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06 September 2011

The Masters: Hrishikesh Mukherjee

In much the same way I tried to give a mini-filmography of the legends of Hindi cinema in 'The Greats', this series is an attempt to throw some light on the men and women behind the screen - directors, music directors, cinematographers, lyricists, scriptwriters, singers - who make the whole movie-watching experience what it is. If you have ever walked into a darkened theatre and been completely mesmerised by what you see on screen, then you have experienced the magic that these men have worked to bring into a cohesive whole. And while you may thrill to a Shammi Kapoor or a Dev Anand or a Dilip Kumar emoting on screen, they would not be half as effective without the able backing of many, many other artistes and technicians. 

Let me start this series with the work of a man that I admire, and whose films have given me hours and hours of smiles.

Hrishikesh Mukherjee
30.09.1922 - 27.08.2006
His sensitive handling of many touchy topics, his everyday men and women with which he peopled his stories, the simplicity and warmth of the stories itself, together they wove a spell from which it was difficult to awaken without a smile on one's face. 

His movies made you cry; they let you laugh. His films were mostly comedies of errors, even when they were not comedies. He gave you simple messages, coated in just enough sugar to make the message palatable, not so sweet that it made you sick. His people grappled with the simple problems of existence - not for them the swanky mansions in London or Scotland, nor the designer wear and songs in Switzerland. He straddled the middle path between the over-the-top masala entertainers and dark, dreary 'art-house' cinema with seeming ease, earning the respect of both extremes.

Hrishida's characters were usually middle-class, they were educated, and they were ‘genteel’, for want of a better word. The characters themselves are easily identifiable - in ourselves, in our neighbours, in that slightly annoying relative that we all possess, in the girl next door, and never mind she is wearing the latest designer wear today. It helps that the problems his characters face are the same today as they were decades ago. His characters grappled with Metro buses, and employment woes, and relationship hassles. 

People have not changed, the way they react to circumstances have not changed. Even today, a husband is going to get slightly irritated at having his brother-in-law's praises sung to him day in and day out by his brand new bride. A rich bachelor moving into a high-rise apartment is bound to be the subject of gossip, and a young girl can still be star struck, even if the star in question has changed from Dharmendra to Hrithik Roshan (or Shah Rukh Khan, or insert star of your choice here). 

And his characters were not 'good' and 'evil'; they were neither stereotypes nor caricatures. They just were! And at the end of the day, Hrishida's films left you with the view that the world was a good place after all, and that however bleak life seemed, something better was just around the corner.

In a prolific career that spanned over four decades and included 42 films and several television serials, it is hard to pick just 12 of my favourites. However, these are movies that have withstood the test of time and generations, finding new fans each time it is re-telecast on one or the other channels.

12. Anuradha (1961)
Starring Balraj Sahni, and one of the Indian screen's most beautiful faces, Leela Naidu, the film brought to life the dilemma of a young, talented woman who gives up a successful career for the love of an idealistic doctor. The music that filled her life and had, in the beginning, attracted her husband to her, has dulled through years of neglect. And seemingly, the eponymous heroine gets another chance at having it all. What will she choose? And how much does her husband see, and appreciate, the sacrifices she has made?

This was a film that talked of women's rights without being strident about it. There is no right or wrong - circumstances dictate life patterns, and the husband is thoughtless (and hardworking), not deliberately neglectful. Backed by powerhouse performances from Balraj Sahni and Leela Naidu, ably backed by Nasir Hussain and Abhi Bhattacharya, Anuradha was a sensitive portrayal of marriage, and the responsibilities that both husband and wife bring to the relationship. The story is as relevant today as it was four decades ago.

Inspired by Madame Bovary, the film boasted some wonderful songs composed by Sitar maestro Ravi Shankar. The music was originally supposed to be composed by Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan.

11. Anari (1959)
This was Hrishikesh Mukherjee's breakthrough movie. His debut film, Musafir, had flopped despite boasting of a heavy starcast that included Dilip Kumar, Suchitra Sen, Motilal and Kishore Kumar amongst others. However, impressed with what he saw, Raj Kapoor insisted that he direct Anari. 

While Raj Kapoor played another version of his tramp-with-the-golden-heart, Hrishida softened the edges, making Anari's Rajkumar more believable and therefore, more likable. Rajkumar, poor as the proverbial church mouse, is living at (and off) a tart-tongued Mrs D'sa. His romance with Aarti / Asha (Nutan) brings him into contact with her uncle (Motilal), and his days of unemployment are soon in the past. However, things not being always what they seem, Rajkumar's world begins to disintegrate. 

On the one hand, the film explored the divide between the rich and poor; on the other,  it exposed the lure of lucre and the role it plays in suppressing one's conscience.

