Recently, Amitabh Bachchan mentioned an incident on his blog while referring to the film ‘Anand’, how film director Hrishikesh Mukherjee was upset on the set due to his ‘red lips’. He thought that Amitabh had put on lipstick. This film is remembered as much for the superstar of that era, Rajesh Khanna, as much for the emerging actor Amitabh Bachchan. In true sense, Amitabh was recognized from this commercially successful film.
This is also the birth centenary year of Hrishikesh Mukherjee (1922-2006). Amitabh’s films in the seventies of the last century, ‘Zanjeer’, ‘Deewar’, ‘Sholay’ etc. tied him in the image of ‘Angry Young Man’. Today it is difficult to believe that Amitabh was also in Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s directorial films ‘Anand’, ‘Abhimaan’, ‘Namak Haraam’, ‘Chupke Chupke’, ‘Mili’. And these films were being made in the tumultuous seventies. However, Mukherjee himself was not happy with Amitabh’s image of ‘stardom’. He used to say that the directors of masala films have made Amitabh a ‘stuntman’. In fact, the clean and simple style was the specialty of his films, which stayed far away from action and violence. Family and home are at the center of these films. It was Hrishikesh Mukherjee who had the courage to bring Amitabh on screen as a classical music lover.
In the seventies, three currents – Mainstream, Parallel and Middle – were flowing simultaneously in Hindi cinema. The decade was known as much for the parallel cinema of Mani Kaul, Kumar Shahani, with directors like Prakash Mehra, Manmohan Desai, as much for Mukherjee’s ‘middle-of-the-road’ films. Cinema scholar Jai Arjun Singh, in his book ‘The World of Hrishikesh Mukherjee’, mentions that both mainstream film director Manmohan Desai and parallel cinema director Kumar Shahani had a comfortable relationship with Mukherjee. This shows that aspect of his personality which has a clear impression on his films.
In this book, recalling the declaration of Emergency in the country in 1975, Shahani mentions the gathering at Rishi Da’s (Anupama) house: “There was a gathering of a hundred or two young, middle-aged filmmakers. We prepared a letter to Indira Gandhi opposing the Emergency. Not that anything came out of it, but Rishi da was very worried about the political atmosphere prevailing in the country. It is noteworthy that he blamed the Emergency for the failure of Amitabh Bachchan-Rekha starrer ‘Aalaap (1977). This film does not even figure in Mukherjee’s filmography, but it is a remarkable film where Amitabh comes out as an actor apart from the ‘star’ image.
In this film, Amitabh is in the role of a classical music lover, who does not advocate going against his father’s wishes. Here the lawyer father (Om Prakash) comes in as a patriarch who has political ambitions. Alok (Amitabh) says: “My life is not a disputed land that father can decide whatever he wants by playing legal games. He cannot win this case. In this film, an artist stands against injustice. Incidentally, Manmohan Desai’s ‘Amar Akbar Anthony’ film was also released in the year 1977, which was the most successful film of that year. It is also a great film in terms of songs and music. Here Amitabh is not an ‘angry young man’ taking ‘alaap’ but Alok! Earlier in ‘Abhiman (1973)’ he appeared as a singer with Jaya Bhaduri.
Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s films made in the 70s address the middle class. In ‘Chupke Chupke’, ‘Gol Maal’, ‘Guddi’, the middle-class fabric with humour, the drama with which he has beautifully created, entertains the audience of different ages even after fifty years. The simple style of storytelling without any frills, the fabric of sociality and morality separates him from contemporary filmmakers. Mukherjee was awarded the Dadasaheb Phalke Award in the year 1999 for his contribution to centrist cinema. It is noteworthy that before the film Anand (1971), Mukherjee had directed actors like Dilip Kumar, Raj Kapoor, Devanand, Guru Dutt.
Mukherjee was as skilled a film director as he was a skilled editor. He had edited Vimal Roy’s famous films ‘Do Bigha Zameen’, ‘Madhumati’. He was also an assistant director in Vimal Roy’s films. In the year 1957, he entered the field of direction with the first film ‘Musafir’, but his fame spread with the direction of ‘Anari (1959)’ starring Raj Kapoor-Nutan. He directed about 40 films and ‘Jhooth Bole Kaua Kate’, released in the year 1998, was his last film.
Jai Arjun Singh writes that once in the seventies, Kumar Shahani asked Mukherjee why he did not move towards more experimental things despite his knowledge of technology and the latest principles of cinema? He had said that ‘our environment does not allow it after a limit’. There should be no doubt in saying that Mukherjee’s films expand the possibilities by encroaching on the boundaries of Bollywood. The philosophy of life in his films still attracts the audience towards him.