Monday, August 28, 2006

Kabhi to hasaye, kabhi yeh rulaye...

Sunday was a sad day for lovers of good cinema. One of the cleanest and most honest chroniclers of the great Indian middle-class passed away. Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s films gave you a feeling of having been entertained well and you never finished one without feeling, for some reason, happy. Maybe it was the feeling that you were watching something that was somewhat like your own life. Or maybe it was the fact that the characters who inhabited his films were normal people with simple lives and the films were about how such people would act/react in an out-of-the-ordinary situation. The films would not be pretentious, long-winded and boring. If they were comedies, they would be funny, achingly so. If they were sad films(like Mili, for instance), they would be tragic without being stupid(like the great tragedies of the ‘60s and the ‘70s). And poignant movies like Anand were simply wonderful to watch because they would be genuinely sentimental without being maudlin.

It is hard to say where Hrishi-da got his amazing sensibility from. He taught mathematics and science before he joined films. And he apprenticed under Bimal Roy, none of whose films can be called even mild comedies. Roy made ‘Devdas’ and ‘Bandini,’ two very tragic movies. Mukherjee assisted Roy on these movies and it is amazing that he developed his great comic sensibility despite these surroundings! Although he could make films of all nature, he will be best remembered for his comedies, especially since they are immortal ones.

His presence as the writer/director was felt in practically every sequence of his films(and I mean this in a good way). And his sensitive understanding of the zeitgeist came through in the stories he wrote. In an age when women and men and their relationships were stereotyped to no end on screen, Abhimaan gave us a fresh, at-long-last-sensible look at the battle of the sexes. The happiness of a married couple when the man achieves great success as a singer, his equal elation when his wife becomes a famous singer as well, things slowly falling apart as the wife grows in fame more than him, the classic scene where the autograph book is snatched away from his hands by an eager fan for his wife’s autograph even as he is signing, the total breakdown of the male ego, these were captured amazingly well by Hrishikesh Mukherjee. And one of the most important reasons for the film’s brilliance and enduring watchability is S D Burman’s music. Opening the movie with “Meet na mila re man ka,” Burman-da produces an amazing score. Lata’s crystal-clear vocals are particularly resplendent in “Nadiya kinare” and “Ab to hai tumse.” And the finale of the film, with “Tere mere Milan ki yeh raina” is brilliant.

Mukherjee’s other films had such wonderful combinations of greatstory-greatperformances-amazingmusic too. Rajesh Khanna sitting on the balcony singing “Kahin door jab din dhal jaye” in “Anand” had us in what one might call the tea-time of the soul(not long or dark). The picturization and the music of the song put you in a nostalgic mood about people you had met in times gone by, places you’d been to and everything you’d forgotten(It does that to me, atleast). And “Zindagi kaisi hai paheli” is, of course, the quintessential wondering-at-the-wonder-that-is-life song. Anand’s joie de vivre in the face of a terminal illness and his constant refrain of “Babu moshai” will remain etched in our minds. The film saw, importantly, the emergence of Amitabh Bacchan as an actor of great talent and capability. He was remarkable as the doctor who doesn’t have an all-too-great love for the slums of Bombay(the film is dedicated to Bombay and Raj Kapoor), but whose life gets changed irrevocably by Anand, his middle-class friend. A poignant film and again, not at all mawkish.

His comedies will be his immortal films, though. “Chupke chupke” and “Golmaal” are two of the best comedies to have emerged in Hindi cinema. Dharmendra’s shuddh Hindi, Amitabh’s frequent ventures into literature and anything but botany during his botany classes with Jaya Bhaduri, Om Prakash’s remarkably funny portrayal of Sharmila Tagore’s much-too-old brother-in-law, the ineffably drunk James(a supposedly teetotalling Keshto Mukherjee hiccoughing and staggering away to glory), Amol Palekar’s earnest recital of the values his father “taught” him, Utpal Dutt(in a performance of genius) attaching fanatical importance to moustaches, a rotund and rather old Dina Pathak sneaking into the house through a challengingly small window –- indelible memories and classic cinema.

I don’t know whether it was Mukherjee or Basu Chatterjee who launched the immensely likeable Farooq Sheikh-Deepti Naval ‘series’ of movies, but Mukherjee made one of the best of that ‘genre’ – “Rang birangi.” The thing I liked most about this movie is, Farooq Sheikh, a professor of some sort, picks up and drops off Deepti Naval on his Rajdoot bike. Or some similar archaic monster. (I wanted to say 'I refer to the bike here' at this point, but that would be too cruel to Deepti Naval! She's pretty. Atleast, she was, then.) She’s waiting at the bus-stop and he chugs over to her. He drops her off at the end of her street or outside the gate of her house and chugs away. For some reason(maybe it’s the retrosexual in me), this has always fascinated me – guy picks girl up at bus stop and drives around on Rajdoot.

Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s films were the epitome of good entertainment(although many have also called them scrupulously clean, “Rang birangi” is quite naughty!). No matter what he was dealing with, funny subjects or grave ones, Babu moshay was a master of his craft, never letting his command slip or disappointing his audience. He infused fresh life into Hindi cinema and made films that had a wholesomeness to them.

Ah they don’t make ‘em like that anymore.

7 comments:

Harish said...

Oh!, I cant wait anymore to watch movies like "Anand" and "Abhimaan" of Hrishi Da that I haven't watched. We will have to urgently go to Nyashnal market. What do you say?

Arjun Sharma said...

Yes yes! To National market, I say!

Malaveeka said...

Amen!

Nivedita said...

I need to go too to national market.

Harish said...

Gelayare, banni, national marketge hogoNa.

Nikhil said...

Naavoo baronave?!

Arjun Sharma said...

[Malaveeka]Amen? To what? Are you cursing or something?

[Nivedita]Baa, hogona.

[Harish]He he, ya ya.

[Nikhil]Banni banni! Ayyo, kelodenide?