Today is the birth centenary of the Indian director, writer and producer Subodh Mukherji. While Mukherji doesn’t have a huge list of films to his name—barely a dozen—the majority of the films he did make proved to be very successful ones, big entertainers that had great music, starred beautiful people, and were generally good time-pass, if nothing else.
Born in Jhansi on April 1, 1921, Subodh Mukherji was jailed for three months in 1942 for his activities as part of the Indian freedom movement. Subsequently, at the behest of his family, he was made to go to Bombay to join his elder brother Sashadhar Mukherji (who had established Filmistan Studios along with Madan Mohan’s father, Rai Bahadur Chunilal; Ashok Kumar; and Gyan Mukherjee). It was for Filmistan that Subodh Mukherji made his first film, writing and directing Paying Guest (1957), though he also took time off in between to direct Munimji (1955). Through the late 50s and the 60s, Mukherji was to go on to write, produce, and/or direct several films that exemplified his philosophy of making films that told entertaining stories: Junglee (1961), Love Marriage (1959), Shagird (1967, starring Sashadhar Mukherji’s son, Joy Mukherji).
One review suffices for two films, really. Jagriti was an Indian film, Bedari a Pakistani one. Why I say one review suffices is because Bedari was a blatant copy of Jagriti: so blatant that when Pakistanis cottoned onto the fact that it was a copy, there was a furore which resulted in the Federal Board of Film Censor in Pakistan banning Bedari.
I’ll discuss the synopsis by looking at Jagriti, since Bedari used exactly the same plot, down to the scenes.
Jagriti begins by introducing us to the very wild teenager Ajay Mukherjee (Raj Kumar), who spends his after-school time gallivanting around the village with his gang of equally wild friends. They steal mangoes from an orchard and leave the irate gardener with a bump on his head; Ajay slips onto a ferry and deprives a banana-seller of an entire day’s worth of bananas.
By the time Ajay gets home, his uncle (Bipin Gupta) has been besieged by some very upset villagers. He’s had to soothe them, pay up their damages, and promise that the situation will be amended.
What is it about Bengali directors—Bimal Roy, for instance, or Hrishikesh Mukherjee, or (if one steps out of the realm of just Hindi cinema, Satyajit Ray)—that they manage to bring so vividly to life the everyday happenings in the lives of everyday people? Not the escapist fare that most people tend to equate Hindi cinema with, but stories about real people, people one can relate to? Films like Majhli Didi, Parivaar, Parakh, Sujata, Anand: not larger than life, not without a shred of reality. Not art films, not angst-riddled, songless films about the search for the meaning of life, but everyday stories. Songs and all, still very much commercial cinema, but easy to relate to.
Add to that list Dulal Guha, who while he also went on to make films like Mere Humsafar, began his career as a director in Hindi cinema with this charming little film about a sleepy village named Chandangaon, that’s jolted by the arrival of a new doctor…
I had no particular film review or song list in mind for this week, but when Anu declared August Dev Anand month over at her blog, and Harini reviewed Duniya, I saw a bandwagon that I liked—and decided to jump on to it. With a film that reminds me of Duniya in some ways: Dev Anand, late 60s, suspense.
I hadn’t heard of this version of the Mahabharat till a few days back (not, of course, that the existence of this film is surprising; given Hindi cinema’s love for mythology, there was bound to be at least one version of this epic floating about). Then, commenting on my jewellery songs post, blog reader Afsal posted a song from Mahabharat, and mentioned part of the cast: Pradeep Kumar as Arjun. Dara Singh as Bheem. Padmini as Draupadi. And good songs.
I won’t narrate the complete story here; the Mahabharat is too well-known for that (and if you aren’t familiar with it, I’d advise checking it out first before watching the film). Suffice to say that the film begins right in the middle of some action, without setting any preliminary background in place. At the court of the blind King Dhritrashtra in Hastinapur, the entire court is watching the two cousins Bheem (Dara Singh) and Suyodhan/Duryodhan (Tiwari) engage in a wrestling match.
I feel that, no matter how high an opinion one may have of oneself, it is risky business to attempt to remake a classic. If (for example) Alfred Hitchcock made a film, don’t attempt to remake it—especially if you plan on tinkering with the way the story plays out. Biren Nag (who had already made the pretty good suspense thriller Bees Saal Baad) tried his hand at remaking Hitchcock’s atmospheric Rebecca here, and while he got some things right, the end result is not quite as memorable as Rebecca was.
While I’m a sucker for masala films that bear not a shred of resemblance to reality, I’m also very fond of the sort of films that directors like Bimal Roy and Hrishikesh Mukherjee sometimes made: films about everyday people and their everyday lives. The protagonist of this film, Anuradha, is one of those: a young woman who gives up her dreams for the love of a man—only to discover eventually that even that sacrifice hasn’t brought her what she wanted.
And this is, of course, a belated tribute to one of Hindi cinema’s most luminous faces: Leela Naidu. If I hadn’t been exulting over Robert Mitchum last month when Leela Naidu passed away, I’d probably have reviewed this film then. But better late than never, I guess. RIP.