The songs by Shankar-Jaikishen were integral to the plot, and helped to move the story along. Both Raj Kapoor and Nutan were at the peak of their careers when Anari was made. And Motilal shone as the business magnate who had pulled himself out of poverty and now despises the poor. The film also gave us an Anglo-Indian character in Mrs D'sa that was both sharp-tongued and tender-hearted. Mrs D'sa was probably Lalita Pawar's finest role, apart from Mem Didi (another of Hrishikesh Mukherjee's films).

10. Guddi (1971)
A sweet coming-of-age movie, Guddi was also an affectionate look at the film industry. An adolescent Kusum lives with her father, brother and sister-in-law and is obsessed with films and infatuated with Dharmendra (not necessarily in that order). She bunks school to watch films and film shootings. The line between reel and real is blurred in her case. She talks in filmi dialogues, dreams of marrying Dharmendra, and is quite happy in her world of make-believe. However, she is now growing up and her sister-in-law is quite perturbed at what she perceives as Guddi's play-acting. 

But help is on the way in the form of a slightly portly fairy godfather. Guddi's uncle lives in Bombay, and knows someone who knows Dharmendra. He decides to give his niece a much-needed shot of reality. With the reluctant help of a filmstar (Dharmendra playing himself), he takes Guddi on a tour of the studios, deglamourising films and filmstars in the process. She is given a glimpse into the blood, sweat and tears that go into the making of a film, and it shatters quite a few of her illusions. In her own innocent way, Guddi finally grows up.

Veteran composer Vasant Desai composed two beautiful numbers for this film - Hum ko man ki shakti dena and Bol re papihara. This is the film that introduced Jaya Bhaduri to Hindi film audiences. Although in her early twenties, Jaya played the on-the-cusp-of-turning-adult Kusum with an innocence that was refreshing. With her long tresses and simple, unassuming beauty, Jaya was a radical change from the glamorous reigning actresses of the time. 

Guddi was to cast Amitabh Bachchan in the role of Guddi's suitor. However, Anand's success had made Amitabh a well-known name, and Hrishida wanted a new face to counteract the infatuation with a 'known actor'. Amitabh had even shot a few scenes for Guddi before he had to quit. Amitabh rued that his long-awaited success was responsible for his losing a movie with a director he admired and respected.

9. Namak Haram (1973)
This was the clash of the titans indeed. It pitted then superstar Rajesh Khanna against his to-be nemesis Amitabh Bachchan. And the playing field was more level than in Anand, where Amitabh was but a pretender to Rajesh Khanna's crown. Amitabh had exploded onto the scene with Zanjeer and consolidated his success with a sensitive portrayal in Abhiman when Namak Haram was being made. 

Namak Haram dealt as much with the changing relationship between two friends as it did with the clash of opposing ideologies. Vicky (Amitabh) and Somu (Rajesh Khanna) are the best of friends though they come from two completely different economic strata. When Vicky is forced to apologise to his father's employee, his seething anger prompts Somu to come up with a plan to avenge his humiliation. Alas, the plan backfires, as Somu, against his will, begins to sympathise with the factory's workers. Vicky is upset at this seeming betrayal. Vicky's father takes advantage of the difference in opinion between the two friends, and plots not only Somu's downfall but his subsequent murder. Aghast at his father's heartlessness, Vicky takes the blame for a death that he feels morally responsible for. 

This was Amitabh's movie. While Rajesh Khanna played the role of a man who is conflicted between his friendship and his conscience with ease, it is Amitabh's potential for raw intensity that made the industry sit up and take notice. The anger that was chanelled inward in Anand explodes outward in Namak Haram. There is a scene where, when Somu has been exposed as a 'management stool' by the canny industrialist, he is beaten up by the workers who see his betrayal as two-fold - that of a union leader toward the workers, and that of a comrade who had broken bread with them and lived with them as their friend. When Vicky hears of this, he rushes to the basti - his anguish when faced with his friend's blood is searing in its rawness. 

A story that did the rounds then is that the original script of Namak Haram had Amitabh's character dying; having gained all the sympathy for his death in Anand, Rajesh Khanna wanted the ending changed. This is most likely apocryphal, since Hrishida had the reputation of being a stern taskmaster, and of not kowtowing to the stars' whims and fancies.

8. Mem Didi (1961)
One of the master's lesser known films, it showcased Lalita Pawar in a role that was very different from her (stereotyped) image. Her Rosy is strong, independent, no-nonsense and affectionate. The film is set in a little village which is 'ruled' by two cantankerous but kind-hearted old men. Bahadur Singh (David) and Sher Khan (Jayant) are the best of friends. 

