Kishore Kumar in 'Mr X in Bombay'
Kishore Kumar in 'Mr X in Bombay'

As a highly unorganised kind of an industry that the Hindi film world has always been famous for, there have been directors who have survived long tenures churning out their magnum opuses and waiting for the turn of fortune to come to their help.

With its status being work in progress in the years following Independence, the Bombay cine field had all kinds of folks, who were keen on directing all types of films in various genres. One such director, Shantilal Soni (1930-2004), who is hardly known, yet famous for helming two notable films with Kishore Kumar, then an actor-singer, apart from 20 others between 1960 and 2002, deserves mention.

Also known as SL Soni, this director has given two typical fantasy-laden sci-fi thrillers two years in succession – 1964 and 1965 – with the versatile legend in the lead. ‘Mr X in Bombay’ released in 1964 and the curiously titled ‘Shreeman Funtoosh’ in 1965 had two common strands. One was that both revolved around a layman approach to sci-fi, where the hero attains an invisible presence in the former film while he transforms into a formidable one in the latter. Both the films also had a common point- the heroine being Kumkum, with whom Kishore Da was seen featured in a few other films too.

The second was the rapidly growing popularity of Laxmikant-Pyarelal who came up with superb solo numbers of Kishore Kumar. If it was “Mere Mehboob Qayamat Hogi” in the first, the latter had ‘‘Yeh Dard Bhara Afsana”, a nice blend of voice and orchestration, which laid bare the angst of a desperate lover in the macho tone of the actor-singer.

A cursory look at the collection of films that SL Soni came up with after these and a few years prior to it show that he was heavily into religious types of films –  ‘Naag Devata’, ‘Sati Savitri’ to ‘Mahima Kali Maa Ki’, which was his last film released in 2002. If industry sources are to be believed, low-budget yet breakeven ventures in the genres of religion and horror have always been the desired soft spots for those who have believed in value for money. Soni seemed to have survived the uncertainties in this manner as he seemed to have been a long-term player, irrespective of the impact his films created. Soni’s birthday falls on November 28.