Hrishikesh Mukherjee slice-of-life films
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There was a certain enduring quality about Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s cinema. Through his stories, he brought in the everyday tales of the middle-class, while seamlessly balancing heavier and lighter subjects. This is the same director after all, who helmed Abhimaan as well as Chupke Chupke, Anupama as well as Gol Maal. His mastery was unique – the simplicity in his storytelling was never oversimplistic. Rather, it would enhance the movie-watching experience in a way that the characters, the dialogues, their mannerisms and even costumes would last in a viewer’s mind.

The brilliance of Hrishi da, after 15 years of his demise and 64 years since his debut film as a director, Musafir, reflects in the fact that he continues to be lauded as one of the most iconic voices of Indian cinema.

Here, we look at some of his evergreen slice-of-life films that never cease to tug at our heartstrings – making us chuckle, ponder, relate and shed bittersweet tears, decades on.

Anari (1959)

Streaming On: YouTube

Think Raj Kapoor straddling the roads of Bombay in his trademark Chaplin-esque style – wearing a plain shirt and pant, a cap and a glowing smile – singing Mukesh’s ‘Kisiki Muskuraahaton Pe Ho Nisaar’. That is Anari. It’s a story about a kind-hearted but poor Raj, an honest man, perhaps too nice for a corrupt world, who struggles to make ends meet. His good-natured self earns him a motherly figure in his landlord, Mrs. D’Sa (Lalita Pawar), and the love of his life, Aarti (Nutan). Things start looking up after he lands a full-time job, but as fate would have it, tragedy strikes and his goodness ends up getting exploited by the rich and corrupt.

Anand (1971)

Streaming On: Amazon Prime Video

Anand mara nahi, Anand marte nahi.’ What happens when you know, pretty much from the beginning, that the character in question is going to die? You know how the film is going to end, and yet all you can do is shed buckets full of tears as Amitabh Bachchan voices the dialogue towards the end. Anand (Rajesh Khanna), like his name suggests is all about happiness. He embodies it, he spreads it, he lives it, and he dies with it. He lives a ‘badi zindagi’ that touches everyone he touches – right from Dr. Bhaskar (Bachchan) to the stern yet benevolent Matron D’Sa (Lalita Pawar). (It’s lovely how Hrishi da used to cast Pawar, otherwise heavily typecast in negative roles, as the endearing figure in his films.) Special props to an incredible, ageless soundtrack by Salil Chowdhury and surreal, goosebumps-inducing lyrics by Gulzar and Yogesh.

Guddi (1971)

Streaming On: YouTube

A coming-of-age film starring Jaya Bhaduri in the title role, it touched upon topics that were less spoken about. Star culture has been a huge aspect of Indian cinema, with tons of fan-worshipping and idolizing. As a result, many people, irrespective of genders, dream of a fairytale love story with their favourite stars. Living in a similar fantasy is school-girl Mili, who thinks that she is in love with actor Dharmendra, the perfect man who could do no wrong. Like many, she can’t distinguish between reel and real, and refuses to believe anything that says otherwise. The film treats her sensibilities and emotions with empathy and kindness, without making her look foolish, and also goes on to humanize stars and stardom – a rarity back then.

Also Read: 6 Colorful Characters From Hrishikesh Mukherjee Films

Bawarchi (1972)

Streaming On: Amazon Prime Video

Raghu (Rajesh Khanna) in Bawarchi was like the silent Robin Hood the Sharma family didn’t know they needed. Their house, Shanti Niwas, lacked not only peace but harmony too. There were too many holes, too many cracks and too much ego – what metaphorically happens with mortal beings even outside of their households. Their clashes are so frequent and unbearable, that not one domestic worker tends to last in their house for more than a month. One day, when Raghu lands in their house unannounced asking for a job as a cook, no one questions him, they just instantly hire him. Little do they know that a relative stranger, just through kindness, would not only run their kitchen, but their lives too – in a way that would transform them as a family and as people.

