Jag Mundhra: Director who progressed from exploitation films to tackling serious social issues

The film director Jagmohan Mundhra carved out a distinct niche for himself, moving easily between social relevance and pure entertainment. Equally at home making thrillers, comedies and more serious-minded films, he found commercial and critical success both in his native India and in the US and Britain.

Early in his career he took an interest in Hindi films, and used to rent a theatre in Los Angeles and showed Bollywood films for $5 a ticket. His directing career began in 1982 with the drama Suraag (The Clue), starring the Bollywood stars Sanjeev Kumar and Shabana Azmi. It was followed by Kamla (1985), with Azmi and a newcomer, Deepti Naval. The film deals with the flesh trade in Madhya Pradesh; it gave Deepti, who plays a victim of the trade, an opportunity to prove herself. The film was nominated for an Indian National Award and "Jag", as he liked to be called, found overnight fame.

It was with Bawandar (The Sand Storm, 2000), based on the story of a real-life gang-rape victim, Bhanwari Devi, a low-caste woman from Rajasthan, that Mundhra achieved recognition as a director with a penchant for depicting gritty reality. The controversial film portrays the emotional trauma and humiliation Devi went through while seeking justice in India after being brutally raped by a gang of higher-caste men in 1992. It went on to win The Political Film Society award in the US. Mundhra went on to transform more real-life stories into tales that captured the imagination on both sides of the Atlantic.

"Jagmohan Mundhra was one of the most subjective directors," Azmi said. He was an extremely generous, kind, hospitable and thoughtful man." Born into a conservative family in 1948 in Nagpur, Mundhra grew up in Calcutta. Though his family disapproved of the cinema, he was determined to make films. After graduating from the University of Mumbai, he moved to the US, where he completed a PhD in marketing at Michigan State University and taught for a year at California State University. In 1979 he gave up his teaching job to become a film-maker.

In the late 1980s and into the 90s, Mundhra made a string of exploitation films in the US, including The Jigsaw Murders (1988), Halloween Night (1988), Night Eyes (1990), LA Goddess (1993), Sexual Malice (1994) and Monsoon (1998). Night Eyes, made on a budget of around $1m, went on to gross more than $40m.

He returned to his favoured genre of social realism with another controversial piece, Provoked (2006), with Aishwarya Rai. Again he brought to the screen a kind of cinematic reality that left his sincerity and sensitivity in no doubt, adapting the true story of a London-based Punjabi woman, Kiranjit Ahluwalia, a victim of domestic violence. When the film was released in London, the BBC said "Provoked avoids sentimentality and illustrates how one woman's bravery helped fuel a nationwide crusade and irrevocably altered British laws on domestic violence."

In the same year, Mundhra handled another provocative subject in Shoot on Sight (2007), with Naseeruddin Shah, Greta Scacchi and Brian Cox. The film dealt with the West's view of Muslims following the 7/7 London bombings. "I decided to make the film after my own post-9/11 experiences in London when, as a fully-bearded guy, I could not get any taxi cabs to pull over for me," Mundhra said at the time.

An ardent experimenter, and always his own man, Mundhra moved back to to India, to Mumbai, and was eager to make more films, but away from social realism. Last year he directed the thriller Apartment: Rent at Your Own Risk (2010), and earlier this year he made the Hindi comedy Naughty @40.

Jagmohan Mundhra, film director: born Nagpur, India 29 October 1948; married Smriti (one daughter); died Mumbai 4 September 2011.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
Arts and Entertainment
Southern charm: Nicolas Cage and Tye Sheridan in ‘Joe’
filmReview: Actor delivers astonishing performance in low budget drama
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
Arts and Entertainment
Up my street: The residents of the elegant Moray Place in Edinburgh's Georgian New Town
tvBBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past
Albus Dumbledore, the headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry has been the teaching profession's favourite teacher
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
Life and Style
Cheesecake frozen yoghurt by Constance and Mathilde Lorenzi
food + drinkThink outside the cool box for this summer’s frozen treats
John Barrowman kisses his male “bride” at a mock Gretna Green during the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony
peopleBarrowman's opening ceremony message to Commonwealth countries where he would be sent to prison for being gay
Sir Bradley Wiggins removes his silver medal after the podium ceremony for the men’s 4,000m team pursuit in Glasgow yesterday
Commonwealth games Disappointment for Sir Bradley in team pursuit final as England are forced to settle for silver
Alistair Brownlee (right) celebrates with his gold medal after winning the men’s triathlon alongside brother Jonny (left), who got silver
England's Jodie Stimpson won the women’s triathlon in the morning
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SQL Report Analyst (SSRS, CA, SQL 2012)

£30000 - £38500 Per Annum + 25 days holiday, pension, subsidised restaurant: C...

Application Support Analyst (SQL, Incident Management, SLAs)

£34000 - £37000 Per Annum + excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Lt...

Embedded Software / Firmware Engineer

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Pension, Holiday, Flexi-time: Progressive Recruitm...

Developer - WinForms, C#

£280 - £320 per day: Progressive Recruitment: C#, WinForms, Desktop Developmen...

Day In a Page

Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform