Skip to main content

Innovative, Hrishikesh Mukherjee's movies often banked on excessive sentimentalism

By Harsh Thakor* 

Late Hrishikesh Mukherjee more popularly known as Hrishi Da, whose birth centenary was celebrated recently, ranks amongst India’s most progressive and innovative film makers, exhibiting mastery in craft of making socially relevant themes. Mukherjee knitted plots together with great visualisation and sensitivity, be it in comedy, pathos, anger or romance, weaving every ingredient in proper proportion. 
Melodrama was restrained and scripts dissected with surgical skill. Without over romanticisation, Mukherjee would do complete justice to the role of the character. He did not champion art films, but gave commercial films an artistic touch.
Rarely have artists transcended the medium of cinema to project the real essence of their cultural values so or film directors who narrate a simple tale of regular families that have characters of unique shades, characters which are bound to touch human emotions universally. His characters frequently underwent life-changing journeys of their own, raising questions that make you indulge in a bit of soul-searching. Hrishi Da knew how to convey the simplest of stories in the most absorbing manner. Most artistically both continuity and rupture were blended in his work.
Born on 30 September 1922, in pre-Independence Kolkata, Hrishi Da pursued the path of an ordinary middle class Indian, studying science, graduating with a BSc in chemistry aspiring to become a biochemist, and eventually teaching. However, soon he gravitated towards art and worked at an editing lab before taking on the role of a cameraman and editor in New Theatre, a Kolkata-based film studio, where he mastered the art of film editing.
Following his stint there, he would apprentice with acclaimed filmmaker Bimal Roy in Mumbai as his film editor in landmark films like ‘Do Bigha Zamin’ and ‘Devadas’. Mukherjee was an editor par excellence who could make a phoenix come out of the Ashes. Under the mentorship of Roy, he grasped all aspects of filmmaker and even wrote the script for ‘Do Bigha Zameen’, which was inspired by the Italian classic ‘Bicycle Thieves’.
It was actor Dilip Kumar, who was responsible for transforming Mukherjee into a filmmaker. Kumar worked for free in Mukherjee’s first film ‘Musafir’ (‘traveller’), which deals with the cycle of life of the three families living in the same house.
Most of the 40-plus films Hrishi Da made in his storied career manifested the human condition. There was nothing extravagant, or experimental in, themes he adopted, but his work touched the core of the soul of critics and audiences alike because of “their middle-of-the-road accessibility, heart-warming irony and literate sensibilities,” writes film historian Dinesh Raheja.
Mukherjee was critical of unequal gender relations. ‘Anuradha’ tapped the insensitivity of a husband (Balraj Sahni) towards his wife’s (Leela Naidu) talent and placed her singing at par with his doctoring. ‘Abhimaan’ critiqued the wounded male pride of a husband (Amitabh Bachchan) whose wife (Jaya Bhaduri) did better professionally. Even the hero-oriented ‘Satyakam’ ended with Sharmila Tagore’s heroism in unashamedly confessing to her seven-year-old son that he was not his father’s biological child.
Women characters who were cast as “vamps” in mainstream films were not vamps in Mukherjee’s films at all. In ‘Abhimaan’, Bindu, singing star Bachchan’s rich and fashionable girlfriend, shows admiration of his new bride, supports him when he needs space, but refuses to run down his wife. Aruna Irani in ‘Mili’ takes to “playing with men” after a heartbreak but is awarded total respect.
Hrishi Da’s films nearly always were a manifestation of ethics derived in many forms : love, kindness, fair play, integrity, a refusal to hurt others. An important part of this ethic was that essence of inner change within a human being: from ‘Namak Haraam’s’ Somu transformation in joining hands with the workers, to ‘Anand’s’ Bhaskar Banerjees composure in transition from pessimistic bitterness, from the Sharma family transformation into a harmonious unit in ‘Bawarch’i tto'Kisi Se Na Kehna’s’ Utpal Dutt realising he was wrong about “modern” girls, Hardly any Hrishikesh Mukherjee film portrays an outright villain. The “villains” are complex characters who transform regretful, lonely old men (Om Shivpuri in ‘Namak Haraam', Om Prakash in ‘Alaap’, Tarun Bose in ‘Anupama’).
One of the most notable characteristics of Mukherjee’s cinema was how his films stood firmly on the side of youth, who in his cinema illustrated a bent towards equality, fairness, and kindness, while the old were trapped in class and caste differences, personal aggrandisement, and rigid traditions.
A weakness that could be pointed out was Mukherjee’s excessive sentimentalism, over-glorification of individuals, and not projecting collective spirit or social struggle in radical perspective. ‘Satyakam’ and ‘Namak Haram’ exhibited such charasterictics. He did not cultivate progressive art films in the manner of Shyam Benegal or Satyajit Ray, projecting the misery and rebellious spirit of the workers or peasantry.

Best films

In a career in which he directed 42 highly varied films. In ‘Satyakam’ (1969) Mukherjee brings out the best in Dharmendra as an idealist as Satpriya Acharya who wages a battle against corruption at every stage. Few Hindi movies escalated morality to such a height. With meticulous craft he portrays Satpriya Acharya’s unending quest to establish morality.
Such a character inspired pursuit of human values to the youth in place of crass materialism. The death scene of Dharmendra is amongst the most heart touching ever in Bollywoood, At the very root the end illustrates that true sainthood lies in the service of humanity and not in rituals. Starring Dharmendra, Sharmila Tagore, Sanjeev Kumar, and Ashok Kumar, it focuses on a young man’s disillusionment with what Independence has brought to India.
The emotional Satyapriya says: “Bhookh, bekaari, black marketing, sab khatm ho jayega” (hunger, unemployment, the black market … all will end). Ironically he dies fighting the “system” relentlessly fighting the system to the last straw. The movie ends with Satyapriya’s untimely death, when everyone comes to understand his ideals, including his grandfather who had refused to accept his marriage with a woman of a lower caste.
This movie dealt with the post-partition time in India, and raised questions which are still relevant for India’s social and economic structure. Today such characters need to be resurrected in Indian society, where globalisation and consumerism have trapped the public.
In ‘Anand’ (1971) with great sense of subtlety cultivates a plot about a cancer Patient, on the verge of dying. The dialogues between Babu Moshai and Anand touch the very core of one’s soul, blending humour, pathos and grace. Anand virtually looks like living many lives, within the film itself.
He did not cultivate progressive art films in the manner of Shyam Benegal or Satyajit Ray, projecting misery and rebellious spirit
Soul searching, such as “Zindagi lambi nahin, badi honi chahiye” (Life shouldn’t be just longer but, bigger!) are permanently embedded in the minds of viewers..Anand (Rajesh Khanna), is dying of a rare disease of the intestine. He leaves behind the moral of dying a living person spiritually, giving full justice to the gift of life while sharing the joy of it with others. Rarely has any Hindi movie penetrated sensitivity or in such realms.
‘Namak Haraam’ (1974) projects socialist overtones, in the story of friendship amidst background of working class disturbances. The conclusion of the movie projects how a metamorphosis or inner change could occur within the most ruthless people and the effect of environment in transforming the life of a person. It illustrated that the bond of friendship has no boundaries. The heart of an audience melts when wife of Amitabh Bachchan Simi, tells him about how merely amassing wealth is evil.
‘Namak Haraam', explores the experience of Somu (Rajesh Khanna), who pretends to be a worker to avenge his beloved friend Vicky (Amitabh Bachchan). Somu seeks to replace the union leader in Vicky’s father’s factory. Vicky (Amitabh Bachchan) is torn between his friendship with Somu (Rajesh Khanna), a blue-collared worker in a factory, and fulfilling his capitalistic dreams.
But soon, traumatised by the hunger and poverty he witnesses, he is unable to return to the bewildered Vicky’s world. Characters like Vicky’s socialist friend (Simi Garewal), the union leader (AK Hangal), and the despairing alcoholic poet (Raza Murad) speak explicitly against inequality and injustice.
‘Anupama’ (1966) is the story of Uma (Sharmila Tagore), hated by her father because he lost his beloved wife during childbirth. Uma falls in love with the socialist writer Ashok (Dharmendra), but he refuses to help her leave her father’s home, as she would merely shift from being dominated by her father to being patronised by him: “The independence of a person is as crucial as the independence of a country.” Watching Uma read Ashok’s novel, written to inspire her, and finally make the choice of becoming her true self ranks amongst most powerful cinematic memories.
In ‘Guddi’ (1971) Mukherjee portrays a young girls (Jaya Bahdai) infactuation with Superstar Dharmendra,trait very common in society. Most illustratively it portrays that film stars are as human or normal, like other persons and how the film world was make believe one. The realism is praiseworthy.
