Gender, Politics, Power and the World Of Hrishikesh Mukherjee: Part I
The beauty of reading, and watching Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s cinema again and again, is that the themes of politics and gender emerge as normally in the narrative, as they need to be for people like us.
The world of Hrishikesh Mukherjee is one full of joy, simplicity, warmth and happiness. Where the characters have a soul, a conscience. They are inherently simple and good people, caught in various webs of circumstances, sometimes default sometimes orchestrated, and hope to seek answers with a fair bit of laughter through it all. They do, what several characters that threatened to overshadow this simplicity came with at that time, and after till date are still unable to do. Feel. So, in that world what were the allusions to politics? Where was there a gender conversation? The beauty of reading, and watching Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s cinema again and again, is that these themes emerge as normally in the narrative, as they need to be for people like us. A part of our everyday lives and psyches, that would then make us more aware, articulate citizens and human beings. A trait largely amiss amongst the vitriolic hate filled narratives of power today.
Golmaal & Chupke Chupke
This is the first in a series of pieces, since it is next to impossible to include all of Hrishida’s (the affection one feels towards him also comes from the ease with which affection flowed in his films, that makes us almost look at him with as much fondness as we have for the iconic scenes, characters and cinema he created) films in a single article through this lens. And this time, I am looking at two of his many iconic comedies- Golmaal and Chupke Chupke.
Golmaal, that completes 40 years of release on April 20, is a favorite for its utterly delicious orchestrated comedy. All that begins with one set of lies for a job suggested by Mamaji (David), and ends with our extremely talented actor-singer-sportsbuff-CA (Amol Palekar) almost becoming a murder accused for a man that doesn’t exist. But deep into the narrative are strong political allusions.
Take the title song for instance. A song of why money is important. From when you want a rumaal, even if it is from a kameez, and even if the cloth has been presented to you, for it to take wearable shape, you need money to get it made. The desperation for the youth seeking a job, a large number of aspirants both with experience and without lined up outside Bhawani Shankar’s (Utpal Dutt), the disenchantment of Bhawani Shankar with the ‘distracted’ youth, and seeking just single-minded expertise, are shout-outs to generation gaps, aspirations on earnings – also from the need to craft a life that would be better than the one seen. The conversation is deeply socialist, that identifies the emerge of capitalism, our dependency on it, and doing what it takes to get that job, even if it means curbing down one’s own intrinsic personality traits. In the film, at one-point Lakshman Prasad Dashrath Prasad Sharma ala Lucky even tells Bhawani Shankar how the future is forth and his generation is insistently wanting to stay away from welcoming it.
But the scene in Golmaal that is pivotal for this conversation, that is often missed, is the one that comes just before all hell has to break loose. The invite from Ramprasad’s friend celebrating his success by taking 3 of the five to the hockey test match, has some very interesting bits. The hat tip to Shakespeare, with ‘Friends, Romans and countrymen, lend me your ears’ already speaks of the power of the speaker, given the speech itself is about Caesar, and is deeply honest. He then goes on to explain how he has only 3 tickets. It’s the reaction of his friends that is powerful here. ‘Yeh toh democracy ke sakht khilaaf hai’, ‘down with personality cult’ are their retorts, to which the response is this ‘Emergency hat jaane ka yeh matlab nahin hai ki aap log manmaani karein, shor machaayein’. The normalcy with which this dialogue appears, the comfort of the youth to articulate their perspective on the politics of the time is critical to view. The narrative of the film doesn’t get altered, however the personal-political belief of the characters and protagonists is made evident.
Urmi (Bindiya Goswami), Bhawani Shankar’s daughter in the film, is a liberated woman. She is acting in a play that is speaking of pre-marital pregnancy, is articulate enough to tell her father she is in love with someone, and exercises her freedom, choice and voice to walk out of his home, and hold accountable the man she has done this for. A very very welcome break from the otherwise submissive or objectified leading ladies we were seeing at the time. And have ever since. And all this is done with her in sarees, and conventional wear- underlining the fact that an assertive woman in control of her choices does not have to be defined to be a vamp, a problem or an aberration. That is the normal way to be.
