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Friday, February 26, 2010

The glorious 70: a decade of Hrishikesh Mukherjee

Hrishikesh MukherjeeDil 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.

Young Hrishikesh MukherjeeHM 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.
Guddi (1971)
Jaya Bhaduri in Guddi 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)!
Dharmendra and Sharmila in Chupke Chupke 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 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


  1. Very nice bollyviewer. I love the screencaps in your reviews.

    You've already mentioned my one grouse with Hrishida movies:
    "Be it Shashikala in Anupama, Jaya in Guddi or Mili, or Rajesh Khanna in Anand – the liveliness could’ve been a bit less loud."

    Add to that RK in Bawarchi. These could have all been great movies but end up only being situation comedy done well. (Anand of course is not comedy). Untempered and unnatural behavior really takes away from these movies.

    There are many other things I appreciate about Hrishida. I love the use of language for one--I'm learning Hindi and good Hindi is not so easy to come by in Bollyland (my opinion of course).

  2. Lovely post! Hrishikesh Mukherjee is my very favourite Hindi film director ever, and I adore so many of his films. I love your description of why you love his movies, and I agree. I find them so charming, they make me laugh (and sometimes cry), and they just almost always find a way to my heart. I can relate with the characters, feel for them and just enjoy spending time with them. I just love the simplicity and charm of Hrishida's movies.

    I agree with the flaw you've identified in his direction - the liveliness can get a little grating, and I agree with Sophy that Rajesh Khanna in 'Bawarchi' was a good example of this, as were the others you mentioned.

    Favourite characters... so many, from Ashok in Anupama to pretty much every role he cast Jaya Bhaduri in (I love her and just finished raving about her on my blog), I love so many of the characters he brought to life. I don't think I've ever wanted to change any of his casts, but I do wish someone else had played the title role in 'Bawarchi' - I just could not bring myself to like the guy!

    'Buddha Mil Gaya' sounds great - I haven't seen it and will have to look for it.

  3. Sophy, I saw Bawarchi in my uncritical childhood days - so I dont know how bad Rajesh Khanna was in it. Judging from the few clips of Anand that I've seen, though, I can imagine just how grating his cheerfulness must've been!

    As to language, most Hindi films from the 50s and 60s had that kind of language. Hindi of the 70s masala flick tended to be of the basic sort, with a few cliche dialogues on a repeat-loop (thanks Salim-Javed!), which is why Hrishida's more realistic language seems like the kind of Hindi not easily come by in Bollywood!

    Daddy's Girl, I need to re-watch Bawarchi to see just how bad Rajesh Khanna was. I have rather fond memories of that film and its sort-of-remake Khoobsoorat (the 90s one starring Sanjay Dutt and Urmila). But every time I gear up for a re-watch, my courage fails me at the thought of having to sit through a 2.5hr performance of THE SUPERSTAR! Same with Anand - now if only Hrishida had got Dharamendra, or even Shashi Kapoor for the roles, I'd watch in a trice.

  4. I thought 'Bawarchi' was a sweet film with a lovely ensemble cast - the kind of thing Hrishida did so well. But Rajesh Khanna was SO annoying and meddlesome as the cook, and so gratingly cheerful that I just kept wanting him to go away. I would have loved the film so much more with someone else in that role. I wasn't sure whether I was supposed to like him or not (although I think I was) because Hrishida, by not reining him in a little) made him so unlikeable. One more thing I wanted to mention about why I like HK films - I don't think he regarded himself as a feminist or anything, and his films weren't perfect in this regard, but for the most part, the women are depicted as real people, with agency, and the ability to grow and develop and make their own decisions. Such a simple thing but so lacking in so many films.

  5. I think the greater problem with these characters for me is their intrusiveness, not their OTT good cheer. In Bawarchi, for instance, RK is several notches lower on the happy scale than in Anand. I don't know, in the end, the role did not fit him. There is a beautiful clasically inspired Manna Dey song and it is very hard to imagine RK actually singing it.

    Would Dharmendra or Shashi have been better here? Maybe.

  6. I'm going to second (third?) what sophy and DG have already said: the liveliness in Bawarchi in particular grates. In Anand too, like you mentioned - but then, that's a minor quibble when it comes to HM's films. They're just so good, I'm willing to forgive him that.

    Two more favourites of mine, though only one of them is from the 70s: Anuradha and Khubsoorat.

  7. God, I love Hrishida and you're totally on the money about the outrageously cheerful tone he loved to adopt for his comedies. Perhaps its because I started watching them when I was little and didnt know any better and thought this was how comedies should be, but they never really bothered me even though it registered even on a childish mind. They're just so charming and beloved, like a ratty old teddy bear to me that I can forgive them much.

    But I think one of the reasons why I don't much care for Anand is because AB's performance in it was so restrained, it came up as too stark a contrast for me to skip over. On the other hand, Chupke Chupke has everyone performing at top manic ability and it all comes together - but I firmly believe that's because of Sharmila and Dharam and their chemistry. Bester movie EVAR!