‘Anari’ (1959) most melodiously captures the love of tramp and how circumstances shape his life. The film is a mascot for virtuosity. Anari’ is a tale of an innocent man caught amidst tricky circumstances. A kind hearted but poor Raj, an honest man, is too honest for a corrupt world, and struggles to make ends meet .He wins the affection of Miss D’Sa, (Lalita Pawar) the landlord lady and the love of his life, Nutan. After acquiring a full time job, his innocence gets exploited by the rich and corrupt.
‘Anuradha’ (1960) is the story of a beautiful, young, eligible woman (Leela Naidu) who has a passion for singing, but decides to leave her world of comfort to marry and live with a noble man, a doctor (Balraj Sahni) who has embarked on a mission of sacrifice and devotion to save human lives. She does it, sees it all, and then gets another chance to make a choice between quitting her uphill quest or choose her man with his mission, all over again.
In ‘Bawarchi’ (1972) a ‘jack of all trades’ chef (Rajesh Khanna)steps into the life of a joint family who are deeply fragmented due to internal differences .In a heart touching manner he welds them together, striking a chord in their hearts, and inculcating compassion towards each other. The film illustrates how repressed feelings cut the bond of love lying underneath, and the need of the very source of frustration to be untapped.
The musical ‘Alaap’ (1977) is based on economic inequality. A rich and arrogant Om Prakash seeks to rule his family, especially his music-loving son Alok (Amitabh Bachchan). Alok not only prefers music but also the company of erstwhile courtesan and great singer Sarju Bai (Chhaya Devi), who becomes his substitute mother. Alok leaves home when he realises his father has deliberately engineered the destruction of her basti. He lives in a slum, drives tongas for a living, and contracts TB but does not compromise on his integrity.
In ‘Ashirwaad’ (1968) Jogi Thakur’s(Ashok Kumar) life undergoes tragic circumstances where he is cheated by his own wife, and is forced to leave his daughter behind. His life continues to test him, and he ends up in jail. Inspite of facing the most tortuous journeys, he continues to tread the path of honesty and truth, and his life’s end finally brings him to bless his child, his daughter Neena.
‘Khubsoorat’ (1980) illustrates the importance of fun and laughter in one’s lifeManju (Rekha) comes to live with the Gupta family which lives under the strict discipline of its leading lady, Nirmala Gupta (Dina Pathak), Manju rebels with fun and a bit of mischief but still tries to win Nirmala’s heart.
‘Musafir’ (1957) is one of the early films of Mukherjee. It is a three-part tale of Marriage, Birth, and Death. This movie fluctuates between hope, despair, and again hope in the end where the stories of three families are entwined by the character which is constant in the movie, the house.
‘Abhimaan’ (1973) critiqued the wounded male pride of a husband (Amitabh Bachchan) whose wife (Jaya Bhaduri) did better professionally. The struggle of a successful and ambitious singer in coping with his wife’s increasing fame and his own pride is the theme of ‘Abhimaan’. The manner Subi’s(Amitabh Bachchan) paves the road for his wife to earn more fame and success than he could, and the flux in the couple’s relationship is portrayed artistically.
In ‘Chupke Chupke' (1975), a botany professor, his wife, the wife’s brother-in-law, their many more friends, and a driver named Pyare Mohan! Parimal (Dharmendra) must win a challenge with his wife, Sulekha (Sharmila Tagore) who admires her brother-in-law (Om Prakash) to be the most intellectual man she knows. In order to accomplish that, Parimal disguises as Pyare.One of the finest comedies written in Hindi cinema.
‘Golmaal’ (1979) is a story of an ambitious fresher who has to play a double role to revive his dead mother with the help of a theatre actress, hiding his love interest, and do much more mischief, in order to secure a job under a traditional and conservative boss. Movie was a virtual fun riot.
---
*Freelance journalist who has extensively researched on Hindi films

