Book Excerpt - Human Cinema : The Films of Hrishikesh Mukherjee by Rammesh

A Potpourri of Vestiges Feature

By Rammesh

1961: Chhaya

Plot: Manorama’s (Nirupa Roy) unemployed husband dies in an accident the very day he gets a job. Vowing that her newborn daughter will never go hungry, she abandons the baby in the house of a rich childless man Choudhary (Nazir Hussein) and comes back the next day to his home, seeking and finding work as an ayah. Her daughter, Sarita (Asha Parekh), grows up completely spoiled and indulged by her father, who has a nosy cousin sister Rukmani (LalitaPawar). Sarita is a fan of Raahee, a poet who writes in local magazines and he comes to her home answering an ad for a tuition teacher under his real name Arun Kumar (Sunil Dutt). Arun promises Sarita to help her meet Raahee and soon Sarita realizes that both are one and the same and starts loving Arun.Sarita’s father (in keeping with the finest traditions of all filmi fathers), throws out Arun/Raahee and decides to marry her off to a rich man’s son. The mother/Ayah writes an anonymous letter to the rich man questioning the daughter’s background but is found out and asked to leave the home. The drama starts then…

If Hrishida could be faulted for anything, it’s a bewildering inconsistency which he would display time and again throughout his career. One film would have a profound theme and then it would be followed by a run-of-the-mill project, or worse. No doubt, Chhaya also is about ordinary people coping with extraordinary problems but then somewhere along the way, it becomes a commercial tear-jerker as per the standard formula of the 1950s and 1960s ‘heroine-oriented films’ which is to basically put a woman through all sorts of trials and tribulations, throw in six or seven songs and give a happy ending. The results are not exactly enthralling or even interesting. Coming in the wake of Anuradha’s commercial failure, Chhaya was an out and out formula film made for family audiences within the realms of commercial cinema.
Nirupa Roy and Asha Parekh in Chhaya, Hrishikesh Mukherjee
Nirupa Roy and Asha Parekh in Chhaya
Chhaya is the first of Mukherjee’s thematic inconsistencies where he reverts to ‘put the woman in trouble’ blueprint. The story is credited to the prolific Sachin Bhowmick and screenplay is by D N Mukherjee but it is clearly an AVM production, made in Madras. After two superb back-to-back productions, but commercial failures in Anuradha and Mem-Didi which were close to Mukherjee’s cinematic ideals, Chhaya is a formulaic made-in-Madras tear-jerker whose Madras stamp shows up in all departments, such as costumes, makeup, some loud acting and the locations (Madras, Mahabalipuram). Gone is the subtlety of Anari, Anuradha and Musafir. There is an almost run-of-the-mill routine approach. One possible explanation could be due to the fact that Mukherjee was shuttling between Madras and Bombay – shooting AsliNaqli in Bombay while finishing Chhaya in Madras.

The film is full of melodrama and has none of the fine understatements that were the rule in his earlier films. The only restrained performance is by Sunil Dutt as Arun/ Raahee. The hurt and injured Arun’s statement to Sarita’s father, ‘We poor cannot find salt to put in our food leave alone rub into your wounds,’ is probably the only fine moment in the entire film. As Sarita, Asha Parekh has maximum footage but her‘over expressive acting’ doesn’t do any wonders for her or her character. Maybe this is what passed for AVM’s idea of good acting, but that was definitely not true of Mukherjee’s World. Nirupa Roy, as the mother, whose Chhaya doesn’t leave the daughter, offers a fairly restrained performance but her presence makes us remember that this is about the ordeal of a mother who has to undergo the typical filmy ordeals. She sometimes does emerge as a strong character that won’t let her daughter suffer. Yet, the character is also a cardboard cutout, which Roy was fated to repeat in her career. Chhaya definitely is not great filmmaking, neither is it a tribute to Humans and humanity that is the hallmark of much of the better Mukherjee films, though it tries to cleverly masquerade as one.

The commercial elements are clearly very strong and perhaps the strongest nod to commercial sensibility is its music which is of exceptional quality. Salil’s leaning toward Western Classical Music shows up right at the start of the film. The title music is exceptionally familiar to the average man on the street, since these days it blares from cars backing up, phones on hold, elevators – the famous ‘Fur Elise’ by Beethoven. Salil uses the opening bars of fur Elise and then the rest of the title music is his own creation, showing his love of Western Classical Music. If Salil is the music director, Lata cannot be far behind and she gets her first solo with the classical ‘Cham cham naachata ayi bahar.’It takes a rare kind of genius to base a Hindi film song on Mozart’s Symphony No.40, but Salil Chowdhury is not just any ordinary music director. Lata returns to a duet with Talat Mehmood in the evergreen variation of Mozart’s Symphony No.40 (in G Minor), ‘Itna na mujhse tu pyaar badha!’ as Raahee suddenly gets afraid of Sarita’s love for him. The Talat solo of the same song finds Arun Kumar singing the sad version of the same duet, now that Sarita is going to be separated from him. Talat Mehmood’s fine singing haunts us long after the movie has faded and he is in fine form with two more evergreen solos – ‘Aansun samajh ke kyun mujhe,’ Aankhon me masti sharabki.’The hugely underrated Rajendra Krishan wrote not only the lyrics but also the dialogs of the film. In the kingdom of film lyricists Rajendra Krishan is not usually mentioned as a great poet but his pen has contributed to the fame and fortune of Madan Mohan, C Ramchandra and many others. Mukesh gets a peppy duet with Lata ‘Dilsedilkidorbaandhe.’ Mohammed Rafi gets a searing solo at the beginning of the film when Manorama is walking around with her newborn child in the sun; a beggar asks the sky in Rafi’s voice, ‘Yakehde hum insaannahi.’This beseeching solo was sung in true Rafi style but overshadowed by all the Talat songs in the public imagination and popularity. If anything, the evergreen music is the true gift of this film and it surely contributed to the box-office fortunes. 

In the end, the tradeoff between art and commerce resulted in commerce winning, though it is fair to say that this film is also about Humans and their travails, albeit told in an unusually loud style.

About Book

  • Paperback: 260 pages
  • Publisher: Notion Press; 1 edition (2018)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1643249541
  • ISBN-13: 978-1643249544

Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s films have brought immense joy to generations of film lovers, and a new generation is now being impressed by his works, thanks to the many repeated telecasts on various channels of his classic comedies such as Gol Maal and Chupke Chupke among others.

This book is about the forty-two films that were directed by Hrishikesh Mukherjee and how his vision of humans is as important as that of his mentor, Bimal Roy. The book is both a fan’s perspective and a complete listing of all the released films of Mukherjee from 1957 till 1998. 

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