Book Review: Jai Arjun Singh’s ‘The World of Hrishikesh Mukherjee’

In all the years I’ve been writing this blog, one film maker whose name keeps cropping up every now and then—whose films I’ve reviewed, whose work I’ve commented on—is the brilliant Hrishikesh Mukherjee. From his editing of classics like Do Bigha Zameen, Madhumati and Chemmeen, to his direction of both popular hits like Asli-Naqli and relatively little-known works like Majhli Didi and Biwi aur Makaan, Hrishikesh Mukherjee has had a hand (and a mind and a heart, and sometimes—as I discovered when I read Jai Arjun Singh’s ‘sort of biography’ of the man—a house) in some of my favourite films.

Jai Arjun Singh's 'The World of Hrishikesh Mukherjee'

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Biwi aur Makaan (1966)

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.

Biswajeet, Keshto Mukherjee, Kalpana and Shabnam in Biwi aur Makaan

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Majhli Didi (1967)

Let me begin this review with a quick confession: I don’t cry easily while watching films.

I didn’t sob my heart out while watching Majhli Didi either. But I had a lump in my throat during several scenes, and I wiped away more than a couple of tears.

Meena Kumari in and as Majhli Didi.

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Chemmeen (1965)

When I first began searching the Net to find landmark regional films to review for this special ‘100 years of Indian cinema’ celebration, Chemmeen was one name that cropped up again and again. It sounded impressive. This was one of the first Malayalam films to be made in colour; more importantly, in won the President’s Gold Medal for Best Feature Film at the National Film Awards in 1965. It was screened at both the Cannes and the Chicago Film Festivals, and was greeted with much critical acclaim (not to mention commercial success)—it was even released, dubbed, in Hindi as Chemmeen Lehren, and in English as The Anger of the Sea.

All it needed was for me to discover that the music director of this film was an old favourite (Salil Choudhary) and that Manna Dey sang in it, and my mind was made up: I had to watch Chemmeen.

Madhu and Sheela in Chemmeen

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Anuradha (1960)

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.

Leela Naidu in and as Anuradha

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Chhaya (1962)

Like Sujata, Chhaya is the story of a girl brought up in the house of someone she’s not related to. Like Sujata, it stars Sunil Dutt (and looking gorgeous, too!), and like Sujata, it’s got great music. Also like Sujata, it was directed by a Bengali director: Hrishikesh Mukherjee in this case.
That’s where the resemblance ends, because Mukherjee makes Chhaya a less poignant, less socially relevant film than Bimal Roy made of Sujata. Where Sujata focussed on the understated emotion of a family and a `daughter who’s not quite one’, Chhaya focuses on a mother who’s forced by circumstances to yield up her child to another.

Sunil Dutt and Asha Parekh in Chhaya

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I’m back!

Or rather, I was back in India a couple of days ago, but I’ve only now managed (somewhat) to get over the jet lag, clean up home a bit, and find time to see what’s happening in cyberspace. Travelling is so tiring and trying.

Having said which, I’ll have to admit I love travelling. Give me a new place to explore—preferably with lots of old buildings, museums or pretty sceneries—and I’m very happy. Though I suppose I have to confess: Switzerland didn’t quite measure up to all I’d expected of it. There was, for one, no Shammi Kapoor begging me not to go off on my own

Shammi Kapoor in An Evening In Paris

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Asli-Naqli (1962)

I tend to associate Hrishikesh Mukherjee with films that focus on the everyday lives of people like you and me (I’m assuming here that you aren’t a multimillionaire, a film star or something equally glamorous; I’m not, at any rate). Anupama, Anuradha, Anand, Satyakam—all of them amazing films whose protagonists are very real. Asli-Naqli is perhaps a little different, because it begins in the world of the spoilt young heir of a very rich man.

Dev Anand in Asli-Naqli

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