Comments

Very good article. Congratulations!!!

TRENDING

Economist-editor's allegations on Narmada defamatory, baseless: Medha Patkar

Counterview Desk  In a reply directly addressed to well-known economist, journalist and columnist Swaminathan S Anklesaria Aiyar’s two articles in the Times of India (republished here and here ), calling them defamatory and wondering whether they were borne out of “ignorance or a conspiracy through political alliance”, Narmada Bachao Andolan leader Medha Pakar has said that the Narmada Sardar Saravar Project and the people's movement by adivasis, farmers, labourers, fish workers, potters and all the generations’ old communities from the river valley have suddenly come to be focused on, since the Gujarat elections are in the doorstep. She believes that while the “defamatory accusations with baseless conceptions such as ‘urban naxals’ are to be laughed at as the electoral strategic moves, one gets shocked to read the articles by a known old columnist like Swaminathan Ankalesaria Aiyar, published in a reputed daily like the Times of India." According to her, Aiyar’s two articl

Corporate-political party nexus? Rise and rise of Gautam Adani under Modi regime

By Sandeep Pandey*  In last five years Rs 10,09,510 crore taken as loans by various companies from banks in India have been declared as Non Performing Assets, an euphemism for writing them off. Out of this State Bank of India alone wrote off Rs 2,04,486 crore. Only about 13% of the total written off amount was recovered. Identity of the defaulting borrowers, most of whom are influential corporates, is not revealed. Compare this to the loans taken by farmers. The names of defaulting farmers is displayed on walls in tehsil offices to shame them and some unlucky ones also land up in lock-ups there. On the contrary, a few corporate defaulters have fled the country and quite curiously the authorities didn’t seize their passports like they do with some dissenting intellectuals or activists booked under mostly false cases. Now consider the donations received by political parties in the form of electoral bonds. The identity of the donor need not be revealed even to the Election Commission or i

Facing tough times, Rajasthan's Raika herders hold first-ever camel cheese festival

By Rosamma Thomas*  During the pandemic, the annual Pushkar camel fair in Rajasthan did not occur for fear of contagion; in 2022, it was called off again as lumpy skin disease affected cattle. At Sadri in Pali district, however, festivity continues – a two-day Camel Cheese Festival was held on November 23 and 24, 2022. Visitors spent time with the camel herds and their Raika, drank camel-milk tea with the herders and then returned to lunch at the Kumbhalgarh Camel Dairy, from where the Kumbhalgarh Fort is visible, to taste camel cheese. The Raika herders have been facing a tough time – camels are no longer used as much for transport or agriculture in Rajasthan. The animals have limited utility, but their milk is prized. Camel Charisma, the dairy at Kumbhalgarh, sends camel milk across the country to people who use it in therapy – for autistic children, improved blood sugar levels, or even to treat cancer. It is believed that the health benefits of the camel milk is because the animals

BJP-RSS trap opposition in 'futile row' around Savarkar, freedom movement

By Prem Singh*  Everything in this article is just a repetition. I have been saying all this since 1991-92. It is obvious that the Congress and the RSS/BJP do not like my ideas. But most socialists, advocates of social justice and communists also dislike my thoughts. I watch their measures and efforts to deal with the present crisis with interest. I respect them and also participate. Yet, the fact it, we fall behind again and again, and the crisis goes ahead. Instead of being a solution-providers, we are seen to be a part of the crisis. How long will this last? Perhaps, if the new generation thinks differently, things may turn for better! 1 To say that modern Indian society and politics are passing through the deepest crisis ever will surely be a repetition. The crisis is deeper than the spreading of communal hatred we witness around us. In fact, the business of communal hatred is flourishing by taking its manure and water from the deep crisis. The crisis of neo-colonial slavery is pro

Carbon abatement to tackle climate change: India's failure has 'outpaced' its success

By Satorupa Karmakar*  On November 01, 2021, India took a pledge of reaching a carbon-zero stage by 2070, at the COP-26 held in Glasgow, UK. As ‘ambitious’ and dubious it may sound to some, with a short-term delay in renewable energy generation (which gained the pace post-September 2020) and drastic fall in greenhouse gas (GHG) emission level as COVID-19 emerged as a ‘necessary evil’ , the path of India’s clean energy mission could be seen being paved throughout this time. Currently ranked as the third largest GHG emitter in the world, India is projected to demand more energy in coming years due to a large population base (1.3 billion as per 2011 Census data) and primarily coal-based fast-growing economy. Rapid industrialisation in post-colonial developing countries like India, stimulated by a larger and cheaper pool of fossil fuels and labour-force depicted a continuous upsurge in temperature, heavy precipitation in some places with an overall declining rainfall and a burgeoning soc

Demand to withdraw 'anti-environment, anti-adivasi' forest conservation rules 2022

