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Hrishikesh Mukherjee: In a Genre of His Own

September 12, 2013 | By

The man who discovered Jaya Bhaduri in Guddi, gave Amitabh Bachchan his first big break in Anand, immortalized Raj Kapoor as Anari and Rajesh Khanna as Anand, gave Dharmendra his “life’s best role” in Satyakam – he is none only than the legendary filmmaker Hrishikesh Mukherjee.

The man who discovered Jaya Bhaduri in Guddi, gave Amitabh Bachchan his first big break in Anand, immortalized Raj Kapoor as Anari and Rajesh Khanna as Anand, gave Dharmendra his “life’s best role” in Satyakam – he is none only than the legendary filmmaker Hrishikesh Mukherjee.

Hrishikesh Mukherjee was, and arguably still is, the undisputed king of “middle of the road” cinema in Bollywood. The country’s highest honor in cinema, Dada Saheb Phalke award acknowledged his pioneering contribution towards introducing simple, humane stories of people-next-door on celluloid. Earlier, he had won seven national awards apart from numerous Filmfare and other coveted awards.

Hrishikesh MukherjeeFunnily though, this strapping Calcutta lad had wanted to be a biochemist, became a salaried film editor in New Theaters studios, and eventually came to Bombay in 1951 with veteran director Bimal Roy as editor of path-breaking films like Do Bigha Zameen. Yet Hrishida, as he is fondly called, felt “circumstances” made him foray into direction, something he was least interested in.

The amiable Hrishida was literally forced by his friends in Bombay to wield the megaphone. Close friend Dilip Kumar pestered him to take up direction and even acted in his first film Musafir that had three different stories of three tenants in a house forming a sequence of marriage, birth and death. Musafir picked up the first-ever national award and high critical acclaim but a lukewarm box-office. Hrishida packed his bags for Calcutta.

Enter another bosom pal Raj Kapoor. Direct Anari for me, he appealed. Anari, the story of the honest simpleton, made silver jubilee. Heaps of offers poured in. But Hrishida ran off again to Calcutta this time pursued by veteran actor Balraj Sahani. “I can’t pay your price of Rs. 1,00,000. I can only pay Rs. 10,000,” Hrishida said.

Anupama  is the story of an inhibited, introvert girl who discovers her dormant confidence and self belief when she meets the compassionate writer Ashok

Anupama is the story of an inhibited, introvert girl who discovers her dormant confidence and self belief when she meets the compassionate writer Ashok

Buy Anuradha from Flipkart.com

Anuradha also starred Ranu Mukherjee, the daughter of singer-composer Hemant Kumar in a stellar role as the talkative, loving child of Leela Naidu and Balraj Sahani

Sahani agreed. With a whole new team of technicians, Hrishida made Anuradha about the neglected wife of an idealist village doctor, with music by Ravi Shankar and new heroine Leela Naidu, who couldn’t speak a word of Hindi. Another slew of national awards followed. There was no looking back.

Hrishida had an illustrious career in cinema, sparking off a new trend of neo-realistic films that seldom failed to the box office. His films were an ode to the middle-class common man, unobtrusive, unpretentious. His perfect blend of realism with just the right amount of cinematic masala in the form of rib-tickling comedy and touching romance, wowed audiences through the sixties and seventies.

He drew heavily from Bengali literature, which made his films very “humane”, as Gulzar puts it. Each film had a subtle of social message be it the neglect of the girl child in Anupama or the unscrupulous capitalist vs. the toiling, starving worker in Namak Haram. “Your art is your attitude to life,” he’d admitted once. But he always rated the national award-winner Satyakam as his best film, which was produced and acted in by Dharmendra who also rates it as his best.

Mili

Hrishida’s films were known for their melodious, soulful tracks. Mili was the swan song of composer S D Burman. The songs of Mili were big hits.

Born in 1922, Hrishida, like many others of his generation, had dreamed of an independent India free of poverty and unemployment. When India did win independence in 1947, the opposite happened. “There was more poverty, more corruption,” Hrishida recalled once. “That burning sense of frustration and disappointment led to Satyakam.”

