“I try to make my films like sugar-coated messages, but the sugar should not exceed the medicine.” – Hrishikesh Mukherjee
A straightforward man with a plain sailing view, Hrishikesh Mukherjee was a pro at delivering the most powerful messages through his uncomplicated plots. Friends, family a bickering yet loving environment is what his movies created. Those were the kind of movies that could give you the warmth of home, even in a strange land, can save you from the dark and cold times, and make you nostalgic and miss your loved ones. Sometimes poignant and sometimes outrageously true, the characters were so real in his stories that the actors could reach out to us, through there mere enactments. In the words of Amitabh Bachhan, who worked with Hrishikesh Mukherjee in 9 films “A master story teller, a master editor and one that worked within minimum cost and time, but the characters he gave us were special. Be it Anand, Mili, Bemisal, Jurmana, Chupke Chupke, Namak Haram, all had great moments for performance and depth.”
Hrishi Da started his innings in the Indian Film Industry as a cameraman, then a film editor, and finally assisted with the legend Bimal Roy, in the direction of Do Bheega Zameen and Devdas. His directorial debut came in 1957 movie Musafir, which was quite an experimental venture, weaving three stories together. The three themes of marriage, birth, and death, were brought together in a crisp and beautiful manner, under the craftsmanship of this great director. Though not a commercial success, Hrishi da’s work on the same was acclaimed by all and sundry.
His first encounter with success was with the 1959 film Anari, starring Raj Kapoor and Nutan. The film was commercial and critical success, estabilishing Hrishi da’s innings as a quality director, in years to come. His next venture Anuradha, starring Balraj Sahni and Leela Naidu too was an acclaimed one, and earned him the prestigious President’s Medal Award. However, success was still a tad far away for this enthusiastic bundle of quality creativity. Apart from the aforesaid too, none of Hrishi da’s movies managed to create any lasting impact, in the 60s. Anupama, Aashirwaad, and Satyakam, though they are placed amongst classics today, still stand afar in the race where his other movies stand a much better chance of winning.
They say that there is light after the path of darkness, and rightly so. Maybe this tedious period of slightly “below his standards” creations was necessary so that he could finally pour his heart and soul into his outstanding work of artistry. We are talking about none other than the creative masterpiece, Anand, which came in the year 1971. This movie came at the peak of Rajesh Khanna’s stardom, and his title role had many shedding tears, right from the start of the movie to the end. However, the creative masterstroke was not the fact that it tugged at audience’s hearts and made them cry, it was the fact that Hrishi da brought out the character so vividly, that we could laugh with him, even after knowing that he won’t be with us for long. Anand was a through and through Hrishi da movie, teaching us the meaning and essentials of life, teaching us how each and every moment is important, and most importantly, how we shouldn’t forget to live in the race to be the best. Starring Rajesh Khanna and Amitabh Bachhan, Anand is one movie which stays alive in our hearts, even today, decades after it made its debut on the silver screen. Babu Moshay & Anand were the characters that will forever stay with us.
The 70s had been the best era for Hrishi da. All scripts turned gold at his Midas touch. Right from his satirical view on the film industry in Guddi, to a bickering-turned-loving family in Bawarchi, or even the heart touching story of love, failure, and success in Abhimaan, Hrishi da brought the characters alive on the canvas of Indian cinema. His works turned into evergreen classics that were never too sad or sloppy or even heavy, but managed to convey a deep meaningful message, through the simplest of stories and everyday characters. Be it Mili of Mili, or the love story of Alok and Radha in Alaap, the mere lucidity of the characters, plain backdrops, and crisps narrations always pulled the audience then, and even now.
If you think that Hrishi da just made heart-warming movies that conveyed one message or the other, you need to watch his comic masterpieces Chupke Chupke and Golmaal. While the former was a multi-starrer, with Dharmendra, Sharmila Tagore, Amitabh Bachhan, and Jaya Bhaduri in lead roles, latter had the hilarious employee-boss jugalbandi by Amol Palekar and Utpal Dutt which can still leave us in splits, even on multiple watchings. Rang Birangi, a hilarious take on a person trying to find “spark” outside his marriage, and Kisise Na Kehna, on a couple who try to hide the “education” of daughter in law from father in law, were also two feel good movies, which refresh us even after decades of their release. In fact, Utpal Dutt’s character of ACP Dhurandhar Bhatawdekar in Rang Birangi is often remembered fondly with laughter and crackles. Hrishi da’s moulding of Farooq Sheikh and Deepti Nawal as a “in-love” couple in both these movies is adorable.
Another one of his cinematic gems is Khubsoorat, which had Rekha in the lead role of a hyper active, kind of the then “Geet” of the generation, and how she fits into an uptight household of her sisters in laws, only to find that they are all controlled by the “hitler” mother in law, while they all harbour secret dreams to fly away. Hrishi da brough out the character of Manju beautifully, and we got to see the best of humorously captivating and lovable Rekha. Her chemistry with Rakesh Roshan who played the third son of the family, was electric. And who can forget the Nirmal Anand of Late Ashok Kumar, the ever smiling head of the family. The beauty of Hrishi da’s movies lay in the fact that none of the characters were ever undermined and they all emerged beautifully in the final result.
Hrishi da’s last venture was Jhooth Bole Kauwa Kaate, in the year 1998, starring Anil Kapoor, Juhi Chawla, Amrish Puri, Reema Lagoo, and Anupam Kher in the lead roles. Though the master director had taken the seat after a long time, he still hadn’t lost his touch, which was evident from the same old charm and humour that we could see in this movie. Blame it on the times, but the film did not do well at the box office, and that was the last creativity we could ever see from this great artist of Hindi cinema.
Dada Saheb Phalke Award, Padma Vibhushan, Award from International Film Festival of India, and many other honors. Hrishi da proved worthy of each one of these. We lost a great artist on 27th August 2006, but he gave us decades full of laughter and slapstick humour, and many lessons, within the folds of his cleverly crafted cinematic diamonds. A fine person, a beautiful artist, Hrishi da was indeed the Kohinoor of Indian Film Industry. We can only hope, that his genre of movies come back, and we find his soul in some other creative body, ready to give us all more decades of visual treats.