  8. I loved Guddi and i've just received Bawarchi in the post for my weekend viewing,I loved the songs of Anand but not the film, perhaps knowing what would eventually happen to Anand's character took most of my enjoyment away

  9. Buddha Mil Gaya sounds great - I haven't seen it and will have to look for it.
    I simply love Hrishida's movies, no matter what. And I have never wanted to change any of the casts.
    The middle class families going about their everyday chores trying find joys in small things in life somehow makes the story seem real. Finally, as you said, they make me feel good and believe that the world is a lot better place.
    This post reminds me that I haven't seen Anupama yet. I have Baradari queued for today. Will catch up on atleast one Hrishida movie today.

  10. Daddy's Girl, if you, who loves Rajesh Khanna, didnt like him in Bawarchi, there is no hope for me! So, I guess I better not re-watch it. Its good to leave some childhood memories intact!

    And you are right about the gender issues in Hrishida's films. He is no feminist, but often his films steer clear of gender issues altogether, and in films like Anupama and Guddi, the women do grow and develop - like real people.

    Sophy, Dharmendra would definitely be better. He does those sensitive roles very well and his cheerfulness rarely gets loud. Shashi might have hammed as much Rajesh K, but I find his loudness a whole lot more bearable!

    dustedoff, I love Khubsoorat and Anuradha, too. The former also had that grating cheerfulness - Rekha was so loud that I could almost empathise with Dina Pathak's dislike!

    Amrita, everybody is manic in Chupke Chupke but they're not loud. And they all seem to be having so much fun overacting, that its hard not to have fun with them. OK, maybe its the whole ratty-old-teddy-bear syndrome again. I watched the Bangla original of Chupke Chupke (Chhadmabeshi) and its hijinks are so restrained that in comparion to CC, it almost feels flat!

    bollywooddeewana, if you watch only ONE Hrishida film, make it Chupke Chupke. Only his Golmaal comes anywhere close in hilarious hijinks.

    sunheriyaadein, RUN to the nearest DVD store and get your copy of Anupama! Cant believe you still havent seen it...

  11. One movie of Hrishida's that doesn't get much mention but which I absolutely love is "Alaap." It's probably his most bitter movie, but very powerful and touching nevertheless. The music is wonderful and even Amitabh's performance as the "angry young man" has an unexpected sweetness to it.

  12. Shalini, I love Alaap too. I had been looking for that Saraswati vandana for a very long time and I saw the movie because of it. Also features Yesudas as playback.

  13. Bollyviewer,

    Here's Gulzar's comments on Aandhi --maybe this will answer your question.

  14. Shalini, I love Alaap too. Its the one film of his that doesnt fit into the "happy" category - even Abhimaan isnt quite that bitter.

    Sophy, thanks for that link. Gulzar sounds very politically correct in that article - something that doesnt come out so well in his films!

  15. Hello again:
    Is there by any chance a connection between the movie "Buddha Mil Gaya" and the same-name song sung by Vijayantimala in Sangam?
    Just a thought!

  16. It does sound like Hrishida was inspired by Main kaa karoon ram mujhe buddha mil gaya! He was reportedly very fond of Raj Kapoor too, so maybe this was a nod to RK's film...

  17. I am commenting quite late on this post as I have only discovered it on ur blog. I didn't know that Budha Mil Gaya was a HK film. I have heard the fab kishore no - Raat kali ek khwab mein aaye". Haven't seen the movie though.

    That reminds me of another film (forgetting the name) where Om Prakash plays the role of a homeless man. Is this the same film or another one?

    I love HK movies - all the ones I have seen. Compared to the crap we have to tolerate from other 70s movie makers like Prakash Mehra et all, i think the ott comedy by some characters in some HK films were a minor flaw.

    Recently when I was seeing Gowarikar's What is your Rashee, I couldn't help thinking "This movie needs the touch of a HK or Basu Chatterjee". Both HK and BC would have limited themselves to one song or two and kept the focus on key aspects of the movie and made a short and very interesting movie.

  18. Filmbuff, I was surprised to discover that Hrishi-da was responsible for Buddha Mil Gaya too! Apart from Raat kali ek khwaab mein aayi, it also has Bhali bhali ek surat. The only downside of the film is that it has Navin Nischol wearing a wig!

    The "homeless Om Prakash" film is probably Anndata - directed by Asit Sen. Jaya Bhaduri plays a compassionate but poor young woman who gives shelter to the homeless Om Prakash, who later turns out to be a rich man.

    I have not seen What's Your Rashee, but any film would benefit from HK/BC treatment!

  19. A wonderful post.

    Yes I am a great fan of Hrishida though frankly I did not like Chupke Chupke.

    Om Prakash's hamming got into my nerves.

    But I beg to disagree about Bawarchi. Rajesh Khanna did justice to the role. The problem was that HM wasn't happy with his late coming [see the 1974 documentary about RK made by BBC] and beyond a point RK's arrogance proved to be his undoing.
    The tetchy RK dug his own grave.
    On top of it I read that RK treated AB like shit and Jaya Bhaduri was extremely upset with this. It happened on the sets of Bawarchi in 1970.