When they learn that one of the villagers has rented a room out to a lady from the city, they decided to go and welcome her in their own unique style. Only, the lady is not impressed and they retreat quite hastily. A plan for revenge backfires quite badly, but has the happy result of patching frayed relationships. 

The two gentlemen call Rosy 'Mem Didi' a cross between memsaab and didi. Eventually, circumstances force them to be more deeply involved in their Mem Didi's affairs than they may have wished. But the two old men are not about to give up.

This is such an underrated film; probably, the absence of 'stars' is what caused it to sink into an abyss. Much more than any other film, this showcased Hrishida's ability to spin realistic tales off fables and make us believe in the essential goodness of humanity.

Mem Didi is a lovely slice-of-life film, with perfect casting. The veterans were wonderful and the screen lit up with their chemistry. A bubby, fresh-faced Tanuja sparkled in her side role as Mem Didi’s 'niece'.  The acting is top-notch, and Jayant and David feed off each other, setting up the laughs. We laugh with them, as much as at them. And Lalita Pawar was a revelation. It makes me sad that she was so typecast. Salil Choudhary's music was the icing on the cake.

7. Abhimaan (1973)
A gentle exploration of a troubled marriage caused by a man's fragile ego, Abhimaan, in Amitabh's own words (during a Special Jayamala programme in the eighties), mirrored the early years of his and Jaya's married life. 

Subir and Uma meet and fall in love; he is a successful singer, and she is a talented one. After their marriage, he requests her to sing at their reception.  A friend recognises that she is more talented than he is, and foresees trouble in their paradise. In the early days of their marriage, Subir encourages a reluctant Uma to sing with him; reality intrudes when she becomes more successful than he has ever been.

Cracks begin to develop as Subir cannot stomach his wife's success. Even her offer to stop singing seems to him to be a stinging slap. He withdraws even more, sinking into an alcoholic, self-pitying daze. She leaves, he does not follow. Until he learns that she has had a miscarriage. Emotionally scarred, Uma need her husband's love more than ever if she is to become normal again.

Amitabh and Jaya both gave scintillating performances in the movie. Jaya's expressive face mirrored both her initial marital bliss where she basks in her husband's love, and the mind-numbing catastrophe that renders her incapable of feeling in the latter half. Amitabh changes from the flamboyant successful singing star to the sullen, egotistic man whose self-image takes a beating. This film, so different from Zanjeer that had released earlier the same year, showcased Amitabh's versatility and range as an actor. This was just the beginning. 

The film also brought us two characters who impress us with their innate humanity. One is Chitra (Bindu), a socialite who is in love with Subir and is genuinely his friend. When Subir, left alone after Uma departs for her village complains about his marriage, she softly rebukes him; man suffers from loneliness because of small brushes with his ego, and arrogance. This was Bindu's break from playing a vamp. The other is Asrani in his character as Subir's secretary. He is Subir's support, critic and conscience.

6. Alaap (1977)
Hrishida gave Amitabh Bachchan some of the best roles of his career. His characters may not have been the lead in some of them, but they were all instrumental to the story and had a depth that some of his 'hero' roles did not possess. Alaap is one such film where he is more 'character' than 'hero'. Like Mem Didi, this is also a forgotten film. 

Hrishida explores class differences here as well, but this time, the film is set against a backdrop of a classical musician who is destined to suffer in a world that does not give due importance to the arts. Alok (Amitabh Bachchan) has a degree in classical music, but is informed by his stern father that he must now get into the real business of earning a living by joining the family law firm. Soon his father finds out that when Alok is supposed to be at office, he is actually visiting a former courtesan. Repeated admonishments do not seem to affect Alok, and when his father wins a case that evicts the courtesan and Aloks's other friends, the conflict between father and son escalates - and Alok leaves home. 

Soon, he is trying to eke out a living, and the estrangement continues, both father and son being equally stubborn in their own ways. Despite the loving support of Radha (Rekha) whom he has married since, Alok's life takes a turn for the worse. 

The film is uplifted by the (many) understated performances from its cast. While Rekha gives a very subtle, restrained performance as Alok's adoring wife, the strongest female character was that of the courtesan Sarjubai (Chhaya Devi). And the veteran actress gave it all she had got. 

Om Prakash as the stiff-necked father who is too proud to unbend and Asrani as the gregarious tangewala  gave their roles the required shades. But this was Amitabh's triumph. As Alok, the man who was born with a silver spoon in his mouth, and who is yet willing to give up that wealth in pursuit of his art, Amitabh wavers between the anger at what his father is willing to do in his pursuit of money, and the angst of a musician who feels emasculated at not being able to provide for his family.

