Nevertheless, ‘charming’ is the only word that comes to mind when I think of Hrishikesh Mukherjee movies. Comparatively speaking (for Bollywood), Hrishikesh Mukherjee, who passed away a couple of months ago, didn’t make a whole lot of movies. IMDb lists 42 movies directed by him. But a number of his movies are classics which will continue to stand the test of time. Probably his most famous is ‘Anand’, starring Rajesh Khanna and Amitabh Bachchan. I haven’t seen it yet, but I have seen 3 HM movies, and they’re what this post is about.
The 3 HM movies I’ve seen are all simple, they are character films, with no flashy sets (in fact the sets were a bit dodgy), expensive costuming or bizarre storylines. No guns, no gore, and few musical numbers. They’re not even long by Bollywood standards – each one is about 2 hours long. But they are really good movies. I love the way HM made these films – they are simple, they are heartfelt, they are honest, they are about the actors, and they are about ‘ordinary’ people. He captures something about the ‘middle class’ that resonates with the viewer in a very real and engaging way. HM had a way of shooting a scene in a way that made you wonder if the simplicity you were perceiving was real or just a front for something far deeper and richer. I personally tend towards the latter view.
The 3 HM films I’ve seen all featured Jaya Bhaduri, Amitabh Bachchan and G. Asrani. In one of them, though, Bachchan never appears on screen – he’s the narrator. In another one, G. Asrani only makes a brief guest appearance. And the same guy who plays a respected older musician in one of the 3 movies also plays a doctor in another of the movies. HM obviously enjoyed working with these actors, and he knew how to bring out the best in them… especially Ms. Jaya Bhaduri (a.k.a Mrs. Jaya Bachchan).
JAYA BHADURI! I simply LOVE this woman as an actress. She can do passionate and repressed, boisterous and reserved, energetic and passive, spunky and meek… and she makes it all look easy. She has a very minimalist style of acting, but it just sucks you in. All it takes is a small motion with her hands, an arch of the eyebrows, and you completely just GET (or become intrigued by) what her character is expressing. Beautiful. When I’m watching a Jaya B performance, it’s almost like she’s got me glued to the screen with just her sheer energy and spirit. She’s a great actress. As an aside, I also love the fact that she once said she would let no-one, not even Big B, the Baadshah of Bollywood, dictate the course of her career (or words to that effect). I just love strong independent women (and the men who go after them - but that's another story).
Anyway, enough gushing (I can't help it though, I'm a gusher). Time to talk about the 3 H. Mukherjee movies I’ve seen.
1. ‘Bawarchi’ (1972): ‘Bawarchi’ is a sweet little film. It’s about the Sharma family, an extended family who all live together in a house called ‘Shanti Niwas’. Despite the name of the house, it’s anything but peaceful inside. There’s quarrelling, envy, degradation, addiction, illness, and a general lack of understanding. The atmosphere is so toxic that the family is always looking for a new ‘bawarchi’ (cook). All this changes when Rajesh Khanna’s character, a ‘special’ new bawarchi, comes along. He changes everything, of course. And it’s beautiful to see.
My favourite scene from 'Bawarchi' - the fantasy number about a bride
2. ‘Abhimaan’ (1973): ‘Abhimaan’! ‘Abhimaan’! I really love this movie. It’s just brilliant. It stars Amit-Ji as a famous singer who marries a simple shy young girl (played by Jaya B). Interestingly, Jaya’s character turns out to be a talented singer as well. One day, she records a song with her hubby (it was all his idea), and everything changes. Suddenly, hubby is playing second fiddle to wifey. Things get ugly – all I’ll say here is that someone eventually ‘turns into a stone’ (whatever that means).
Jaya and Amit-Ji are simply wonderful in this movie, and it’s been called their best performance together. I have to agree: they were great in ‘Sholay’, and in ‘Zanjeer’ (there was that awesome stare moment in ‘Zanjeer’ – whoa! And the way AB finally tells Jaya he loves her, with his face as hard as granite and nary a hint of a smile – awesome!). They were also lovely in ‘Mili’, which I’ll be discussing next, and even more recently in K3G. I’m sure they were also great in their other performances together (must find out what they are), but I doubt that any of them works as well as ‘Abhimaan’ does.
