The World of Hrishikesh Mukherjee book review: The magician

By: | Published: November 15, 2015 12:08 AM

The World of Hrishikesh Mukherjee is a book for anyone wanting to discover the cinematic genius

The World of Hrishikesh Mukherjee: The Filmmaker Everyone Loves
Jai Arjun Singh
Pp 331

HE IS a filmmaker everyone loves. His films still make you laugh, cry and love life. So it is not a surprise to see Hrishikesh Mukherjee being addressed as ‘Hrishi-da’ throughout the book. As journalist-writer-blogger Jai Arjun Singh explains in the prologue, “It is not a biography… not in the usual sense of the word… the focus is on the cinema itself.” And what an oeuvre it is—Abhimaan, Anand, Anupama, Alaap, Anuradha, Bawarchi, Chupke Chupke, Gol Maal, Guddi, Mili and Namak Haram. And the two ‘brilliant failures’ as well: Biwi aur Makaan and Satyakam. The delightful peek into the ‘makaan’ of Mukherjee and his films in The World of Hrishikesh Mukherjee doesn’t disappoint. As the writer began to speak with the people who knew Mukherjee, he heard the warmth in their voice, as they remembered their favourite director. “It would have been plain wrong to use the distant, detached Mr Mukherjee,” Singh explains.

Hrishi-da made many films, both comedies and dramas, which dealt with ordinary people, sometimes leading extraordinary lives. No one will disagree that his “better work has a fluidity, an economy of shot-taking and story-telling….”And yet, Singh doesn’t gloss over the “shoddy, tedious and uneven” films either in the book. Think Namumkin, Aashiq or Sabse Bada Sukh.

When exploring the ‘makaan’ that was Mukherjee’s cinema, we will find contrasting homes throughout. Singh picks Hrishi-da’s first film Musafir (1957) and its opening scene, where two men are walking down a busy street. They stop at a gate. “Yeh raha mera makaan (This is my house),” the famous character actor David Abraham, playing the role of Mahadev Chaudhury, tells his potential tenant. “Saari duniya mein aisa makaan nahin milega, Ajay Babu. Haan, iss makaan mein saari duniya mil jaayegi (You won’t find another house like this in the world. But you’ll find the whole world in this house),” Chaudhury tells him. “It is a spacious and well-ventilated house with a garden and a good balcony to sit in—mein roopiyon ka bhookha nahin hoon (I am not after money),” says Chaudhury, much like Hrishi-da, who was not an elitist or a highbrow filmmaker, and wasn’t obsessed with the box office either.

In Musafir, the stream of music that flows in from two restaurants near the house—one playing modern, the other traditional—can also serve as an analogy for Hrishi-da’s own use of music over his long career and the iconic songs in films like Anuradha, Abhimaan, Anand, Mili, among others. He used classical composers like Ravi Shankar (Anuradha), Jaidev (Alaap) and Madan Mohan (Bawarchi), and also the contemporary RD Burman (Gol Maal) for his films.

“Houses, as facades, sanctuaries, prisons or settings for self-discovery, will be central to Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s work,” writes Singh. The house in Musafir seems, in some ways, like a microcosm of Hrishi-da’s cinema. In Khubsoorat, two different types of houses are in focus, “one full of poetry and whimsy, the other staid and rule-bound”. In Bawarchi, the cook arrives in a house inappropriately-named ‘Shanti Nivas’—inappropriate because the whole family is bickering.

“What I took most from him was his efficiency,” Gulzar, Hrishi-da’s frequent collaborator, told Singh. “He was very clear about not taking extra shots or extra angles.” This sort of insight into a filmmaker who made so many memorable films makes this book special for every reader, including ardent Hrishi-da fans and new viewers.

Mukherjee moved to Bombay from Calcutta (both cities are addressed differently now) in 1950 with filmmaker Bimal Roy. He was 27 years old. Others who moved with him were writer Nabendu Ghosh, assistant director Asit Sen and actor Nazir Hussain. For the first few years, Hrishi-da worked for Roy on films like Do Bigha Zameen, Parineeta and Madhumati, mainly as editor, but often working on the screenplay as well. He ventured out on his own with Musafir, soon moving to his own house on Carter Road in Bandra, writes Singh. He would go on to live three decades in that house called Anupama, a ‘welcoming’ place for a ‘range of creative talents’.

The dedication at the start of the book says, “For everyone who has loved a Hrishikesh Mukherjee film…” It is, indeed, a book for the ultimate Hrishi-da fan or for anyone wanting to discover him.

Sudipta Datta is a freelancer

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