The film was dedicated to the legendary KL Saigal and to Mukesh, who had passed away the year before. A fine classical-based music score by underrated director Jaidev, saw Hindi film audiences renewing their acquaintance with Yesudas' voice. The legendary singer had been introduced in Hindi by Salil Choudhary (in Anand Mahal) in 1974. The lyrics for Koi gaata, main so jaata were penned by Dr Harivansh Rai Bachchan.

5. Anupama (1966)
Unlike his gentle probes into marital relationships in Anuradha and Abhimaan, Anupama (The incomparable one) concentrates on the fraught relationship between a father and daughter. Mohan Sharma (Tarun Bose) cannot forgive his daughter for causing the death of her mother in childbirth. His beloved wife's demise has turned him into a raging alcoholic, who can only love his daughter when under the influence. This shift in her father's feelings, from love to resentment, turns Uma into a nervous, repressed adult. 

Uma is almost affianced to Arun (Deven Verma), but while on a recuperating lease (for her father) in Mahabaleshwar, runs into Arun's friend, Ashok and his family. The love-starved Uma finds a mother and sister in Ashok's mother and sister. Uma finds herself being attracted to the sensitive writer that Ashok is, while he, instinctively understands both her shyness and her fear. 

And Annie (Shashikala), the perky daughter of Mr Sharma's friend is busy matchmaking between Ashok and Uma; she is also falling hard for Arun. Finally, one day, Uma breaks out of her chrysalis, and is ready to free herself from the weight of her father's grief. And her father, knowing of his daughter's elopement, hides behind a pillar, crying out his love for a daughter he had never shown much affection for, until then. This is perhaps, one of the most moving climaxes ever filmed. There is not a word spoken, the father and daughter do not even see  each other. 

Dharmendra outdid himself in his portrayal of Ashok. It makes one wish that he had not been typecast as the 'he-man'. He is supportive without being stifling. When Annie asks him to take Uma away, because she knows that Uma loves Ashok, he demurs - it is important to him that Uma take the decision for herself. He will not impose his opinions on her. Even Hrishikesh Mukherjee could not get Sharmila to abandon her bouffant. Despite that, Sharmila's Uma was pitch perfect, her eloquent eyes doing much of her speaking for her. 

How can I write about Anupama without writing about Tarun Bose? As the father whose love for his daughter is poisoned by his resentment at her responsibility for her mother's death, Tarun Bose epitomised a man who struggled every day with his own demons. And in that final scene, where he breaks down, but does so in hiding, he captured every nuance of a man who has finally come to terms with all that he has lost.
4. Golmaal (1979)
This truly was a comedy that Wodehouse would have been proud of.  It had a disapproving father (instead of aunts), impersonations galore, two sets of twins, and the question of whether a man is a man without a moustache, all adding to the chaos that is unleashed on screen. It was inspired madness.

Ram (Amol Palekar) is a recent graduate in search of a job. He lives with his younger sister and his passions in life are, in no particular order, sports, music and movies. Their parents are no more and a kindly family friend tells Ram about an employment opportunity. Only the boss is eccentric and does not like short forms of names, men without moustaches, or anyone who enjoys sports, music, or movies. Ram is flabbergasted, but a job is the need of the hour. So he presents himself as Ram Prasad Sharma, kurta-clad, hair slicked back, averse to anything that takes him away from his job. The boss, Bhavani Shankar, is pleased. Until he spots Ram Prasad, with his hair fluffed up, dressed in the height of fashion at a *quelle horreur* football game!   

And thus starts the madness. In a bid to keep his job, Ram invents a twin. Oh, what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive! He is soon forced to invent a mother, and then she is forced to invent a twin for herself; Ram falls in love with his boss's daughter in his twin incarnation; his boss wants his daughter to marry the more sedate  Ram instead of the obnoxious, flamboyant Lakshman. And there is Bhavani Shankar's widowed sister to add to the confusion.

Amol Palekar fit right into the skin of the Ram/Lakshman jodi. The difference between the two characters and his ease at slipping into one from the other made for some fantastic comic situations. He had close competition in Utpal Dutt who is hilarious as the bombastic mill owner whose quirks come in the way of his employee's happiness. 

The film was a feast of comic talent - Dina Pathak, David, Deven Verma, Shubha Khote - and its zaniness came from situations rather than slapstick. Hrishida had a fantastic flair for comedy, and the sly humour that popped up in many of his earlier movies was given full freedom here. And RD Burman gave some inspired music. If Golmaal hai bhai sab golmaal hai  is sung with gusto, then Aanewala pal is a refreshing romantic melody. And then there is the quintessential 'picnic song' where Hrishida's favourites Amitabh, Rekha, Zeenat, Hema etc., make special appearances as themselves. 

It remains one of my favourite comedies; a film that I can watch again and again without getting bored.