Jaya acts her socks off in this movie – and the amazing thing is that she says very little in the film. It’s in the look in her eyes, the movement of her head, the little gestures – and it’s powerful. Amit-Ji also does a very good job – the character he’s playing is an absolute TOAD, but Amitabh strips him down and plays him honestly, and it ends up being very appealing (didn’t really care for the lip-touching thing, though – it got a bit much). It’s an honest performance.
Jaya and Amit-Ji’s chemistry in this movie is amazing. Really, it is. They just heat up the screen. And when the power balance changes (ie when Jaya starts to get some individuality in the marriage), it’s also very striking the way it instantly affects their relationship. This is one thing I like about Bollywood – intimacy does not necessarily have to be about getting naked. The intimacy and passion portrayed by this couple is very real – and maybe that’s particularly because ‘Abhimaan’ was made in the same year this real-life couple got married!
3. ‘Mili’ (1975): This is my most recent Hrishikesh Mukherjee movie, and wow! It’s beautiful. Again, simple, and about ‘ordinary’ people, but so warmly and genuinely done. ‘Mili’, played by Jaya is a happy-go-lucky, caring young woman, and also an infirm one. Into her life comes ‘Shekhar’, a traumatized young man who’s turned to alcohol after a scandal affecting his parents. This film appears to be just a regular melodrama on the surface of it, but it’s actually deeper than that, thanks to a good script by Bimal Dutta, who also wrote 'Anand'. It’s also a film about the father-daughter bond (which OF COURSE really appealed to me), about the bond between a child and the woman who raised her, about family, about love, about pain and loss, and about life. And a lot of it felt very real and true to me.
Amit-Ji tries to swallow Jaya alive...
...but hey, she gets her own back later on.
Jaya as 'Mili', with the 'girls in white dresses with blue satin sashes'... and one orange sash to match Jaya's sari.
The acting in this film is what makes it rise above the average melodrama. Jaya’s performance is never self-indulgent, it’s kinda disciplined actually. She draws you into her character’s life without ever patronising you or getting schmaltzy or maudlin. From the moment she appears onscreen, I just couldn’t look away. Just a great performance. Amit-Ji is also good in this film – although his character experiences a rather unlikely change of heart, he makes you believe it’s possible. And the scene where he tells Jaya something like ‘why would I marry one else when I love you’?? Just carry me away now!
Amitabh Bachchan all dark and cute
It’s difficult to pick the best performance in this film, as Jaya and Amitabh are so strong (Jaya more so than AB, I think), but if I had to, I would pick Ashok Kumar (who plays Mili’s father). He is absolutely wonderful in this film. The way he expresses emotion is so real and honest, it just tugs at your heartstrings. It’s beautiful. The scenes with him and Jaya? Awesome. The last scene in the film with the look on his face? His body language? My favourite scene – so raw, so evocative… so heartbreaking yet inspiring.
Great acting from Ashok Kumar... loved this scene too.
For me, this was the film's most moving scene... and so well shot.
A bit of an obvious device really, but I still like.
The imagery in ‘Mili’ is also worth mentioning. The use of height (very effective), the use of flying, as signified by the plane scenes. Death represented by the dying flowers, but the flowers also represent life – something being born in the lives of the lead characters who fall in love over flowers and notes (an awesome sequence, by the way). The use of writing, of letters (both of the alphabet and the kind you write to someone you love). I could go on, but I won’t. Anyway, I love ‘Mili’ – it’s the kind of film that makes you feel, but it also makes you think. If I had to give it a tagline, it would be ‘Melodrama done right’! I think part of the reason I like this film so much is that due to recent events in my life, I can REALLY relate to the story – but that’s a good thing. I like a story I can ‘feel’.
Now, I’m going to get ‘Chupke Chupke’ (which has already been recommended by Beth), also directed by Hrishikesh Mukherjee and starring my dear Dharmendra and Sharmila Tagore, whom I also love. Can’t wait!
But for now, I'm getting more 'Mili-licious' on here.
Amitabh all unshaven and bothered...
I like this shot because of the sculpture on the wall glaring at Amit's head... plus he looks Abhishek-y here.
I understand, Aunty, you're trying to get me to overdose on drugs... thanks.
This little girl's mama was so very excited about her daughter's two scenes in this film... that she went a bit overboard on the kajal and lipstick... and jewelry... and clothes...