The BEST of Hrishikesh Mukherjee
On Hrishikesh Mukherjee's 91st birth anniversary on September 30, we bring back a Rediff Special done on the brilliant filmmaker's Best Films on August 2006. Read on:
Hrishikesh Mukherjee was a brilliant director. The films he directed could make you cry, they could make you laugh, and they could make you laugh even while you cried.
Mukherjee was the master of middle-of-the-road cinema from the 1950s till the 1980s. He directed 42 films in a rich directorial career that spanned as many years. Mukherjee's cinema bespoke a middle-class, genteel sensibility, lined with deep intelligence and observation.
Dinesh Raheja chooses seven masterpieces from the treasure trove that Mukherjee left behind for his fans.
Hrishikesh Mukherji won acclaim early in his directorial career. His second film Anadi, a rather simplistic paean to a simple man's (Raj Kapoor) battles against capitalistic forces, was a huge commercial success. Hrishida's third film, Anuradha, about a neglected hausfrau's relationship with another man, won the National Award that year.
But in my opinion, the Hrishikesh Mukherji brand of cinema really came into its own with Anupama. This heart-breakingly intimate look at a troubled father-daughter relationship didn't carry a huge price tag; but was embellished and enhanced by the characteristically Hrishida brand of subtle humour and peopled with a cast of intrinsically decent people (even Shashikala here has a heart of 24-carat gold) who typically populated Mukherji's genteel cinematic universe.
In Anupama, Hrishida's own story explored the fine calibrations between love and hatred. Sharmila Tagore's father struggles with himself but cannot forgive his daughter for his beloved wife's death in childbirth. Sharmila grows up to be a shrinking violet (albeit with an out-of-character bouffant), who blossoms when a sensitive novelist (Dharmendra) enters the scene and encourages her to break free.
Hrishida's best films always had a cathartic climax. In Anupama, Sharmila finally asserts her identity and reaches the railway station to elope with Dharmendra. But without her knowledge, her father is also at the station, hiding behind a pillar, and weeping rivulets. His long repressed love for his daughter has finally won out against his resentment.
Image: Sharmila Tagore and Dharmendra in the poster of Anupama
Dharmendra was so delighted with the surge in his reputation after Anupama that he brought Hrishikesh, Sharmila and himself together again for his first home production, Satyakam. And Hrishida proved willing to go experimental and showcase a staunchly principled hero who refuses all bribes, temptations and compromises but eventually loses his life when pitted against the corrupt forces ranged against him.
Satyakam did not win Dharamendra any major award, but it remains his self-avowed best performance till date. He is palpably earnest in this biographical sketch of a man committed to the truth -- even when he has to pay a heavy price for it.
Hrishida shows Satyakam's vindication coming after his death.
Satyakam's father (Ashok Kumar) overcomes his aversion for daughter-in-law Sharmila and makes her son, the product of a rape, light Dharmendra's funeral pyre. Thus, Satyakam's message of truth and morality is carried on -- he does not die in vain.
Image: Sharmila Tagore and Dharmendra in Satyakam
Hrishida had always dared to take up box office challenges -- he made Anadi with huge stars (Raj Kapoor, Nutan) and tasted big-time commercial success; but he had no major marquee names in his next two films -- Anuradha and Mem Didi (the latter had Lalita Pawar in the title role).
Similarly, in the late 1960s, he cast 58-year-old Ashok Kumar, long-established as a character actor, as the protagonist of Aashirwad... and steered him to a Filmfare Best Actor win.
Hrishida cast Ashok in his favourite mould -- as a man of upstanding principles. Ashok prefers to break his marriage to an autocratic landlady (Veena) rather than be part of her exploitation of the poor. But he has to pay a heavy price -- he is separated from his beloved daughter, Nina. Ashok makes a living in the city by entertaining children (the famous song Rail gaadi can be said to be India?s first rap number) and seeking substitutes for his daughter. But destiny lands him in jail for rescuing the daughter of a friend.
Hrishida evocatively captures the passage of years while Ashok composes philosophical poems in prison. His redemption is however not complete -- a grown-up Nina expresses her distaste for criminals. Aashirwad's tear-soaked climax however reaffirms the pristine nature of the father-daughter bond.