3. Satyakam (1969) 
After a successful collaboration in Anupama, Dharmendra brought the same team back in his home production, Satyakam. This is yet another of Hrishida's unacknowledged masterpieces, and truly deserves the epithet 'Classic' tagged to it. 

Set in pre-independence India,  Satyakam narrated the fall of a man who was so honest that he puts 'truth' above his obligations to family, society and career. He is an engineer by profession, and runs into a situation where he is forced to confront his own principles. When Ranjana (Sharmila) seeks his help to escape the lecherous clutches of his employer, a petty prince, he wavers. And she is raped. His moral obligation and sense of honour compels him to wed her and give her his name. And his human weakness shows itself in his inability to come to terms completely with her past. 

As the film gathers force and explores Satyapriya's personal crusade against dishonesty and corruption, he begins to face its inevitable consequences. In a burst of self-analysis, he confesses to his college friend, Naren (a very young Sanjeev Kumar) that either he has gone mad or the world has changed. It's a moment of truth. Finally, he loses his life to cancer, and Ranjana, searingly honest herself, though not quite as rigid as Satyapriya, tells her young son the truth - he is not Satya's son. It is an honesty that stands her in good stead. It opens the eyes of Satya's estranged grandfather (Ashok Kumar), who is finally ready to open both his heart and his mind to accept the young boy as his great grandson.

This is perhaps Dharmendra's finest role, and he considered it so, himself. His eyes brim over with the pain of a man who realises that his principles have made him a failure in the eyes of the world. Sharmila has another 'silent' role after Anupama, and as always, lets her eloquent eyes do the talking. She was absolutely brilliant. Hrishida also considered this the most satisfying film that he had ever made.

2. Anand (1971) 
Probably Rajesh Khanna's career-best performance, Anand spoke to the audience. And how! As the eponymous hero, Rajesh Khanna never stopped talking. That made his tragedy all the more pathetic - he never cried, but the audience couldn't stop crying when he died. But Anand talked, and laughed, and talked some more. 

When Dr Bhaskar Banerjee ("Babu Moshai!" crinkles Khanna and an iconic character was born right there!) blows up at the never-ending cheerfulness of a patient he knows is going to die, tells him the name of his illness, and asks him if he knows what it means, Anand looks at him quizzically. "It means I'm going to die." Despite himself, the dour Dr Bhaskar (Amitabh Bachchan) is attracted to Anand's determined cheerfulness.

When Anand moves into Dr Bhaskar's home, his laughter and talkativeness lightens not only his Babu Moshai's austere home but also reaches out to envelop Dr Prakash (Ramesh Deo), who is treating him, Mrs Prakash (Seema Deo), the stern hospital matron (Lalita Pawar), and random strangers he meets on the road. It seems like no one is safe from Anand. 

And the climax was a killer. Anand is dying. He asks for a tape of some dialogues that he had persuaded Dr Bhaskar to record. When Dr Bhaskar rushes away in a futile bid to get something, anything, to help the patient, Anand breathes his last. And the spool continues to unwind. So, when Dr Bhaskar comes back, and is crying over his friend's dead body, he suddenly hears Anand's voice. He looks up in disbelief; for a moment, one can almost see the hope in his face. Maybe Anand was just fooling?

This was a film that could have turned maudlin, but didn't; could have been a tragedy, but wasn't. Maybe because Anand himself did not mourn his illness and his inevitable death. One is left with a surge of hope. Anand can never die. 

Rajesh Khanna lived the role of Anand (it was a role offered to Shashi Kapoor; Hrishida's own choice was Kishore Kumar). It is to Hrishida's credit that he toned down many of Rajesh's annoying mannerisms and despite the character being over-the-top, never allowed the actor to be so. 

Amitabh was at the cusp of a successful career when Anand happened. And the lanky Babu Moshai caught the fancy of a nation, and then there was no looking back. He played the conscientious doctor to a hilt, frustrated at his inability to cure the poor, and angry at the hypochondriac tendencies of the rich. He is the antithesis of Dr Prakash who feeds these very hypochondriac tendencies so he can treat the poor free of cost. He knows, as Bhaskar does not, that it is impossible to fight the system; it is better to use the system to one's own advantage.

Salilda's music, integrated seamlessly into the story, and Gulzar's immortal dialogues help the audience connect with the characters. Hrishida dedicated this movie to Raj Kapoor; in fact, 'Babu Moshai' was Raj Kapoor's affectionate term of address for Hrishida. Amitabh has gone on record to state that he was, in fact, shaking with laughter in the final scene. But since his face is not shown, it didn't matter.

1. Chupke Chupke (1975)
The trio of Anupama and Satyakam reunite to give us a frothy comedy of language and errors. It's witty, it's affectionate in its laughter at characters' foibles, it's tender, and quite simply, the best comedy that came from the hands of the master story teller. (Golmaal ran it a close second.)

