The Middle Class Magician


“I try to make my films like sugar coated messages, but the sugar should not exceed the medicine.” — Hrishikesh Mukherjee.

Perhaps, this is exactly why, this beloved filmmaker is still remembered today for some of his most brilliant works in the Indian cinema. Hrishikesh Mukherjee, was a famous Indian film director, who made more than forty films with a career spanning over four decades. Known as the pioneer of the ‘middle-class cinema’ in India, Mr.Mukherjee gave this film industry some of the most emotionally touching movies of all times. His mastery in depicting the hardest lessons of life wrapped in simple yet amusing stories, acted like a syrupy dose of remedy for the audiences, intertwined in a middle-class ethos.

Hrishida’s most notable films were a part of the 1970s Hindi cinema. His dexterity in providing the perfect comic timing while dealing with ordinary situations was remarkable, and became his signature style in movie-making. Some of his best reminisced romantic comedies are- Guddi(1971), Chupke Chupke(1975), GolMaal(1979) and Khoobsurat(1980). These movies focussed on a common man’s attempts to win over his love interest and deal with personal shortcomings, ultimately culminating in a happy end. It was through these films that actors such as, Amol Palekar got established as the ‘middle-class everyman’ with his brilliant comic timing and acting skills in ‘GolMaal’ while Jaya Bachchan got her big break in the industry, by playing the lead role in ‘Guddi’ as the school girl obsessed with the filmstar Dharmendra. Understanding individual personalities and self analysing one’s shortcomings was how Hrishida projected different characters in each of his films. Whether it was the stern matriarchal head of the family, Nirmala Gupta (played by Dina Pathak) in ‘Khubsoorat’ , or the utterly depressed and drunken Shekhar Dayal(Amitabh Bachchan) in ‘Mili’; Hrishikesh Mukherjee brought out the brighter side in every character. Describing the one truth about human life, that is, being optimistic about it, ultimately developed as Mr.Mukherjee’s penchant towards all his screenplays.

Conceivably, this master artist’s best work is his film- Anand(1971). Starring Rajesh Khanna and Amitabh Bachchan in the main roles, it is a story about how a terminally-ill cancer patient, Anand Sehgal gives a new meaning of life to his always so serious doctor, Bhaskar Bannerjee. This classic film, spun in the web of life and death, with hope knitting out the complex knots, is inarguably the masterpiece among all Hrishida’s works. The lesson of living life to the fullest and savouring each moment of it, came out so beautifully in the film that it attained cult status and till date ranks amongst the top 25 Bollywood films. Hrishikesh Mukherjee picked up three Filmfare awards for this movie(best movie, best editing, best story). Also, this motion picture immortalised Rajesh Khanna as one of the industry’s most versatile actors. Other notable films like- Bawarchi(1972), Namak Haraam(1973), Mili(1975), were also some of the other defining works of his profession.

Hrishida’s ability of understanding human nature and bringing it out on the celluloid, exemplified his genius as a director. Whether it was a comedy or satire, this man knew how to show it on the silver screen. The daily duels of the common man, juggling between his work and home, were captured in his camera so effortlessly that even small time actors got recognised for their indigenous depictions of the ordinary fellow, especially at a time when the industry was buzzing with the ‘angry young man’ phenomenon. As Indian poet, Gulzar aptly described-“Mukherjee carved a middle path between the extravagance of mainstream cinema and the stark realism of art cinema.”Every problem, big or small, has a solution and each moment has its own importance, has been the moral lesson in each of Hrishida’s works. The film fraternity lost this master director on 27 August 2006, aged 83, but what he left behind are his immortal works- the movies that defined how to live extraordinary lives through the simple emotions of love and joy. The tricks of how every common man had the potential to attain all the uncommon achievements, this magician taught them all.

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