Krishna Shah : 1938 – 2013

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Arguably one of the few true Indian / Western crossover films, “Shalimar”, which starred Rex Harrison , John Saxon & a host of 60’s Hindi film headliners, in the 70’s, was only a small part of Krishna Shah’s prolific output as in independent producer director working in Hollywood, and who died in 2013.

Almost a decade previously, Dev Anand, another Hindi film “A-Lister” had starred in a poorly received intended international launch vehicle “The Evil Within” – an oddball U.S / Indian / Phillipino co-production in the English language, distributed by 20th Century Fox, before their assets were frozen in India, which possibly cleared the way for Shah to have another stab at capturing international audiences with Indian themes in the presumably tuned-in and turned-on Hippie Dippy Era of the late 60’s and 70’s.

I knew & met Krishna from the early 90’s onwards & spent days here and there in his company. He was your picture of a typical L.A movie producer on the fringes – always passionate & full of the “positive energy” I would imagine until the very end – he had his magnum opus project – in fact he had 2, epic in scope and ambition and it’s sad to know that he won’t be able to see them through.

A Hollywood “old hand”, but of the Lucas / Coppola USC film school generation – a breed of film producer that thrived in the 70’s as the old studio system was collapsing & which led to the rise of Corman & other indies – that was really Krishnas’ era & it’s unfortunate that we don’t know more about him & his films – a Yale graduate, he directed (& wrote) episodes of “The Man from Uncle” & “Six Million Dollar Man” in the 60’s & 70’s, & later ran a successful company in L.A making & distributing the type of low-budget “Drive-In” & video tape fodder so typical of the period of the mid 70’s to the late 90’s.

I won’t dwell on any differences we might have had, in particular on the issue of retaining artistic vision against commercial concerns & the demands of the U.S market, since he was an experienced distributor with a long track record, even if I didn’t agree with his approach – “Shalimar” mutated into “Raiders of the Sacred Stone” several decades later, re-packaged and re-titled 🙂 – Krishna maintained a positive attitude and whenever we were in touch it was always to discuss his latest projects, and I was flattered to have been taken into his confidence since he seemed to value my opinion – during a Skype call in 2011, he asked me if I could put him in touch with Danny Boyle 🙂 – in return he was always gracious and interested in any ideas I had, the last being an unrealised “making of” graphic novel project where he granted me permission to produce a dummy based on a feature length animated film he had co-produced.

Krishna Shah wrote, produced and directed a large number of films, which in itself isn’t remarkable except for the fact that 99% of these films were for the U.S and international markets, with very much Western sensibilities & mostly what might be termed “exploitation” films – if you rented one of these films on VHS in the 80’s then 9 / 10 it was probably one of Krishnas’ – but for me his lasting legacy is in co-producing what could have been the film which kick-started the current boom in Indian animation and which ended up being mired in issues to do with versioning and authorship – and a film of which I am sure he was proud to have been a part of in spite of those issues, as I was, and still am.

Epic scope and ambition are the qualities you find in independent producers of a certain era, even if they lacked the fire-power of the major studios to pull off their visions, and Krishna typified that mindset – in his company you kind of felt that if he could charm Rex Harrison to act in a film – which he did – he could do anything – a quality he retained right to the very end with a slew of ambitious projects.

Krishna Shah – film producer, writer & director –  1938 – 2013

http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0787452/bio