This month we are celebrating the oeuvre of Hrishikesh Mukherjee, who made 43 films between 1957 to 1998. I’m going to talk about one of my favourites – Abhimaan.
Abhimaan released in July 1973. It was a massive success then and the story hasn’t lost its poignancy over the years. Because Abhimaan works at many levels – it’s about the fragility of love and marriage, the damage that hubris inflicts, the fleeting nature of fame and the relationship of an artist with his art. Amitabh Bachchan and Jaya Bachchan – the film was released a few weeks after they were married – play Subir and Uma. He is introduced as ‘desh ka sabse bada gayak’. She is a simple girl with a golden voice, which he falls in love with. Subir insists that she sing but when she becomes more famous than him, their marriage crumbles.
Hrishi da tells this story with great economy. In the space of a song, he establishes the increasingly skewed equation between Uma and Subir. Watch out for the scene where photographers are asking her to pose solo and a fan pulls away the autograph book from him so she can sign it.
Soon enough, Subir reveals himself to be insecure and petty. This isn’t a hero you can root for but Bachchan played him with aplomb. Watch the scene in which he shuns his close friend and manager Chandru because Chandru isn’t afraid to spell out what Subir’s problem is.
What made the film more heart-breaking was the vulnerability and grace of Jaya Bachchan, who I think, has never looked lovelier. Uma doesn’t say much but her tragedy resonates through the film. When she finally breaks down in the climax, I can guarantee that you will weep with her.
And of course holding together the narrative is S. D. Burman’s landmark soundtrack. Abhimaan is one of the greatest film albums of all time. The songs, written by Majrooh Sultanpuri, are absolute magic. These tunes can never get old.
Abhimaan has a sweetness and sadness that is quintessential Hrishikesh Mukherjee. You can catch the film on YouTube.