Dil hai chhota sa chhoti si asha (the heart is small, it has a small desire) could have been written for the characters of Hrishida’s movies! They live in a small world, bounded by their domestic concerns. Their lives are lit up by the small joys of everyday living – a raise at work, a smile from a pretty colleague, India defeating Pakistan in a hotly contested cricket match… They have no large bungalows in London, no plushy revolving beds or shiny Mercedes convertibles. And yet, they have fun, there is laughter and joy in their lives, and more importantly, we have fun watching them go about their filmi lives.
If I had to describe the hallmark of all Hrishida’s movies in one sentence, I’d say that they make you happy. When you spend a couple of hours laughing and crying with one of his movies, you leave with a smile on your face and a firm conviction that the world is a lot better place than you imagined it to be! The optimism and the sheer joy of living that all his characters embrace - that is what makes his films so special.
HM started his career in the late 40s as a cameraman. Early on in his career, he was associated with Bimal Roy – as an editor and assistant director. And you can see the influence of the maestro in Hrishida’s storytelling – his propensity for artistic masala, the (mostly) subtle performances he extracted from his actors and his brilliant camera work (Anupama has superb B/W cinematography), everything reminds you of Bimal Roy’s brilliant film making. Hrishikesh Mukherjee began his career as a director with 1957’s Musafir, and did his best work in the next three decades. He has a very big hand in making the 70s the movie heaven that it was. With a string of seventeen films released in that decade, there is a lot of HM goodness to choose from!
If I began talking about all of his 70s films that I love, and the things that I love about them, we’ll be here till doomsday! So, in the interests of brevity, I’ll just talk about three lovely films from his vast repertoire of 70s goodness - three films that are very different from each other and yet have everything that goes into the making of a quintessential Hrishida classic – his superb story-telling and his affectionate humor.
A filmi fairytale where the heroine discovers that her Prince Charming isnt the knight in the shining armor, but a cute boy-next-door. It starred Jaya Bhaduri (her Hindi film debut) in the eponymous role of a Dharmendra-struck teenager. Guddi clearly lives in a fairytale, because a fairy godmother makes certain that she actually meets her filmi idol - Garam Dharam playing Garam Dharam! She gets to spend time on his sets, mingle with filmi people, and to take a much coveted peek behind the scenes of her favorite movie industry. In the process, she grows up and learns to appreciate the difference between her fantasies and a real life that is equally interesting.
Its a lovely coming-of-age fairytale, told with Hrishida’s trademark quiet humor. In Guddi’s absurdly idealised vision of love and life, and her ready adoption of filmi clichés, the film takes gentle pot shots at people who take movies too literally. In its depiction of actual behind-the-scenes film world, it deglamorises filmi people, hinting at the hard work and heartbreak that go hand in hand with the glamour. And it does all this without ever eroding our belief that film stars are every bit as good as their fans believe them to be (especially Dharmendra)!
Chupke Chupke (1975)
One of his best comedies (with stiff competition from Golmaal), Chupke Chupke is everything a good comedy should be – its hilarious, its fun, its witty and its screwball. Its the story of a practical joke that keeps getting bigger and bigger, involving multiple accomplices, several misunderstandings and plot twists, and a filmi dénoument.
Parimal (Dharmendra) decides to play a practical joke on his wife Sulekha’s (Sharmila Tagore) 'Jijaji' (brother-in-law – played by Om Prakash). When 'Jijaji' requests a driver who speaks pure Hindi, Parimal joins up as Pyaare Mohan. Chauffeur Pyaare Mohan shows off his good Hindi in words of so many syllables that the whole household is horrified. If that isnt enough, he then proceeds to quiz everybody about inconsistencies in English pronunciations!
Before poor Jijaji can get his breath back from such an assault on his linguistic abilities, Pyaare Mohan begins an illicit affair with Jijaji’s visiting sister-in-law, Sulekha. Pyaare and Sulekha eventually elope, leaving Jijaji to face an angry pretend-Parimal (Amitabh Bachchan). The shenanigans get a whole lot more wackadoo, before poor Jijaji is put out of his misery! And through it all, nothing goes out of control – not the plot-within-the-plot, not the jokes, and certainly not the performances of the various actors. It is Hrishikesh Mukherjee at his best, dealing with a subject that he specialised in, for thirty years – the life of common people in uncommon situations.
Buddha Mil Gaya (1971)
Chronologically, this should’ve come before Chupke Chupke, but its so different from the other two films, that it had to come in last. The film starts innocuously enough with two unemployed youth sneaking into their room at night. They’re scared of their landlady (Lalita Pawar) because they havent paid their rent for three months. One of the young men, Ajay (Navin Nischol), has a sweet romance going with the landlady’s granddaughter Deepa (Archana). Both Ajay and his friend Bhola (Deven Varma) are desperate to make money. So they are thrilled when they discover Seth Girdharilal (Om Prakash). Girdharilal had dropped out of sight years ago, and now his ex-partners are looking for him to give him his share of some partnership funds – a princely sum of Rs. 15 lakh! Ajay-Bhola promptly make up to Girdhari, and take him home to be mothered by their landlady and Deepa.
Just when you sit back to enjoy a sweet little fairytale with a dash of Hrishida’s famous comedy, the film pulls a fast one on you and turns into A THRILLER! Didnt see that coming, did you? Not with Hrishikesh Mukherjee behind the camera! Its a pretty fast-paced and absorbing thriller, too. This is probably the closest he ever came to making a 70s masala flick, complete with colorful disguises, a judo-wielding woman’s brigade, tongue-in-cheek spoofs of noir-ish detectives, dishoom dishoom and loud scary music (the kind that tells you that something scary/dangerous is happening). Inspite of its overt masala overtones, the HM touch is evident in the subdued shenanigans, the controlled masala, and the very well knit story.
I love Hrishida movies to bits, as must be evident from the paean of praises above. But still, I do have one bone to pick with his direction. His wonderful control over his movies tends to break down somewhat when it comes to showing cheerfulness and vivacity. Be it Shashikala in Anupama, Jaya in Guddi or Mili, or Rajesh Khanna in Anand – the liveliness could’ve been a bit less loud. But that is a very minor quibble in face of the all-round goodness that his movies usually are.
I am not done yet. There’s still a lot more I’d love to say about his films – but it has to wait for another post because I need to get some sleep, too! While I work on more Hrishida posts, how about telling me why you like his movies (I refuse to believe that any of you dislikes them!), what are your favorite characters from his films, have you ever wanted to change the cast in any of his films – swap a Jaya Bhaduri with a Neetu Singh or a Rajesh Khanna with a Navin Nischol?
And do check out Kavita Chhibber’s wonderful tribute to Hrishida – there are interviews with Nandita Das, Asrani, Nagesh Kukunoor and Karan Johar