I’m reading Jai Arjun Singh’s The World of Hrishikesh Mukherjee: The Filmmaker Everyone Loves these days (yes; a review will be posted sometime this month). A few pages into the book, and I came across a mention—followed by more interesting stuff—about a film I’d run into once, about ten years back. Biwi aur Makaan, of which I’d happened to find a VCD and had happily bought, guessing (from the synopsis on the VCD cover) that this might be fun.
That VCD turned out a dud: the first disc was fine, the second refused to play. So I set Biwi aur Makaan aside (regretfully), and ended up forgetting about it. Until earlier this week, when, reading Jai’s book, I was reminded of it, and on a whim, decided to see if I could find it on YouTube. Sure enough, there it was. And here is my review.
Biwi aur Makaan centres round five young men, bosom buddies from their college days, who have adopted the Three Musketeers-ish motto “One for five and five for one.” They call themselves the paanch Pandavs, and have vowed that they will stick together (which means living together) until each of them has a job and is independent. So much so that the most enterprising of the lot, Sitaram Pandey (Mehmood), despite being a married man, has left his wife in the village with his parents while he battles it out with life in the big bad city of Bombay.
The film begins with a song sung in a recording studio by the second of the paanch Pandavs, Arun (Biswajeet). Arun’s a good singer (he also has the odd ability of being able to sing convincingly in both male and female voices), and is told by the song producer/composer/whatever that he has a bright future ahead of him.
Right now, though, Arun and his four pals are more worried about accommodation than their careers. Pandey, Arun, Suresh (?), the girl-shy painter Shekhar (Ashish Kumar) and an unemployed and therefore depressed Kishen (Keshto Mukherjee) live at a place known as Rambharose Hotel. Rambharose Hotel, though it’s named after its owner, Rambharose (Moni Chatterjee), seems, punnily enough, to be pretty much rambharose itself, surviving by the will of God.
One evening, for instance, the friends find their tea has no sugar in it. The electricity in their room goes off arbitrarily, too.
But is this just slipshod management, or something else?
… because one evening Rambharose bursts into their room and accuses them of bringing in women. Our heroes are rightly indignant, but Rambharose fetches a bunch of ‘good’ citizens, who go about opening cupboards and pulling up bedcovers to reveal girls they’ve planted in nooks and crannies while our boys have been out. Pandey & Co. protest their innocence, but nobody’s listening. Rambharose, whose aim is to get rid of these men, gives them notice: find another place to stay.
The five friends therefore go out looking for other accommodation—and keep drawing a blank wherever they go. There seems to be no place available.
Until, one evening, Suresh comes bearing news. He has found a place. Three rooms, a rent of a mere Rs 100, no advance.
So, of course, there’s a hitch. The old gentleman, Mr Mishra, wants to rent his house only to married couples; no single men allowed.
The majority of faces fall flat, but Pandey is ebullient: there will certainly be some way out of this, he figures. Let’s go and pay them a visit.
Pandey and Suresh go and meet Mishraji (Brahm Bhardwaj). This man suffers from extremely high blood pressure, which pretty much confines him to his own rooms. His wife, whom he summons to meet their prospective tenants, turns out to have such bad eyesight that she’s nearly blind.
Pandey takes a quick decision: yes, please. This house will do perfectly for them. They’d like to shift in as soon as possible. Mr Mishraji is amenable, as is his missus.
When they’re out of the house, Pandey sits down to figuring out how to go from being five bachelors (or, to be technically precise, four bachelors and one married man without his wife) to married couples. A chance glance at a film poster—advertising an old film in which a male actor played a female part—gives Pandey an idea, and on his way back to Rambharose Hotel, he stops to do some shopping.
When he arrives, it’s with some mysterious parcels. Shekhar and Suresh are made to wait outside while Pandey whisks the baffled Arun and Kishen into the other room. A while later, the door opens, and out come Pandey and his two still-dazed protégées. Now dressed and made up as women, and actually pretty much looking the part.
While Pandey’s explaining the plan to Suresh and Shekhar (not to mention Arun and Kishen, who look as if they don’t know what’s hit them), Rambharose comes blundering in, sees a glimpse of these two ‘women’ and is aghast. They’ve actually got women here! He raises a ruckus, but before the indignant neighbours can arrive, the ‘women’ have dashed back into the room and slammed the door behind them.
By the time the janta gathers around and a furious Rambharose insists on the door being opened, who should saunter out but Arun and Kishen, looking their usual selves. When a nosey Rambharose and his cronies enter to investigate, they find nothing. This gives our heroes (especially Pandey) the opportunity to pass some snide remarks about baseless accusations, before letting Rambharose know that they’re leaving. And they’ll be taking Rs 100 as compensation for the damage to their collective reputations, thank you.