Image: Sanjeev Kumar and Meena Kumari in Aashirwad
Anand came at the peak of Hrishida's most creatively fecund phase and he helped Rajesh Khanna deliver what is arguably the best performance of his career. Khanna played the determinedly cheerful, incessantly talkative title character, who suffers from a terminal illness but prefers to live out his last days in sun-dappled brightness, trying to make the lives of those around him happier.
It is to Hrishida's credit that he doesn't allow the film to lapse into melodrama. Like his titular character, Hrishida is wise even when he is wise-cracking.
The film's many lighter moments balance out the emotional sequences which are aplenty -- while blessing his sister Khanna says, 'Tujhe kya ashirwad doon, bahen? Yeh bhi toh nahin keh sakta meri umar tujhe lag jaaye.' (How do I bless you? I can't even pledge that my lifespan should be added to yours.)
Image: Amitabh Bachchan and Rajesh Khanna in Anand
In Guddi, Hrishida dared to introduce a heroine (Jaya Bhaduri) with a radically different, refreshingly simple, girl-next-door look. She was poles apart from the glamorous Hemas and Mumtazes who were ruling the roost. What's more, Hrishida showcased her in such an endearing light that he steered Jaya to true-blue stardom.
In Guddi, Hrishida trained his camera on Mumbai's film world but it was a largely benign, rather simplistic view. His focus was on a young, innocent girl, who is on the cusp between adolescence and adulthood and is infatuated with film stars, particularly Dharmendra.
Hrishida roped in his star-friend Dharmendra to ingeniously play himself and help reveal to Guddi the humdrum hard work that goes behind the creation of the fantasy. However, what has made this a perennial favourite for many is Hrishida's winning characterisation of Guddi, enhanced by a refreshingly natural performance by Jaya Bhaduri.
Hrishida always peopled his films with interesting supporting actors who are supportive to the main leads and gave them memorable cameos -- Lalita Pawar was unforgettable as the benevolent Mrs D'Sa in Anadi, Shashikala and David were Sharmila's fiercely protective wellwishers in Anupama. Seema was Rajesh Khanna's compassionate sister in Anand. Asrani was Amitabh's peace-making secretary in Abhimaan. And in Guddi, Utpal Dutt played Jaya's caring but scheming uncle, which kick-started his memorable career in Hindi films.
Image: Dharmendra and Jaya Bhaduri in Guddi
While Jaya Bhaduri's character in Guddi seemed enchantingly close-to-life, Abhimaan still sparks debate -- does it mirror the status of her relationship with Amitabh Bachchan in the early years of their marriage?
In Abhimaan, Hrishida makes an astute observation of the ego problems which rise when a married couple is in the same profession... especially when the wife becomes more successful than the husband. Hrishida delves into the workings of the fragile male ego. Aided by Amitabh's smoulderingly intense performance, he reveals how it can shatter even the man's most loving relationship.
Hrishida does not adhere to any strict 'isms' in Abhimaan; but follows a humanistic view of a troubled marriage. The wife is willing to make umpteen sacrifices for her marriage. But when she loses her baby and subsequently her interest in life and music, the husband does come to terms with his pettiness and, in a heart-wrenching climatic song, exhorts her to sing in public.
Embellishing his film with a great score by S D Burman, Abhimaan suggests Mukherji's belief in the primacy of relationships over all else.
Image: Jaya and Amitabh Bachchan in Abhimaan
In the late 1970s, Hrishida enthralled audiences with quite a few comedies -- Chupke Chupke, Golmaal and Khubsoorat.
Khubsoorat is a sparkling comedy, both genial and literate. But amidst the froth and frolic, Hrishida also slips in a subtly introduced message on the often conflicting roles of discipline and freedom in life. The redoubtable Dina Pathak plays the matriarch of a household who, like Queen Victoria, is not often amused. The battle lines are drawn when her daughter-in-law's sister (played with verve by Rekha) incites her family to rebellion. But finally, neither proves to be the victor.
In the film, Hrishida seems to advocate the keeping of a fine balance between merriment and regulation. This sense of balance is what served him best in his films -- they were not too arty to alienate the masses and they were insightful enough to please the critics.
Rekha's exuberant Khubsoorat persona found an echo in Hrishida's Jhoothi subsequently but the filmmaker's latter movies were not a patch on his classics. After receiving the Padma Vibhushan and the Dadasaheb Phalke Award, Hrishida was content to rest, having left behind a virtual El Dorado for Hindi film lovers.
Image: Rekha and Rakesh Roshan in Khubsoorat