Prof Parimal Tripathi (Dharmendra) runs into Sulekha (Sharmila), a botany student; a quick romance and an even quicker wedding follow. Soon, he is being inflicted with never-ending praise of Sulekha's brother-in-law, Raghav (Om Prakash). Irritated, but amused nevertheless, Parimal decides to regain his own status in his wife's eyes. Since Raghav and his wife have never met him, Parimal joins their household as Pyare Mohan Illahabadi, a driver who only speaks shudh Hindi. When Sulekha visits her sister, he pretends to have an affair with her. 

And in comes Dr Sukumar Sinha (Amitabh Bachchan) reluctantly pretending to be Parimal. He is righteously angry at his 'wife's' absence and moves bag and baggage to a friend's (Asrani) home.  Only, we often fall into traps we dig for others; and Sukumar, though a reluctant participant, finds this out for himself. His friend's sister-in-law, Vasudha (Jaya Bhaduri) is a Botany student and begs 'Prof. Parimal's' help in preparing for her exams. 

Poor Sukumar. He is very attracted to Vasudha but cannot speak his love. He has no idea of the B of Botany (he is a professor of English) and is forced to burn midnight oil in order to teach Vasudha. And in the middle of all this, Raghav has his hands full with a driver who demands to know why English is such a funny language, and speaks in a Hindi that is beyond Raghav's comprehension. 

This movie belonged to Dharmendra and Om Prakash, ably supported by Sharmila Tagore, Amitabh Bachchan and Jaya Bhaduri, and a host of minor characters, who are people in their own right. Usha Kiron, David, Asrani, Keshto Mukherjee and Lily Chakraborty all play their parts with the required grace, and aid in the denouement.

This is one of those rib-tickling comedies that I would unhesitatingly recommend for a bout of non-stop smiles. Hrishida's light touch delivers a classic entertainer that is a laughter-fest from beginning to end.

Hrishikesh Mukherjee wanted newcomers for the roles of Sukumar and Vasudha. Amitabh, who has often stated that Hrishida is his favourite director, and Jaya begged Hrishida to let them play those roles.
What I liked most about Hrishida's movies was the attention to detail, the plots that fleshed out side characters just as much as the main ones. They remain in our memory, because there was an affection that lavished them with a patina that time cannot erase. Think of Bhavani Shankar, or Mrs D'sa or Babu Moshai. When you think of Golmaal or Anari or Anand, you remember Utpal Dutt, and Lalita Pawar and Amitabh Bachchan, just as much as you remember the leads. 

And now, wherever Hrishida might be, I hope he is making people laugh and letting them cry, entertaining them as only he could.


  1. Mmmm... that was such a wonderful post, Anu. I am very fond of Hrishikesh Mukherjee - he was so good at conjuring up a world one could easily relate to, but without being utterly depressing. (PS. I especially loved your description of Anand - what a superb movie, and what brilliant music). And I've seen Chupke-Chupke often enough to be able to say the dialogues! Actually, I guess I like all the movies you've listed - I've seen all of them, though I don't remember anything of Alaap... and another Mukherjee film I like quite a bit is Khoobsoorat. Cute.

  2. Thanks, Madhu. I think Hrishikesh Mukherjee's ability lay in creating a word that was real, but with much nicer people in it. :) May be that was because he was such a gentle man himself in real life.

    Anand is one of my favourite movies; there is something that is so, well, hopeful, about the whole movie. And both Golmaal and Chupke Chupke are my favourite comedies. Like you, I know the dialogues byheart!

    Yes, Khubsoorat was a great movie, though it began the curse of the benign dadaji! And Ashok Kumar became 'Dadamoni'. :( I also liked the lesser-known Rang Birangi.

  3. This is a lovely, lovely tribute to the master, and a collection of lovely film reviews as well! I'm so happy to see Mem-Didi in your list, I absolutely love that film :)

  4. Thanks, memsaab. I meant to post this during his death anniversary week last month, but it was delayed. I watched Mem Didi much later, and in fact, only picked it up because it said 'Hrishikesh Mukherjee' on the cover. I was so surprised by the story - what an affectionate fable it was! And the dog in the song is so cute. :)

  5. Hrishikesh Mukherjee is the director I go to when I am feeling down and out. Like you said in your post, his movies always make you feel like the world is better than you think it is. And Golmaal was such a laugh riot. I would put it higher than Chupke Chupke because there was not a single wrong note in that film. CC became quite formulaic by the end. All that running around and trying to stop the marriage etc. Don't get me wrong, I love the film, but Golmaal tops my list of comedies.