The Mishra residence soon sees the arrival of the new tenants. Suresh is the only bachelor; Pandey introduces ‘Krishna’ as the badi bahu, his wife; and ‘Aruna’ as chhoti bahu, Shekhar’s wife. When Mrs Mishra, welcoming them in, asks about children, Pandey glibly tells her that as for Shekhar and chhoti bahu, they have two children, but since Shekhar is an only child and his parents miss him so much, the kiddies have been left with them—the grandparents—to be brought up.
And what about Pandeyji and badi bahu? asks Mrs Mishra. He says that they’ve been married seven years, but don’t have any children yet. Mrs Mishra is suitably sad for them, and offers words of consolation: they shouldn’t worry; all in good time. They too will be parents.
Barely have the two ‘couples’ and their friend Suresh settled into their new home than unexpected visitors arrive. Not even visitors, because these people are actually members of the family: Mishraji’s daughter Geeta (Kalpana) and her cousin Leela (Shabnam). These girls have been studying in a college in Delhi, but have managed to get transferred back to this city, so are delighted to be back home. The Mishras are equally happy to have them back.
… and two of the young men are thrilled. One is Arun, who immediately falls for Geeta. The other is an unlikely candidate: Shekhar, so far so terrified of women that he starts hiccupping as soon as one approaches, but is now bowled over.
For Arun, it’s not too much of a problem (after all, generations of filmi men have successfully juggled disguises). Soon enough, an Arun sans makeup, saree, and wig, has been passed off as the chhoti bahu’s younger brother Arun, and has charmed Geeta.
For Shekhar, it’s not such smooth sailing. Leela likes him, but he is, after all, a married man. Her chhoti bhabhi’s husband, no less. Leela looks a bit uncomfortable when Shekhar asks hesitantly if he may paint a portrait of hers, but when he attempts (even more hesitantly) to bare his heart to her, she treats him with revulsion. How crass can he get?! A married man, and making overtures to another woman!
How long can the charade be carried on? Will Shekhar crack? And what about Pandey’s wife (Padma Khanna), stuck in the village and waiting for him?
I regret not having continued to search for this film after that first aborted attempt to watch it. In a cinema that’s known more for drama (and melodrama) than comedy, Biwi aur Makaan is one of the most delightful outright comedies there is. It needs to be far better known than it is.
What I liked about this film:
The writing and direction, which are superb. There’s nothing here that’s superfluous, nothing that doesn’t, in some way or the other, help add to the plot. Even something as minor as Pandey, on the fly, saying that he and ‘badi bahu’ don’t have any children, leads to hilarious consequences. Part of the fabulousness of that writing are the dialogues, some of which have amusing references to Hindi cinema. (Geeta, for instance, talking about Arun to her friends: “Khoobsoorat bhi ho, aur gaana bhi gaaye? Yeh toh sirf Hindi filmon mein hota hai”—“That he should be handsome, and should be able to sing songs? That happens only in Hindi films!”)
Or, another example: when Rambharose, having seen the two ‘women’, comes bursting in with righteous indignation and equally indignant friends, only to be deflated moments later, Pandey shoos the lot out, yelling at them as they leave, “Chidiyaghar samajh liya hai kamre ko, mann aaya andar ghus aaye!” (“Do you think this room’s a zoo? Whenever you feel like it, you come rushing in!”)
Which brings me to another highlight of Biwi aur Makaan: Mehmood. Mehmood, unlike Johnny Walker, is not a quintessential favourite of mine. I like him in some films, find him tiresome in others. Here, he reigns supreme. Pandey is the ‘director’ of this drama; he is the one who calls the shots, improvises (often on the fly), solves problems (even if only in the short term), and just generally lords it over his four relatively passive friends. He’s a livewire, and his dialogues, often in a dialect (Bhojpuri?) are a delight. So is Mehmood’s acting.
And, the overall light-heartedness of the film. This is Hrishikesh Mukherjee at his best: not trying to get across any major message (except possibly that young people trying to get a start in life deserve a helping hand, not silly obstacles like having to be married). Nobody’s required to be noble and self-sacrificing; nobody’s pitch-black or snow-white, and the only somewhat nasty character, Rambharose, gets his come-uppance when his five tenants leave, having taken Rs 100 from him as damages.
What I didn’t like:
I was underwhelmed by the songs. With Hemant as composer, I’d have expected Biwi aur Makaan to have had a good score, but the music is forgettable. Some of the songs are recommended for their lyrics (Gulzar is very good with the humour), but that’s about it. There are also, as far as I’m concerned, perhaps four songs too many. Fewer songs, and I might’ve appreciated them more.
But that’s it—and it’s not an irritant. If you haven’t watched Biwi aur Makaan already, and if you like Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s comedies, this one’s a must-watch.