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30 September 2011

Anand (1971)

Directed by Hrishikesh Mukherjee
Music: Salil Choudhary
               Starring: Rajesh Khanna, Amitabh Bachchan, 
Ramesh Deo, Seema  Deo, 
Sumita Sanyal, Lalita Pawar, 
Johnny Walker
On the face of it, a rather tragic story, one that tells of a man with an incurable disease living out his last few days, Anand was anything but melodramatic. It's a simple tale, like every one of Hrishikesh Mukherjee's films, and his characters are ordinary too. Like any of us, they struggle through their jobs, worry about ethics, seek love, cry when the going gets tough, but pick themselves up and continue because life goes on.  This is the story of some ordinary people into whose lives, albeit for a short time, comes a typhoon by the name of Anand (Rajesh Khanna). 

The film begins with a felicitation ceremony for Dr Bhaskar Bannerjee (Amitabh Bachchan), whose debut novel 'Anand' has been awarded the coveted Saraswati Award. In his speech, Dr Bannerjee reveals that the novel is not his 'creation', but based on a man whom he met and had the privilege of knowing for a few short months. With this, the film moves into flashback.

Dr Bannerjee, a hardworking doctor, is feeling helpless as he battles disease; his patients come from the poorest of the poor and when they did not have money to buy food, where were they going to find the money to buy medicines? His helplessness makes him angry and turns him cynical. He had vowed to save lives, but it seemed like he was trying to keep death satisfied. He has no patience with the hypochondriacs who visit his clinic. His only solace is his diary, in which he pours out all his frustrations, all his anger, his disappointment, his hopelessness. 

In sharp contrast to Bhaskar is his friend, Dr Prakash Kulkarni (Ramesh Deo). He treats his rich patients exactly as they want to be treated. With pills. And tests. And the works. Bhaskar is irritated - is this why they learnt medicine? 
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However, it is Prakash's rich patients who allow him to treat his poorer ones for free. Bhaskar agrees but still does not understand a system that allows such discrepancies.  

Prakash tells him of a mutual friend, Dr Trivedi who has sent them a patient, Anand Sehgal (Rajesh Khanna). He is suffering from lymphosarcoma of the intestines, and will live for six months at the latest. While they are still discussing his case, in walks Anand. His bonhomie irritates Bhaskar to the core, and when Anand insists on knowing what he is suffering from, Bhaskar can take it no more.
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It does not faze Anand in the least. He is thrilled that he has a disease whose name sounds so regal. Bhaskar is livid. Does Anand even know the meaning of this disease? Anand does. He also understands Bhaskar's anger. 
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He expounds his philosophy of life. He wants to live every moment that is left to him.
Left alone in a sterile hospital room, Anand is bored. As he walks out in search of something to do, he runs into the matron, Mrs D'sa. She's not too happy with his non-stop chatter. That is enough to make Anand run away. He shows up at Bhaskar's house - मान न मान मैं तेरा मेहमान| (A self-invited guest.)
Once there, he quickly takes over. And even while caught by Prakash, is not downcast for too long. Even running into the Matron again is not as much of an ordeal, since he manages to win her over too. And Mrs D’sa is shocked when she learns what Anand is suffering from. 

Anand’s joie de vivre deflates only when he is alone. A faded flower pressed within the pages of a book of poetry, some memories…  a reflection of the sadness that overcomes him sometimes. 

And for the first time, Bhaskar realises that there is deep sorrow behind the smiles.

However, Anand’s melancholy comes and goes like a summer shower. Soon, he is up to his old trick of greeting strangers with familiarity and presuming an acquaintance that never existed. But by the time the conversation ends, he has made a new friend. He is also resorting to emotionally blackmailing Bhaskar to reveal the name of the woman he loves. And much to his own surprise, Bhaskar finds himself confiding in Anand about a patient of his, Renu (Sumita Sanyal). Which, he is soon to learn to his consternation, was a mistake.
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But it's a mistake that Bhaskar is quick take advantage of; only, to be foiled once again by an irrepressible Anand, who decides to join them on their proposed tete-a-tete. Once at the beach, however, Anand leaves the two alone (finally) and we are treated to the beautiful Zindagi kaisi hai paheli haaye. And Renu learns the truth about Anand. 

Even as Anand is colluding to fix Bhaskar’s marriage to Renu, Bhaskar brings bad news to Prakash – Anand is sinking and will soon be bedridden. But Anand cannot be kept down for long –off he is meeting different Murarilals, and is quite unabashed when one of them pays him back in the same coin, calling him Jaichand. And Bhaskar is left to wait helplessly, knowing there is nothing he can do to help. 

There have been films about terminally ill patients before (and since). Where Anand scored was in keeping the drama low; and it is to Hrishida's credit that he succeeded in reining in most of Kaka's mannerisms, and gave us a film that allowed us to come out feeling happy instead of sad. Despite Anand's death, the film held out hope, and like the characters in the film, one felt that death did not really end everything. The person lives on in our memories, and if those memories are happy ones, then how can one feel sad?
One remembers that Hrishida began as an editor - Anand is deftly edited, with no wasted scenes (or emotions). Even the last scene that could have descended into pathos, restrains itself. Bhaskar’s anger, so far inward, now finds an outlet. And that very anger breaks the scene until the tape begins and we hear Anand’s voice again, from beyond the grave.
The music, by Salil Choudhary, infused the narrative with hope and sadness and melancholy - all at the right times. Between Yogesh and Gulzar, who split the four songs between them, we got some evocative lyrics that pushed the story forward.  And there are some fantastic dialogues (Gulzar) that stay with you even after the movie is over.