    Thanks a ton for the mini-reviews; you have a way with words and I really like your comments on the films.

  6. I agree CC was formulaic but the cast made it so believable; but you will get no quibble from me about Golmaal. I place it a close second in terms of topping the list of comedies. And there are times when I prefer to watch Golmaal, so let's call for a draw? :)

  7. And oh, Sridhar, thanks a tonne for the compliment about my writing. You made my day!

  8. Wow, so many movies to read about. I haven't seen most of them and they all seem so interesting. Thanks for the recommendations. I thoroughly enjoyed Chupke Chupke; I don't remember laughing so much, though I am sure I missed so much of the nuances because I had to depend on the sub-titles. It sounds like Golmaal will be as much fun. I have put them all on my to-watch list.

  9. This was a long day at work, and I only got to see this now. :( What a wonderful collection of reviews. I like these posts so much better than the single reviews that you do - not that those aren't good, but I get information about so many more films when you do them this way.

    Hrishikesh Mukherjee is one of my favourites too; another is Basu Chatterjee. Do you like him?

  10. You should have asked Rishi to explain it to you. But I can just see that working out! He would have to take his eyes off Sharmila long enough to do that. :)

  11. I'm glad you liked it. I didn't realise, you know, that it was so long. And yes, I do like Basu Chatterjee's movies - some of them.

  12. Yes, Rang-Birangi was loads of fun too! And I liked seeing Parveen Babi in a somewhat different role. :-)

  13. It was part of her attempt to be taken seriously as an actress, I think. I used to like her. And who can forget 'Dhurandhar Bhatawadekar' from that movie? :)

  14. That was such a delightful name! For many years, I'd forgotten which film it was from; all I could remember was Utpal's amazing way of pronouncing it. :-))

  15. I know. :) As Utpal Dutt says naam me vazan hona chahiye.

  16. Wow, what a list, this is a 12 in one post!
    Hrishikesh Mukherjee is also one of my favourite directors. Through your list, I realised, that I haven't seen many of his movies.
    Out of the ones, which are not in the list, I loved Musafir. A great episode film!
    Aashirwaad tugged on the heart strings, while Buddha Mil gaya made you laugh. A very versatile director!
    A song from his lesser known films, chaitali, to summarize his films. Dharti amber neend se jaage, dekho apne aangan. He brought dharti and amber in our garden!

  17. Harvey, I loved Musafir. I especially liked the motif of a man's journey through the house - birth, marriage, death... Unfortunately, I cannot even find a DVD of Musafir. :(

    And yes, I *loved* Buddha Mil Gaya, and Ashirwad. I would say it is one of Ashok Kumar's finest roles, no?

    Thanks for the clip from Chaitali - do you know I didn't have *any* idea about this film, and was surprised to see Dharmendra and Saira Banu!

  18. lovely post but i am surpeised why films like naukri, bawarchi, khatta meetha and naram garam did not find a place

  19. Because it's my list? ;)

    Thanks for dropping by.

    ps:Khatta Meetha is by Basu Chatterjee.

  20. Came across thi post only today. About "Namak Haraam"(1973), you are right. Both Rajesh and Amitabh wanted to die. Hrishida was convinced that Rajesh must die. So he convinced Amitabh to watch the climax and decide if it was not right. The rest as they is history....

    In "Bombay Superstar", Rajesh Khanna is shown arriving late for a shoot of this movie. Since he made Hrishida wait, Hrishida made him wait for some time before canning another shot. So you are right, he was pretty strict. Both Amitabh and Jaya addressed him as "Masterji"

  21. "Kisise Na Kehna"(1983) was also another movie directed by him. In that movie, Utpal Dutt has a fetish for finding a girl who is uneducated for his only son (Farooque Shaikh)

  22. Hrishida was the one director of whom Amitabh said that if he called them (Amitabh or Jaya -whom Hrishida looked upon as a daughter), they dropped everything to do what he wanted. It was also a matter of their wanting to be a part of any Hrishida movie - which is why you have Amitabh playing narrator in Bawarchi; or playing second fiddle again in Chupke Chupke - Amitabh said in an interview that Hrishida had wanted newcomers for the secondary roles - Amitabh and Jaya begged and pleaded to play those roles, and Hrishida relented. :)

  23. Wow :D This post has been lurking in the recommended posts on your blog as I've read and reread all your posts on "The Greats," (I've been quietly obsessing over your blog for a while, you see) but I've never actually read it! What a mistake I made! I had no idea that Chupke Chupke and Gol Mal were BOTH made by Hrishikesh Mukherjee, or Khubsoorat, or so many of the other movies I grew up with and came to love. Not that I actually grew up when these movies were being released- but my parents love these movies, and I simultaneously absorbed them and Khabie Khushi Kabhie Gham as a child. And Anand! My first encounter with the movie was through an old tape I found in my dad's car, which had audio parts of the movie in it (if you know what I'm talking about) and I sat in the parking lot and just cried. Mili too- Hrishikesh Mukherjee's movies are not ever overly tragic or over anything, he just understood so well the many hues of life, and portrayed them in his movies. There isn't one movie of his that I haven't been profoundly touched by. Thank you for your wonderful post, and for inspiring me to start my own bollywood blog!