Chupke Chupke (1975)

Streaming On: Amazon Prime Video

Now who can forget Parimal Tripathi (Dharmendra)? A renowned professor of botany, he is everything Sulekha (Sharmila Tagore) didn’t expect him to be – young, handsome, helpful, incredibly funny and a self-proclaimed prankster. And so, when Sulekha, now his wife, seems awe-struck by the intelligence and perception of her brother-in-law Raghavendra (Om Prakash), Parimal takes it upon himself to prank him, come what may. When Sulekha visits her sister’s house, he goes in as… no, not her husband, but Raghavendra’s new shuddha Hindi-speaking driver, Pyare Mohan. Amidst his carefully stitched plan and lovestruck heart, how long can he – and Sulekha – keep up the façade?

Mili (1975)

Streaming On: Amazon Prime Video, YouTube

A tender love story amidst a tragedy waiting to happen, Mili was a tad like a female-centric version of Hrishi Da’s Anand. Both characters are ailing, aware that they are running on limited time, and yet are perhaps livelier than the people around them. They sing, empathize and spread their joy wherever they go. Even Amitabh Bachchan as the man whose life alters in the process of meeting and eventually bonding with the titular character is similar. However, our awareness of her fate ends on a slightly hopeful note. We don’t know what exactly happens to her but we do know that she has a fleeting chance. And that’s the beauty of open-ended climaxes, isn’t it?

Gol Maal (1979)

Streaming On: Amazon Prime Video

This film is as twisted (in a very good way) as its iconic title track suggests – ‘Seedhe raste ki yeh tedhi hi chaal hai.’ Ramprasad Sharma (Amol Palekar) looks for a job in Bhavani Shankar’s (Utpal Dutt) firm. He is qualified, knowledgeable and has everything that it takes to get the part. Except one… or maybe a few. Shankar is oddly twisted – he is a sports fan but ironically thinks lowly of others who are, he doesn’t like it when people wear anything non-desi, and only takes those men seriously who have a moustache. Ramprasad has the latter, along with some gifted acting chops. Together, he strings in an act – Hrishi da’s favourite subversion technique – that makes him fall in love, have a fake mother, and invent an identical twin Lakshmanprasad aka Lucky (We see you, Main Hoon Na).

Khubsoorat (1980)

Streaming On: Amazon Prime Video, YouTube

Back in the early 80s, Rekha as Manju, a witty, opinionated, beautiful woman who refuses to abide by one person’s rules was revolutionary. She was the heroine, but not the stereotypical one. She was refreshingly extroverted, spontaneous, easy-going and did as she pleased – singing songs of revolution (the incredible Sare Niyam Tod Do) as an attempt of satire on Nirmala (Dina Pathak), the stern, disciplinarian mother-in-law of her sister. RD Burman’s music and Asha Bhosle’s electric voice lifts the already-sparkling film, while Gulzar’s dialogues like, ‘Miyaan-biwi raazi toh kya karengi maaji?’ leave you in splits.

Rang Birangi (1983)

Streaming On: Amazon Prime Video, YouTube

This is the kind of film that one would want to watch just by looking at its star cast – Amol Palekar, Parveen Babi, Farooq Shaikh, Deepti Naval, Utpal Dutt, Om Prakash and Deven Verma. Phew. Talk about some brilliant actors, brought together in a very Pati, Patni Aur Woh kind of a setup, and yet not so much. This results in a comedy of errors and miscommunication as a mooh-bola brother decides to come in as an intervention for his sister and best friend’s decaying marriage and set up an act that would change their lives.

Kissi Se Na Kehna (1983)

Streaming On: Amazon Prime Video

Loosely based on the Bengali-language film, Mohunbaganer Meye (1976), the story, like Chupke Chupke, Gol Maal and Rang Birangi, majorly revolves around an act pulled off by the leads. Here though, it’s neither for fun nor for a job or to teach anyone a lesson. This time, it’s for love. Ramola (Deepti Naval) and Ramesh (Farooq Shaikh) are two highly-educated, modern-day youngsters who fall in love with each other and wish to get married. The only problem that stands between them is Ramesh’s father (Utpal Dutt), who, after a string of bad experiences with educated, English-speaking women, decides to get his son married to a woman who doesn’t know a word of English, and is the embodiment of the text bookish ‘sanskaari bahu.’ From thereon begins a cat-and-mouse act, where Dr. Ramola transforms into village belle Rama, with her and Ramesh having to produce a series of lies to keep up.

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