By Gopinath Majhi*  The Campaign for Survival and Dignity (CSD), Odisha, a coalition of adivasis and forest dwellers’ organisations, has sent a memorandum to the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) raising serious concerns over Forest (Conservation) Rules, 2022, notified by the Centre on June 29.  Contending that recent amendments and a host of executive orders/guidelines issued by the ministry undermine and dilute the FRA and threaten the rights of adivasis and forest dwellers, CSD demands that the 2022 FC Rules should be rescinded forthwith. Demanding withdrawal of such anti-people and anti-environment rules CSD Odisha organised a protest Dharana in front of State Assembly today on 25th November 2022 and submitted memorandums to the Hon’ble Governor of Odisha, Chief Secretary and Commissioner-cum-Secretary, ST & SC Development Department for conveying our concerns against the FC Rules 2022 to the Central Government for its withdrawal. The memorandums w

GM mustard not swadeshi, it's a patent of MNC Bayer, GoI 'misleading' SC: Modi told

Counterview Desk  In a representation to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, as many as 42 farmers’ organisations though their representatives , backed by senior scientists and experts, have said that the Government of India (GoI) should stop misleading the Supreme Court “with untrue and incorrect” statements on GM mustard. Insisting that India does not need unsafe GM mustard, in their representation, they urged the Supreme Court to order immediate uprooting of GM mustard crop in various locations. The representation comes even as a penal of experts, coming down heavily on the GoI for refusing to see how in less than a week’s time the pollen from GM mustard will “start contaminating” non-GM mustard fields with transgenes, including male sterility and herbicide tolerant traits. Alleging that the GoI is actively misleading the Supreme Court with untrue and incorrect statements on GM mustard, Kavitha Kuruganti of the Coalition for a GM-Free India said, “We can list at least five areas where Gov

Shedding Hindu-Hindi-Hindustan? New Modi-Shah love for Tamil Nadu 'ignores' Periyar

By Sandeep Pandey*   The Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) or the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) have long argued for ‘Hindu-Hindi-Hindustan’, which into recent years has translated into a crisper English expression: ‘One Nation-One Religion-One Language’. Given this backdrop, it is curious that the BJP government has organised the Kashi Tamil Sangamam in Varanasi, the Prime Minister’s constituency. Why did the BJP and RSS feel the need for such an event? All Narendra Modi events are highly publicised and have multiple political objectives. It is never an innocuous religious/cultural event as it may appear from the face of it. Afterall, RSS calls itself a cultural organisation, but has never ceased to surprise us with its political designs. Tamil Nadu has a long history of opposing imposition of Hindi by Union governments. Periyar EV Ramasamy had opposed the idea of compulsory teaching in Hindi as far back as in 1937. The 1960s witnessed violent protests against Hindi in which a number

Never-ending saga of sin tax: What if murder is taxed at Rs 1 crore, rape at Rs 5 crore?

By Moses Raj GS, Sangeetha Thomas*  What should have ended by June 30, 2022 as a 5 year experiment has resurfaced. The government has extended the levy of GST compensation cess by another 4 years till March 31, 2026. This cess, dubbed as the sin tax imposed on sin(ful) goods, is double the highest slab on indirect taxes. But only a few pay for it and the majority benefit, unendingly. The year 2017 is a landmark year for indirect taxes. With the grand idea of ‘One Nation, One Tax’ as a fiscal slogan subsuming all State based taxes such as octroi /entry tax, Value Added Tax (VAT), sales tax, taxes on lottery, betting and gambling, luxury tax, purchase tax, entertainment tax, property tax, professional tax and central sales tax into a single framework of Goods and Services Tax (GST) changed the contours of revenue collection. Complicating it further, India, with each State having its own size and revenue problems, has the most complex and highly centralised indirect tax structure in the w

'Extremist' US Hindu global group funding hate against Indian Churches: NGO groups

Counterview Desk  As many as 14 civil rights and faith-based organizations in co-signing a letter to the US Senators, Representatives, State Governor, and other elected officials have demanded the FBI, Internal Revenue Service (IRS), and Department of Justice should investigate into Texas-based organization Global Hindu Heritage Foundation (GHHF) a fundraiser campaign for demolishing churches in India. Co-signed by Federation of Indian American Christian Organization in North America (FIACONA), North American Church of God, Southern Methodist University (SMU) Human Rights Program, Amnesty International - Dallas, World Without Genocide, Center for Pluralism, Genocide Watch, The Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC), Limitless Church, Justice for All, Hindu for Human Rights, North Texas Peace Advocates, Good Citizens of DFW, and the North Texas Islamic Council, the letter has been sent to Senators John Cornyn and Ted Cruz; Representatives Michael C Burgess, Pat Fallon, Van Taylor, Terr