the discussions.

Kamal Hassan had never met me before. He was told by Sarika [his wife at the time] that there’s this guy who enjoys acting, he’s not an actor but a director, he’s directing Amitabh Bachchan in Shahenshah at the moment. Let’s ask him to play the role. That was Sarika’s vision, no one else’s.

Tinnu Anand in Pushpak (1987). Courtesy Mandakini Chitra.

Is there any one special scene from ‘Pushpak’ that you remember?
The director wanted everyone to contribute to scenes, which doesn’t happen. He’d say, Tinnu, this room is actually your room in the hotel, but Kamal Hassan wants to come in. So let’s do it ulta. Say this is Kamal’s room and you want to enter it. Where are you going to get the key from?

I say, from housekeeping. Good idea.

He places a trolley outside Kamal Hassan’s room. Now Tinnu, how will you walk in? I have a duplicate key, but I am not just going to walk in, which is why my face is peeping in. The cameraman says, okay, I have to take a shot of Tinnu closer, and then a long shot of him walking into the room. He’s very comfortable because no one is there. It has now become his room.

There are bottles of perfumes on the dressing table. I love perfume. So I walk towards the dressing table, try out the perfume. I hear the key opening, it’s Kamal.

The director says, where would you like to hide? I say, behind the curtain. All right, go and hide. Why I’m giving you these information because this isn’t how films are made.

And this is why people like Pushpak.

Given the diverse characters you have played, you must be asked about your preparation for a role.
Nothing, just the money. So many directors come to me with scripts. I say yaar, I will deliver your character. First tell me about the money. Role hota rahta hai. If I was choosy about roles, I would not have taken up Nayakan and Pushpak. Script narration is bullshit. I need to enjoy my work.

Let me give you an example. I shot for Raj Kumar Santoshi’s Andaz Apna Apna for three days, and created the character and the quirks of Crime Master Gogo. The popular line, “Aankhen phod ke gotiya khelunga,” was something I had used to make a little bossy girl cry. There were date issues and Shakti Kapoor eventually went on to do the role, but till date, Aamir Khan says that those three days that I shot with them were a blast.

So yes, I must have fun. And the money should be good.

Tinnu Anand playing a character modelled on Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray in Mani Ratnam’s Bombay (1995). Courtesy S Sriram/Jhamu Sugandh.

‘Main Azaad Hoon’ (1989) was special to you as a filmmaker. Though it did not do well at the time, would you say it remains relevant?
All we wanted to do was make a different film with Amitabh. Let’s get rid of the action scenes and songs and make a film. I had not seen Meet John Doe [the 1941 film on which Main Azaad Hoon is based]. Javed Akhtar came up with the idea of making a political statement with his script.

I am very proud of Main Azaad Hoon. We came up with a film that was totally different for all of us. Politically, it was destroyed. Our producer betrayed us by released the film across multiple screens where Amitabh’s Deewar and Sholay had had a good run. This was not the idea. We wanted it to release in only a few theatres and rely on word of mouth. But that did not happen. I think the film came ahead of its time, and it is still relevant.

You created larger-than-life characters in your films. A great deal of cinema is now playing out on smaller screens, through streaming platforms. How would you go about it?
Larger-than-life characters will belong to a limited segment, like Superman and Batman. The films that are being made abroad have several heroes, because they can’t deal with a single character. The same thing is going to happen here. That’s why the web has become so popular. This is going to be more personal. Personal cinema will bring you more realism.

Doesn’t this new platform excite you as a filmmaker?
No. I have become very lazy. I’d rather be an actor. I’ve shut shop completely.

I do have various ideas. I want to make short films. I’ve been wanting to make one ever since I was an assistant. I narrated it to Simi, Sharmila, all my heroines, just to impress them. I knew the story was very good. But when it came down to actually making it and I had the money to make it, I didn’t. I don’t know why.

Amitabh Bachchan in Shahenshah (1988), directed by Tinnu Anand.