In the film the honest Satyakam pays with this life for refusing to compromise. Not surprisingly, Hrishida was one director who never compromised on the quality of his film to cater to the whims of producers or the public. “Compromise is corruption,” he would say.

With an uncanny ability to spot talent, Hrishida selected Jaya Bhaduri for the role of the star-struck Guddi when she was still a student of acting at Film & Television Institute of India, Pune, and cast the gawky Amitabh Bachchan opposite her. But Anand released first, pitchforking Amitabh into the limelight and keen to introduce a new face, he replaced Amitabh with Samit Bhanja. According to Jaya, Amitabh “never forgave Hrishi Kaku (uncle in Bengali) for that”.

But Hrishida made amends quickly. Today, Amitabh Bachchan openly acknowledges his debt to Hrishida with whom he has made the maximum number of films – Anand, Abhimaan, Mili, Alaap, Chupke Chupke, Namak Haram and Bemisaal, all of which are rated among his career best.

In fact, Amitabh says his ‘angry young man’ image was developed in films like Anand, Namak Haram and Mili. Hrishida made Abhimaan at the insistence of Jaya who wanted him to cast her fiancé Amitabh along with her. The success of the film, that explored the ego clash of a talented singer and his super-talented wife, hastened their marriage.

For Mili, the two cut their price down to a fraction of what they were commanding then in their prime. The film was shot within the apartments of the producer and some of the friends. Talk of making box-office classics on shoe-string budget.

Be it the tragedies like Anand, Mili and Satyakam or the hilarious comedies, Hrishida handled both genres with ease. He was the master of the masquerade. If Amol Palekar doubles up as twins in Golmaal, botany professor Dharmendra impersonates as a ‘linguist’ driver in Chupke Chupke.

The masquerade theme ran through his films like Kisi Se Na Kehna, Rang Birangi, Naram Garam and even Jhooth Bole Kauwa Kaate. The humor was based on pure wit, slapstick and innuendoes were a strict no no.

Hrishida tapped the full range of histrionics of his actors by casting he-men Dharmendra and Amitabh Bachchan in unconventional comic roles and romantic mega star Rajesh Khanna as a do-gooder cook in Bawarchi. He rated Jaya and Rekha as the most complete actresses. Both have done their finest films with Hrishida, remember Rekha’s mischievous avataar in Khubsoorat?

The universal values in Hrishida’s films, with evergreen music (usually by S. D. Burman) helped him win over generations of viewers and he is as popular today as he was two decades ago. From veteran directors like Late Yash Chopra to budding ones like Priyadarshan and Nagesh Kukkunoor, everybody drew inspirations from him.

But Hrishida did have his reservations about the masala Bollywood film of today. “Six dances choreographed by the dance director, eight fights by the fight master. The director just directs the dialogue part. Where is the scope to show creativity?” he questioned in an interview.

Small wonder then that the ace director had retreated from the big screen and was happy directing TV serials such as Talaash which also became very popular. We know whose loss it was, don’t we?

Editor in Chief, Learning and Creativity; Consulting Editor, Silhouette Magazine As a professional business journalist, Antara spent 14 years covering business stories but alongside kept alive her passion for writing on cinema. She writes extensively on the changing trends of music, direction and filmmaking in cinema and her articles aim to provide well-researched, complete and accurate information on the legends of cinema for the movie enthusiast. She is also the Founder-Editor of Blue Pencil, a New Delhi-based publishing house and recently edited and published Incomparable Sachin Dev Burman, the biography of SD Burman written by HQ Chowdhury. Her articles have also been published in Dearcinema.com and Du-kool.com. Antara is Editor-Creative Director of Wisitech InfoSolutions Pvt. Ltd.
All Posts of Antara Nanda Mondal

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6 thoughts on “Hrishikesh Mukherjee: In a Genre of His Own

  • Jyoti

    There is nothing any Hindi Movie goer can say about Hrishida’s movies that would suffice. Only director whose movies I have watched again and again… and after a few months of lapse they again seem fresh as ever.

