ZOYA AKHTHAR'S DIRECTORIAL DEBUT, Luck by Chance, begins, like most Bollywood movies, with a list of acknowledgements, and a mention of the production’s media partners. A number of well-known names are displayed on the screen, from directors such as Ashutosh Gowariker and Karan Johar, and producers such as Ekta Kapoor and Ramesh Taurani, to companies such as Godrej and Reliance. Then, alone in the frame, moments before the first scene kicks off, appear the words: “for our friend Hassan Kutty.”
Like most of the individuals mentioned in the opening, Kutty, too, worked in the movie industry. But even the most dedicated cinemagoer in the country is unlikely to have heard of him. Those who did know him, however, admired him immensely. Among them was the filmmaker Mira Nair, one of Kutty’s earliest and longest-standing collaborators, who worked with him on her 1988 debut, Salaam Bombay. Kutty was the first assistant director on that film, and helped Nair with “casting, costuming, anything,” she told me when I spoke to her over Skype in August last year. His expertise marked him out as “unlike any first assistant director” she’s worked with since. Nair described Kutty as “absolutely unforgettable,” and someone who would be “considered an artist in any cinema system of the world.”
Though Nair knew him as an assistant director, Kutty would go on to use his formidable knowledge of filmmaking for another, more specialised, role—he became Bollywood’s best-known specialist script supervisor. This is a position well established in the American and European film industries. In India, however, though almost 1,000 movies are produced annually, most filmmakers choose not to use one.