  24. Thank you for reading, posting and the compliment. :) All the best with your blog.

  25. Thanks! It's http://raatakelihain.wordpress.com/ if you ever want to stop by! :D

  26. I especially like Hrishikesh Mukherjee's films.He always conveyed his messages to the viewer in a humorous and subtle manner without looking "preachy" ex---Asli-Naqli.His characters get etched in one's mind like Mrs D'sa from Anari and

    the matron from Anand.............

  27. Oh, yes. His films never reached, thank heavens! And there was an inherent goodness in his films that made you feel so much better about the world.

  28. To respond to your points one by one: (I'm having fun with this, so bear with me.)

    1. On what planet is a rich guy friends with a poor guy? On this planet, and in real life. I have personally seen two such friendships (different people). :) (I know anecdote is not data, but...)

    2. Abhimaan was based on the lives of Kishore Kumar and his first wife. It is not as if the same experiences cannot play out across boundaries. We are humans - any experience that we have, you can bet that someone, somewhere will have had a variation of that. :)

    3. Jaya is a playback singer, not a glamorous pop star in the film.

    4. I don't think Anand glorified cancer patients. He could have been suffering from any fatal illness, and the end effect would have been the same. It was just a reflection of one man who was determined not to die before he actually did.

    That said, I'm sorry for your loss.

  29. First I must admit to being a bit of a smart aleck! I knew criticizing Hrishikesh might irk you a little. He is clearly a very superior director and I love the Gulzar written dialogues of his early movies. Speaking of Gulzar he wrote some of my favorite song lyrics as well.I am going to watch Golmal tonight and just bought a copy of Bawarchi which I will watch when I go visit my mom this weekend. I guess friendship knows no boundaries. But so many movies with th same theme? I guess it could happen but I still hold my ground on the mr. Poet. He was a depressing figure!
    Perhaps Abhiman was based on Kishore 's life but it resembled the story of A Star is Born as well. I am still suspicious, it is not like Bollywood ever copies Hollywood. Right?
    I lost my brother a couple of years ago to cancer. I wish real life was closer to reel life. Anand is a great movie but I don't think I can ever watch it again.

  30. Oh, I wasn't irked. :)
    Just having fun responding to your points. Besides, there's always room for everyone's views, and there really is no right or wrong here.

    I'm so, so sorry about your loss.

  31. Dear mrs.Warrier,I just watched Golmaal and what a treat it was. What a lovely movie,perfectly done with with pitch perfect acting and just the right tune. Anything more and it would have been too broad and less would not have been broad enough. I love how the movie plays off the identical twin comedy of errors while serving it. It is parodying the genre while making us lough at our familiarity with the genre. I love how it makes fun of the old traditions and beliefs but it is sweet and at heart a homage to the traditions. There were some big loughs. My favorite was the "mother of the nation" lady. They played mothers so much if ran into them I would call them maa. She was poking fun of her image while playing yet another mother part. Very cleaver. I also liked how natural and sweet the sister was without being filmi sweet. I never seen her before ,has she done anything else? Amithabha's cameo was brilliant.
    there is one small complain, why does Kishto Mukerji show up in the last few minutes and brings everything to a halt with his tired drunken shtick? I guess my point about lack of tight editing even in a otherwise brilliant movie stands. A great recommend. Next I am going to search for Chashme bad door since you seem to like it a lot .thanks

  32. I'm glad you liked Golmaal. What I liked about Hrishida is that even when he made fun of things, he did so with great affection. You knew that there was no sanctimony or meanness.

    The sister was Manju Singh; she worked a lot in television, both as actress and producer.

  33. Right you are! It was a very affectionately done. Indian cinema as a rule is terribly heavy handed when comes to satire. In Omso SRK and the director were hammering their take on 70's cinema to the point of insult! The only new movie that paid homage successfully to one my favorite movies Johnny mera naam , was Johnny Gaddar.
    Why the Kisttu Mukerji appearance at the end? I think Hrishida was telling the audience this is how bad regular comedies are! Or he was relating the character's complete annoyance to the audience by having the super annoying Kisstu appearance!

  34. I agree with you about Johnny Gaddar - loved the cross-referencing in the film, and the film itself was very well-made.


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