    Only other Indian director that I know that comes close is Jandhyala(Telugu).

    Only thing to say to Hrishida is… _/\_ for giving us Khoobsoorat, Anand, Abhimaan, Anupama, Anuradha, Golmaal, Guddi, Bawarchi, Naram Garam, Mili, Musafir, Chupke Chupke… the list goes on.

    _/\_

    1. admin

      Jyoti,

      First of all many thanks for making me revisit my articles. This article was one of the first posts in the Movies section I had done, barely 3 weeks into launching Learning and Creativity. At that point of time, we were all in a tearing hurry to load stories into the site to make it look populated and now when I relook at these early birds, I realise they have that woefully hurried look about them – the songs are missing, the stories behind those songs, those incredible shots and scenes… so much that should have been there isn’t. I will update these stories and I know I will thoroughly enjoy that journey again, and I just have to wait for the opportunity to squeeze it in between the other pressing jobs 🙂

      I completely agree with you – one falls short of words when talking about Hrishida’s films. They were like Geeta Dutt, like Gulzar – DIRECT DIL SE! There are no frills, no gimmicks, no lavish sets and opulent spending. They had a STORY. They had CHARACTERS. They had POETRY. They had MUSIC. They had the tightest of SCRIPTS. And they had the crispest EDITING. And they had the most-heartrending PATHOS, they had the most side-splitting HUMOUR.

      The stories of humanity, stories of real people, stories you can connect with makes Hrishida’s films an integral part of life. My first brush with the impact of cinema on my mind happened with watching Abhimaan on TV when I was in IIIrd Std. We were usually not allowed to watch serious films then, somehow by luck I got to see this. And it still is one of my all-time favorite movies. It is also one of the best movies to help someone notice and understand the finer nuances of the craft of filmmkaing – camera angles, editing, use of music… I can “ramble” on and on about Hrishida’s movies… there can never be enough to say.

      I will try and update this article as soon as I can. Suggest me ideas/songs… would appreciate that greatly!

      Thanks again for a lovely feedback!
      Antara

      1. Jyoti

        I would love to revisit this page and see it with added videos and songs. Hrishida had an penchant for good music. I cannot remember a single movie which does not have good songs. In some cases, the songs survived and became timeless even as the actors and the era featured in the movies were long gone and became mere memories.

        In this day and age, where all good songs either feature the lead pair or is a redundant item song, Hrishida’s movies had one unique qualities. The best songs were not necessarily shot on the lead… but the other supporting characters making them equally important. Be it, Dheere dheere machal featured on Sharmila’s on-screen parents, or the Golmaal title song which had the hero’s friends sharing the screen space equally with him. With any other movie maker, the friends would be relegated to the backdrop.

        If you could do include one of the two songs by Ashok Kumar from Ashirwaad… Rail gaadi, Rail gaadi and Naav chali, naani ki naav chali. Such songs with the unique nursery rhyme touch were never made again( I think).

        Hrishida’s birth and death anniversaries are coming up. So you’ll have the perfect reason to repost this. 🙂 Looking forward to revisiting this page. 🙂

        1. admin

          I agree with you whole-heartedly Jyoti. Hrishida’s use of music is very innovative for several reasons – they take the story forward, they are picturised on all kinds of characters both primary and peripheral, the editing of the songs matches with the taal. You will find the shot cut as the notes reach the “sam”, not somewhere in the middle. You have classical, light, melancholic, romantic, humorous, satirical – all kinds of songs. I will add one of the two Aashirwad songs – probably the Nani ki naav chali because Rail gaadi is there in Ashok Kumar‘s story.

          August 20 is Hrishida’s death anniversary, so I still have some time! Thanks for the heads up!!!

          Antara

  • Jitu

    Mere radio mein iss waqt “Abke sajan saawan mein” baj raha hai. 😛 I just decided to pay this page a visit. Aaj admin sahiba ko badi cheenkein ayeingi… with the number of times I am remembering her. 😛

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