Anand: 1970- an ode to Hrishi da. Middle of the road cinema at its best by APS Malhotra
In the field of art and expression, film making is perhaps the most team oriented medium - where the outcome rests on the collective effort of a large group of individuals representing diverse fields. ‘Stand alone brilliance’ can add sparkle to a movie, but can never take it to zones where excellence ends and perfection starts. As in sports, so in cinema, it is the leadership provided by the captain- in films the director of the film- whose vision plays in darkened theatres, that inspires actors to rise above the mediocre and reach stratospheric heights, and give performances that can be anything short of brilliant. Indeed, some actors are just like soft clay in the hands of an able director, ready to be molded delicately and sensitively, something which is borne out when the performance of the same actor is compared in two movies- each under the baton of a different director- whereas in one, the acting might be award winning, while in the other, it could just be lackluster- such cases are not unheard of in the world of cinema.
Hrishikesh Mukherjee or Hrishi Da- as he was fondly known in the film fraternity- was a leader, a captain par excellence, who had the rare knack to knit a disparate group of often temperamental, though talented actors, technicians (he had a firm grip over the technical aspect of film making owing to his training, first as a technician in a film laboratory, and then as an editor under the indomitable Bimal Roy) and others into an awe-inspiring and formidable team, and extract sterling performances from them. His enviable oeuvre includes sensitive, middle of road films like Milli, Bawarchi, Chupke-Chupke, Abhimaan and Khoobsoorat which catered to family audiences with their low key study of human relationships, generous dose of intelligent humor and soulful music.
However, amongst all his fine films, aficionados of good cinema were treated to something extraordinary with the 1970 classic, Anand- which centered on the last days of a patient of terminal cancer. Anand- literally meaning joy- was a young man, who, despite knowing that his end was approaching fast, refused to sloth in self-pity, and wanted to live his numbered days in high spirits, himself laughing and making others around him laugh with equal mirth.
With Anand, the maestro outdid himself in the craft of filmmaking.
Movies on similar subjects had been made even before Anand came along, and indeed thereafter. But most fall prey to over the top emotional hyperbole, with the main plot getting sidelined. It required a director of Hrishida’s caliber and sensitivity to tackle such a complex subject with nimble finesse and minimal, subdued panache. Needless to mention, mainstay of Anand was the script, in which all characters, no matter how miniscule the screen time allotted to them was, became central, and remain etched in memory till date. The screenplay- by a dream team comprising Gulzar (who also wrote dialogues and lyrics of a few songs), Bimal Dutt, DN Mukherjee, besides Hrishi Da himself, gave Anand a solid foundation.
Not to be outdone was the larger than life screen presence of the reigning Mega Superstar of the day- and perhaps all time- Rajesh Khanna (with his stylized mannerisms intact), who was at the zenith of his prowess as an actor and stardom. With great conviction, ease and chutzpah, he breathed life into the character of Anand, as if it was tailor-made for him; as the endearing, large –hearted young man from Delhi, full of zest, die hard, often pensive optimist, who wants to life live, and embrace death on his own terms, he succeeds in making one fall in love with him over and over again.
But the film had a revelation- a till then, not so successful, lanky and skinny Amitabh Bachan. As the brooding and taciturn, Bombay based (as Mumbai was then called) Doctor Bhaskar, fondly called ‘Babu Moshai’ by his patient, Anand- who in course of time becomes more than a friend- was outstanding. His thick baritone, and smoldering eyes, in a role underplayed to the hilt, gave a peek into his abundant talent, besides winning him the Filmfare Best Supporting Actor award.
Not to be outdone were the consummate ‘Character artists’, who under Hrishida’s magical baton added substantial gravitas to the storyline, with powerhouse performances. Johnny Walker as a theatre actor, Isa Bhai, and Lalita Pawar, as the doting, but strict nurse, stand out for their virtuoso performances, as do Ramesh Deo, Seema Deo and Durga Khote. Skillfully weaved into the script, the ensemble is a lesson for many filmmakers, who, though adept at assembling large casts, often end up without a clue on what to do with them.
The taut editing is another strong point of the film, with the narrative moving at a steady pace towards the finale, which, although predictable, was handled with remarkable sensitivity by the director; it can form an entire chapter in film school curriculum across the globe- a tearful and inconsolable Bhaskar at Anand’s deathbed draws solace from Anand's message, recorded earlier, which plays on tape in the background, till the tape becomes free from its slot; the scene has several interpretations- it could not have been handled better. And in the tape once again comes Khanna’s iconic dialogue, Babu Moshai, Zindagi Badi Honi Chahiye, Lambi Nahin. The finale further tugs at the strings of the heart, when Bachan, accepting a literary award for his work on Anand, says in his thick baritone, Anand Mara Nahin, Anand Marte Nahin…….
The music score by the redoubtable Salil Chaoudhary infused soul into the movie, in which all the four tracks, skillfully shot by cameraman Jaywant Pathare, take the story forward. Hrishida’s experiment of not using Kishore Kumar for Rajesh Khanna’s songs paid rich dividend- the irresistible freshness of Manna Dey’s voice in ‘Zindagi Kaisi Hai Paheli’ with Khanna walking barefoot on a beach in Bombay-how different it was then- against rushing sea waves, releasing colorful balloons into the sky, symbolizing the soaring human spirit, is sheer magic. Other songs include the melancholy laced ‘Kahin Door Jab Din Dhal Jaye’ and ‘Maine Tere Liye Hi Saat Rang Ke Sapne’ by Mukesh and Jiya Lage Na by Lata Mangeshkar.
It is inevitable that such a classic should reap windfall at film award functions. Besides Bachan, Khanna bagged the Filmfare Best Actor Award, and also the Best Picture and Best Story (Hrishida) at the Filmfare Awards. The icing on the cake was the National Award for the Best Hindi Film.
Well deserved, indeed!
From the best-selling author of Mandal Diaries and Dilliz Boyz
APS Malhotra is a Delhi based writer anc columnist. He graduated in Physics from St. Stephen’s College, followed by post-graduation in Physics from Delhi University.
APS is also the best-selling author of books like, Mandal Diaries and Dilliz Boyz. He has written extensively for the Hindu and the Pioneer. His articles have also featured in other leading national dailies, including The Times of India and Indian Express. He is an avid film reviewer and is an award winning poet for Muse India, an online poetry journal of eminence. His articles have been featured in the Chicken Soup of the Soul series. He is also a keen blogger – Musings of a Delhi Boy- and likes to read, non-fiction being his favorite genre.