The men are human. Vulnerable, afraid to make mistakes, keen on strengthening relationships. Both Bhawani Shankar and Ramprasad are real, miles away from toxic masculinity, making their vulnerabilities apparent. They shower affection, they question. And therein lies the foil to the rise of the dramatic angry young man. These were men in the same social structures with the same issues, but more human, more full, and more assertive than aggressive.
Another film is Chupke Chupke. Again, a gloriously hilarious, orchestrated comedy, this time with an intention of oneupmanship, is also seated in the idea of power by knowledge and the age-old fight of supremacy of which language.
Note the scene in which chowkidar kaka, whose absence was responsible in beginning of the romance between Parimal (Dharmendra) and Sulekha (Sharmila Tagore), takes the rishta to Haripad Bhaiyya’s (David) home. And David’s dialogue is ‘Woh chahte hain ki main apni behen ki shaadi ek baizzat khandaani chowkidar se kar ke socialism ka saboot doon’ again is a beautiful call out to the idea of class disparities. The number of times Sulekha in the film articulates ‘Kya Drivers insaan nahin hote’ is a repeated reminder for us to look at people beyond their classes, and who they are before all else.
Another scene, that is important is when Parimal disguised as Pyaremohan comes to visit his own childhood friend Prashant (Asrani) also known to Jijaji (Om Prakash), and doesn’t allow him to get a glimpse of his face. In that scene Pyaremohan takes a sip of Prashant’s chai, who still doesn’t realise it is his childhood friend. Through the scene Prashant is angry at the driver’s behavior, till Parimal reveals it is him, with a dialogue ‘Suit-boot pehen kar hamari taraf dekhtey bhi nahin’. How often do we know our helps’, guards’, drivers’ names? How often do we just paint them under a ‘bhaiyya’ or a ‘didi’, ignoring the fact that they have identities beyond the roles they play for us. How often do we just see through them, as a part of a larger machinery that keeps our lives simple? This one sentence forces you to pause and reflect.
The women. Sulekha and Vasudha (Jaya Bachchan) are both assertive yet again. The idea of a ‘no’ gets beautifully cemented when Vasudha calls out and refuses the romantic gestures by Kumar (Amitabh Bachchan) who she still thinks is Parimal. She makes her displeasure felt, and accepts conversation only once she is convinced. Both the characters do something beyond just being women in a narrative. Both study. Sulekha even calls out our Didi and Jijaji, articulating that they should’ve questioned her before questioning the driver of the home, if he had entered her room in the night. She even goes on to assert in the film ‘Agar maine pyaare ke saath gaana gaya, to duniya mein kisi ko haq nahin hai aitraaz karne ka’, in the context of the family wondering if her husband would be uncomfortable with her spending time and intimacy with the driver of the home. These narratives allude to women who were articulate, clear and empowered. Refusing to have their choices and freedoms curbed by a patriarchal construct.
The relationships of all the male characters is full of respect and apparent warmth. They hug each other, confide, and converse. They have no qualms in speaking of their nervousness, their affections for the women they love. And not in what we see today as the typical ‘boy conversation’ or ‘locker room banter’. The affection is real, as is the willingness to take it to fruition. There is a certain charm in the bonhomie, that makes us see and appreciate the characters beyond their gender. And that is such a strength, in a persistently singular male centered narrative, around us in cinema and life, today.
There are several more films, that talk of so many more topics albeit in Hrishida’s characteristic soft, unintimidating way. But that does not mean that we as viewers and lovers of Hindi cinema don’t identify the narratives, sub narratives and plots that run subtly through his films.
More narratives emerge in Mili, Bawarchi, Guddi, Satyakam, Rang Birangi, Abhimaan, and countless others. Which we will cover in subsequent pieces. Until then, do watch Golmaal & Chupke Chupke again.
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