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October - November 2006


Hrishikesh Mukherjee - A Great Story Teller

by Nikhil Gajendragadkar

Hrishikesh Mukherjee created a unique brand of films. His films were enjoyable and thought provoking. Recipient of Padmavibhushan and Dadasaheb Phalke award, he believed in clean entertainment. Hrhishida, as he was known in the film fraternity, was an editor par excellence also. Remembering gentle genius….

Was he a technician, a craftsman or an artist? Hrishikesh Mukherjee was all. He was born in Kolkatta (then Calcutta) in 1922. He got a degree in science and took up teaching as profession; but soon turned to more artistic ways. He was associated with All India Radio as a freelance artist. Then he joined New Theaters as a lab assistant, where he studied art and craft of filmmaking. He came to Mumbai (then Bombay) with his mentor and idol Bimal Roy, in 1951.

  His debut film ‘Musafir’ showcased his talent as an extraordinary filmmaker. None other than Ritwik Ghatak, a legendary filmmaker himself, scripted the film; Hrishida’s name appears as co-writer. An old house is at the centre and three stories take place there. Ghatak’s “Ajantric” also has three episodes centered on a man and his old taxi. But, ‘Musafir’ displays unmistakable mark of Hrishikesh Mukherjee. There is a person who brings cheers to other’s lives, like many others of his films followed later.

  Star cast of the film was impressive, but Hrishida did not cast Dilip Kumar and Suchitra Sen, popular pair of “Devdas”, opposite each other in one episode. Dilip Kumar himself encouraged Hrishida to make this film. The character played by Dilip Kumar is introduced in the very first episode. It is always referred to as a “mad man”. His shadow lingers for a long time, and we see him only in the last episode. In a short span of each episode all characters are established quickly, this is his masterly touch - as a director and editor as well. The film examines relationships in a subtle way. That includes relation between money and happiness, joy and sorrow, loneliness and desire to be loved. This interplay makes this film unforgettable.

Though the film did not do well commercially, it certainly created ripples in filmdom. Raj Kapoor was impressed with it, and he brought Hrishida to helm “Anari”, and the rest is history, as the saying goes. The idea of the film - simpleton pitted against powerful capitalist - is more akin to persona of Raj Kapoor (Shree 420, Phir Subaha Hogi) but the treatment is that of typically Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s. Emotions play a more major role than ideology in this film.

Another interesting and important film is “Anuradha”. We remember this film for Ravi Shankar’s music. Yes, music is very important and integral part of the film. Heroine of the film loves music. She is married to a doctor who is idealistic and lives in a village to serve poor people. Life is very boring for her, who was used to comfortable urban lifestyle of rich people. She has forsaken music for beloved husband. Unexpected visit of an old friend rekindles attraction for the old life. The heroin is in dilemma. Husband or life full of fun? Idealism wins. The film is clearly influenced by Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophy. But it does not preach. This beautifully enacted (Balaraj Sahani and Leela Naidu) and nicely paced film tells a story of two ‘human beings’ and it spellbinds viewers. The film exhibits Hrishida’s editing prowess as well. The film won him ‘President’s Gold Medal”. Lighting and Camera work of ‘Musafir’ and ‘Anuradha’ is also masterly. He captures small details, which play significant role in the film.

Like ‘Anuradha’ hero of “Satyakam’ (played by Dharmendra) is also an idealist. This film again brought him President’s Gold Medal”. Again here he portrays human beings with their ideals and follies. With “Anand” - Hrishida’s highly successful and critically acclaimed film - he came into his own. He gave many hits in 7o’s. “Anand” juxtaposes emotions like fear of death and desire to live life in full. This film started a wave of terminally ill hero/heroine in Hindi Cinema. He himself tried to repeat it with “Mili”. Even though Amitabh - Jaya Bachchan and Ashok Kumar featured in it, and it was well made and well enacted, the film did not do well. It is said that the film was based on a Marathi (regional language of Maharashtra) play ‘Akhercha Sawal’ (Last question). ‘Anand’ and ‘Mili’, both were tragedies, still, ‘Anand’ was optimistic and ‘Mili’ was a dark, pessimistic film. Anand was inspired by and was written for Raj Kapoor, Hrishida himself had said so.

“Namak Haram” presents another kind of conflict. It is a conflict of interests. This is a landmark film in Hindi cinema. It accentuates unrest and anger, which seemed latent at the time, in the society. (The film was released in 1973. Two years later JP Narayan’s movement for ‘Sampoorna Kranti” (total revolution) started and followed the dethroning of Indira Gandhi. But Hrishida did not play the ‘anti capitalist’ card here, nor it is a political film. (Hrishida was a member of communist party once.) It revolves around emotions like friendship, love and betrayal.

He edited many films like ‘Ganga Jamuna’ in Hindi .He also edited a Tamil film ‘Chemmeen’. It is said that he salvaged the film with his masterly editing, the film went on to become a milestone in Tamil cinema, he could do it because he loved cinema. He always thought of films from heart

Hrishida made more than 40 films, some are unforgettable like ‘Anupama’ and some have been forgotten (like Chaitali and Aalap). ‘Guddi’, ‘Chupke Chupke’, ‘Abhiman’, ‘Gol Mal’, ‘Naram Garam’, are his most talked about and written about films. His films were popular among all categories of spectators. But he is always linked with ‘Middle Class.’ Perhaps he could connect with the psyche of that class. He was never associated with glamour. He selected simple subjects related to simple people. He focused on the innate drama in these simple lives. (‘Bawarchi’ is one example). He deglamourised actors and put forth characters. He himself was a simple man to the core. He thought that he is not fit for the Dadasaheb Phalke award.

This great man enjoyed storytelling. Like his protagonists, he spread happiness, optimism through his films in the lives of millions of viewers. In late 80’s and then 90’s his kind of cinema was pushed back by more glamorous and computerized cinema. Now emotions do not have important role in films as it used to be. But one cannot forget Hrishida and his films. He will be there, not only in the history of Indian Cinema, but also in our hearts.

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