What I liked most were the little details; Prakash and Suman talk in Hindi most of the time, but when Suman wants to say something private to her husband, she slips into Marathi. When she prays, it is in her mother tongue. Similarly, when Issa Bhai (Johnny Walker) talks to his drama troupe, he speaks Gujarati. When Suman hears Anand’s recording by mistake, part of it is in Bengali. It’s all so casually done, but very effective nonetheless.

Then there is the scene where Bhaskar and Anand are recording – Bhaskar recites a poem. When he asks Anand to say something, Anand starts the recording, but then goes off to comb his hair and make up, and the spool is slowly winding. There is long silence on screen and you wonder why that should happen but when the climax rolls around, you realise how that scene was set up to lead to this. Even the dialogue (from Issa Bhai’s drama) that Anand recites is apt to the denouement.

Anand worked simply because Hrishida put together an ensemble cast and did not allow anyone, including the eponymous hero to chew the scenery on their ownsome lonesome. And this at a time, when anything that Rajesh Khanna touched turned into gold. As Javed Jaffery famously said in one of his shows (Videocon Flashback) - "काके ने पतंग उडाई, तो फिल्म हिट!" (A film was a hit if 'Kaka' flew a kite.) 

While this was possibly one of Rajesh Khanna's finest performances, every one of the supporting characters had a role to play in the narrative. Regardless of screen time, who can forget Johnny Walker's Isa Bhai or Lalita Pawar's Matron? Or even Ramesh and Seema Deo, Durga Khote and Dara Singh?

Not to forget a young newcomer who was waiting in the wings, ready to explode, and how! Anand would not have been Anand if he did not have the dour, silent, too-empathetic-for-his-own-good Dr Bhaskar to complement him. Dr Bhaskar's anger is directed inward; at his inability to help the people he has taken an oath to help. This was a role that made Amitabh Bachchan, as much as Zanjeer or Deewar helped to consolidate his position as the heir apparent.

The King is dead. Long live the King!


  1. I remember being SO sad when I saw Anand the first time (I was a kid), because I was pretty sure, when he appeared to have died, that it would all turn out (in true masala film tradition) to be all a joke, ha-ha. Or that Anand's test reports had got mixed up and he wasn't really ill or something. It was a horrid shock to realise that he really was dead.

    But I'm grown up now, and I LOVE this film. For all the reasons you've listed - the fine acting (I listed Isa Khan as one of Johnny Walker's best roles, by the way), the little details, Salil's absolutely mind-blowing music... and the fact that it's not melodramatic. (Whew - try comparing this to something like Dil ek Mandir or Saathi?!)

  2. Oh, god, Madhu, yes! I saw this much later actually, after we got out TV in the eighties, so I was in my early teens and I *still* expected them to find some way of keeping Anand alive. (Talk about delusions!) And I'm not ashamed to admit I wept. (By the way, Amitabh's shoulders shaking with sobs? Apparently he was laughing because of something Rajesh Khanna said!)

    But it's a film that stays with you long after you see it, and I *really* liked Rajesh Khanna in this movie. I'm not a huge Kaka fan, and this film showed me what he could do if given a director who wouldn't kowtow to his superstardom. I totally agree with you about Johnny Walker - such a small role, but to what effect! And no, definitely NO Dil Ek Mandir or Saathi - gosh, they were goddawful!

  3. I haven't seen this movie. :( And it sounds nice. I'm glad you reviewed an Amitabh Bachchan movie at long last!

  4. Finally! Finally, you review an Amitabh movie! This is one of my favourite films, and love it. Like you and dustedoff, I remember crying when I first saw it! Anu, I saw it on Doordarshan too - how that brings back memories! I love the part where Anand, going to Suman's house says Yeh bhi nahin keh sakta ki meri umar tujhe lag jaaye.

  5. Do watch it, Tina. And I'll wager you will cry. :)

  6. Right, Ruhi, Finally. :) Wait for more.

  7. I'll second that. Anand is a movie that always makes me cry. Actually, even watching Kahin door jab din dhal jaaye or Zindagi kaisi hai paheli - when you know the context - is enough to give me a lump in the throat.

  8. This is one film where every song was so poignant, no? Even Naa, jiya laage na.

  9. rohini muthuswami2 October 2011 at 05:17

    Hi Anu

    Did you used to write in Sulekha, oh some long time back? I remember reading your articles in Sulekha and incidentally we did correspond for some time before falling off the edges of the earth.

    I used to be living in Denver those days.


  10. Rohin, hello. Yes, I did write for Sulekha when it was a dashed good web magazine, and yes, I do remember you - we corresponded over my Kuttichathan article. :) Where are you these days? Nice to hear from you again. Write to me at warrierfourteen (in numerals) at gmail dot com?

  11. My second-favourite Hrishikesh Mukherjee movie! (My favourite has to be Anupama.) And I like Rajesh Khanna and Amitabh Bachchan, so this was a sort of double treat for me. Thanks for refreshing my memories of a lovely little film, and reminding me that I need to see it again.

  12. :) I'm glad you liked the write-up. This is one of the films I repeatedly watch too.

  13. I remember watching this movie with my mom and my uncle one hot summer afternoon in Calcutta, weeping at the end, and then, when we came home, amma had made badam kheer and kept it in the fridge, so she gave it to me to take my mind off the sad movie!  Both the movie and the taste of that icy badam kheer still linger in my mind, and both were wonderful!
    The best part was that there was no melodrama on the screen, no artificial glycerin-induced tears, and as you pointed out, Amitabh's shoulders were shaking with laughter, not tears!  Thanks for the write-up on what has to be one of the best movies, ever, produced by Bollywood!

  14. Thank you for the compliment, Lalitha. Oh, this is such a fine movie, isn't it? And while I wept buckets, it really is not a 'sad' movie as in 'depressing'. Now, you have made me want to watch it again! As Madhu says, WDGTT??


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