I was fourteen years old when Rajesh Khanna passed away. The news channels were showing his songs and glimpses of his films on repeat, and the radio was playing 'Zindagi kaisi hai paheli' on every station. While all around everyone was lamenting the loss of the stalwart, I noticed people talking not only about Rajesh Khanna but also about Anand. That was my first tryst with Hrishikesh Mukherjee, Rajesh Khanna and a young Bachchan coming together on screen to create timeless magic.
Nine years later, on the fiftieth anniversary of the film, I made my fourteen-year-old sister watch Anand for the first time. As I watched her get engrossed in its charm and wet a few napkins, I remembered how on my first day as a film student, my professor had used Anand to explain how certain films resonate with life and remind us that living is an art. From 1971 to 2021, it's been fifty glorious years for Anand.
Among the scores and scores of people who have watched Anand, it will be difficult to find someone who wouldn't want to go back to it. While we remember Anand, and the joy and pain of watching him, let's think how different it would've looked if director Hrishikesh Mukherjee had had his way with making the classic from the beginning. His first choice of actors was Kishore Kumar and Mehmood in the roles of Anand and Dr Bhaskar Banerjee respectively. It's quite a difficult task to imagine anyone else but Rajesh Khanna and Amitabh Bachchan for the roles, isn't it? When things didn't work out with Kishore Kumar, Mukherjee went to Raj Kapoor.
Every great film, every immortal character is often inspired by someone in real life and Anand is no different. Legend has it that Hrishikesh Mukherjee wrote the story of Anand when Raj Kapoor, who called Mukherjee 'Babumoshai' (that's where that came from), had taken seriously ill and Mukherjee thought he wouldn't survive. However, when Raj Kapoor couldn't manage enough time to shoot for the film, Hrishikesh Mukherjee turned to Rajesh Khanna, who was a reigning superstar of the industry at that time, and Amitabh Bachchan, a budding actor trying to make his mark.
Anand is one of a kind, a timeless classic reminding us that however difficult life might be, we can always look for a bit of anand (happiness) in the darkest of hours. The film tells the simple story of a terminally ill man and his friends who try their best to save his life but fail. What makes it stand out is something beyond the narrative or the plot points. It's the carefully crafted scenes and dialogues, the songs and sceneries, the mise en scène and the simplicity of the whole project that gave us the Anand we have cherished for fifty years.
A very poignant and gripping fact about the film was that the audience knew exactly what the characters knew and not a bit more or less. Just like Anand, Prakash and Bhaskar, we all knew how death was bearing down on Anand. The dying man breathing life into his friends and every random stranger he meets on the streets tugged at the most vulnerable strings of our hearts. Even though Bhaskar was inconsolable on Anand's death, it was Anand's positivity that eventually turned his death into a celebration. It was his hunger for life that resonated in the room when the tape played Bhaskar's poem and Anand's dialogue and their laughter filled the room at that nightly hour of sorrow and unfathomable pain, a pain that was shared not only by Bhaskar but every person who has watched the film. The last scream of 'Babumoshai' from the gasping Anand still rings in our ears like we heard it yesterday.
Anand was a celebration of life and death, and of a man who showed us that death wasn't as scary as people made it to be, a thought portrayed in Robin Williams' film Patch Adams twenty-seven years later. Anand went beyond narrative and the concept of life and death. It was about the treatment of the mind and the soul. While Anand is at first just a patient, he leaves the mortal world as a healer who moulds Bhaskar from a disillusioned, angry, young doctor into a compassionate and kind man with a positive outlook on life. Although Anand succumbed to a mortal disease that stopped his heart, he was quite the victor, for he taught so many people the art of living. This is the never-ending charm that has enraptured generations and shall never cease!