Director, producer and screenwriter Bhappi Sonie is known for his hits Janwar (1965) and Brahmachari (1968), which are among Shammi Kapoor’s most memorable films. He had started his career assisting Raj Khosla in Milap (1955), C.I.D. (1956) and Solva Saal (1958). He went on to make his directorial debut with Ek Phool Char Kaante (1960). The film is a light-hearted comic love story, wherein Sunil Dutt falls in love with a "phool" Sushma (Waheeda Rehman) but has to impress her four uncles, the "kante" (thorns) of the title. Other films he went on to direct include Pyar Hi Pyar (1969), Tum Haseen Main Jawan (1970), Jheel Ke Us Paar (1973), Bhanwar (1976), Chalta Purza (1977), Jail Yatra (1981), Bade Dil Wala (1983), and Sasti Dulhan Mahenga Dulha (1986). He is credited with producing films like Tum Haseen Main Jawan (1970), and Khoon Ka Karz (1991), and also writing the dialogue for Janwar, Solva Saal, Kala Pani (1958), and Ek Phool Char Kaante.
Born on 31 July, 1928, Bhappi Sonie began his career as an assistant to Raj Khosla with Milap (1955), which was Khosla’s directorial debut. He also assisted Khosla on the latter’s first success as a director—the crime thriller CID (1956). Produced by Guru Dutt, the film starred Dev Anand, Johnny Walker, Shakila and K N Singh and marked the debut of legendary actress Waheeda Rehman in Hindi films. The film became a huge hit. In 1960, Sonie made his own directorial debut with Ek Phool Char Kaante. This romantic comedy starred Sunil Dutt and Waheeda Rehman, pairing them together for the first time. It revolved around four 'thorns’, or obstacles, namely the four eccentric uncles of the heroine, whom the leading man needs to charm for the lovers to finally unite. Decades later, the film inspired David Dhawan’s Dulhan Hum Le Jayenge (2000), starring Salman Khan and Karisma Kapoor.
Sonie’s next directorial venture Janwar (1965) starred Shammi Kapoor and Rajshree. The story revolved around Mr Srivastava who lives a wealthy lifestyle with his wife and two sons, Mahendra and Sunder. He plans to get his sons married to women from equally wealthy backgrounds. Mahendra falls in love with Seema, who is poor and lives with her stepmother. This creates considerable acrimony in the family, and Seema is not accepted as a daughter-in-law. Unable to find a solution, Mahendra takes to alcohol and falls into the clutches of a beautiful courtesan named Bahaar. While vacationing in Srinagar, Sunder meets Sapna, who also comes from a poor family, and the two fall in love. After the vacation, the two part company. The next time Sapna sees Sunder, he in the company of a pregnant woman and she overhears that he is soon to be a father. The proceedings reveal whether Sunder decides to obey his father's instructions after all, and follows what is to become of Sapna.
Janwar released a year after the success of Shammi Kapoor’s Kashmir Ki Kali (1964). It marked the beginning of a strong collaboration between director Bhappi Sonie and writer Sachin Bhowmick. Sonie and Bhowmick also teamed up for Sonie’s next, Brahmachari (1968).
Brahmachari, a GP and Ramesh Sippy production, starred Shammi Kapoor, Rajshree, Pran, Mumtaz, Jagdeep, Sachin and Asit Sen, with music by Shankar Jaikishan. The film became a box office super hit and won several awards, including Filmfare Best Movie Award. It was later remade in Tamil as Enga Mama (1970) and in Telugu as Devudu Mamayya (1981). It told the tale of Brahmachari (Shammi Kapoor), an orphan with no identity, who takes care of many orphans in his home. Being poor, it is hard for him to take care of their every need. One day, he saves a young woman Sheetal (Rajshree) from committing suicide. She is in love with Ravi Khanna (Pran) who is promiscuous. Brahmachari promises to unite her with Ravi in return for money. Day and night he works on her appearance to make Ravi like her, but Brahmachari himself falls in love with her along the way. When Ravi proposes to Sheetal, she also realises she loves Brahmachari. Ravi, however, brings in pressure on Brahmachari in terms of forfeiture of the mortgage on Brahmachari's house, due to non-repayment of loans. Ravi convinces Brahmachari into giving up Sheetal by promising to repay the mortgage dues in exchange, to which Brahmachari reluctantly agrees. In order to convince Sheetal, Brahmachari pretends to be romantically involved with Rupa. However, when Rupa tries to leave her newborn child at Brahmachari's house, Brahmachari finds out that the child's father is Ravi. He also gets hold of love letters written by Ravi to Rupa, which he intends to use to convince Ravi to marry Rupa. Ravi however doesn't relent and instead orders the kidnapping of Brahmachari's orphans. A fight ensues and the children are rescued. A repentant Ravi apologises to Brahmachari and agrees to marry Rupa. Brahmachari and Sheetal get married and along with the children, set off on a road trip in Brahmachari's car. The film became a huge hit, and also won several awards, including the Filmfare award for Best Film and the Best Actor award for Shammi Kapoor.
Sonie’s next, Pyar Hi Pyar (1969), starring Dharmendra, Vyjayanthimala, Pran, and Helen, was also a success. It remains the only film to have paired Dharmendra with Vyjayanthimala. The film also featured Shatrughan Sinha, then a newcomer, fresh out of the Film and Television institute of India in Pune at the time—Sonie had spotted Sinha at the Famous Studios, Mahalaxmi. Sinha had a two-scene role in the film, essaying Pran’s boss. Despite being a fresher acting opposite a veteran, Sinha played his role with aplomb, impressing the audience. Sonie went on to later cast him again in his 1973 film Jheel Ke Us Paar.
Sonie saw his biggest successes as a filmmaker in the 1960s; while he did work with some strong talents in the 70s, his films failed to leave a lasting impression. These include his directorials such as the Dharmendra-Hema Malini starrer Tum Haseen Main Jawan (1970), Jawan Muhabat (1971) and Preetam (1971) starring Shammi Kapoor, and Chalta Purza (1977) starring Rajesh Khanna and Parveen Babi, among others.
Sonie’s last film was Nishchaiy (1992), which he produced. Directed by Esmayeel Shroff, it starred Vinod Khanna, Salman Khan and Karisma Kapoor in the leading roles. It told the story of two brothers, Ravi (Vinod Khanna) and Rohan Yadav (Salman Khan), who are separated as children. Ravi goes on to be wrongly considered a criminal while Rohan becomes a lawyer. They eventually come face to face, unaware of the fact that they are brothers. The film also saw music director great, O P Nayyar making a comeback—however, it was lukewarm at best.
Bhappi Sonie died on 5 September, 2001, while undergoing a heart bypass surgery at Nanavati Hospital, in Mumbai, at the age of 73.
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