MUMBAI – Film and editing genius Hrishikesh Mukherjee, also screenwriter and producer, was born on September 30, 1922. The centenary year of the late Dadasaheb Phalke and Padma Vibhushan begins today.
A man who made over 40 films between “Musafir” of 1957 and “Jhooth Bole Kauwa Kaate” of 1996 and also edited films like “Madhumati”, the Malayalam masterpiece “Chemmeen” and “Coolie” among many others. Hrishi-da (as he was affectionately called) has also produced several films with his partner NC Sippy, among them “Aashirwad”, “Anand”, “Guddi”, “Bawarchi”, “Chupke Chupke”, “Mili”, ” Gol Maal ”and“ Khusboorat ”.
His “away” triumphs also included “Anuradha”, “Anari”, “Asli Naqli”, “Anupama”, “Pyar Ka Sapna”, “Satyakam” (which he considers his best film), “Buddha Mil Gaya, ”“ Abhimaan, ”“ Namak Haram, ”and“ Alaap. ”Most of these films will be hits and misses, but otherwise have received critical acclaim.
Here are some lesser known facts about genius:
- Her bungalow facing the sea, “Anupama” was named after one of her favorite movies. Hrishi-da had told me that the story actually happened to one of his uncles, who mistreated his daughter because her mother died when she was born.
- A tree stood in the middle of the bungalow, well protected. Hrishi-da told me that in Bengal trees were considered God and that there was no question of cutting them down to build a house.
- Sitting on his bed when we first met in a shabby t-shirt and shorts with a huge dog next to him and three more in the room, he waved to me with the line, “Come on, come. In this house, they say there are five dogs, including me!
- When we next met, her bungalow had been replaced by a multi-story apartment. He told me about his plan to make a film about a hairdresser, a subject written by its composer, Salil Chowdhury, but he didn’t think finance would come easily for such an offbeat subject.
- His ex-assistant for more than 7 years, Nitin Mukesh, the son of the legendary Mukesh, considered him a second father. He started assisting her in 1970, and “Anand” and “Guddi” both premiered on the same day on opposite sets at the late Mohan Studios in Mumbai.
- Shashi Kapoor was considered for “Anand”. Hrishi-da had also discussed the story with Dharmendra, but Rajesh Khanna at rush hour approached Hrishi-da and offered to work for free. Hrishi-da then gave him the rights to the territory of Mumbai.
- However, Hrishi-da never defended anyone’s nonsense. When Khanna once showed up late, he berated him and told him he could delete the movie or do it with someone else.
- Hrishi-da would stage scenes, including for shy acting heroines, and even “cried” to show her actors!
- Amitabh Bachchan shot three reels of “Guddi” before Hrishi-da decided to replace him with Bengali actor Samit Bhanja. When Bachchan pleaded that his career would be over before it started (“Anand” was his first success), the filmmaker told him that one day he would fall at his feet in gratitude, because the film was owned by Jaya. Bhaduri (later Ms. Bachchan) and Dharmendra!
- Gulzar once told Nitin that it was very easy to write dialogue for Hrishi-da, because the thought was always present in the director. Hrishi-da would tell him all the dialogues in Bengali (Gulzar had mastered it) and all he had to do was translate into Hindi! Like Rajesh Khanna’s poignant birthday wish to Seema in “Anand”.
- In “Guddi”, one song was replaced with a song from “Madhumati” overnight, as the film had an initially lukewarm reaction in theaters when it was released in Delhi.
- Nitin Mukesh received four lines to sing in “Guddi” composed by Vasant Desai.
- “Guddi” was based on a short story by Gulzar. Dharmendra says he was inspired by the daughter of filmmaker HS “Mere Mehboob” Rawail, who was a huge fan of him. Rawail and Gulzar had then worked together in “Sunghursh” and “Mehboob Ki Mehndi”.
- As a person, Hrishi-da was very thrifty. He still had the same small car and even traveled second class by train instead of flying. He said that you should always be prepared for the times when you have no luxuries.
- Frugal spending has spread to films with end costs as low as 25 percent of budgeted budgets! Dharmendra recalls that he and Amitabh Bachchan had to wear old clothes in “Chupke Chupke”.
- However, for one scene Dharmendra was given a conductor uniform. He and Bachchan were puzzled, and when they discussed it, Hrishi-da overheard them and said, “If you had a sense of history, you would be filmmakers, not heroes in the movies!”
- He always presented the best stars as normal middle class people and pulled the best out of themselves. He lamented that Bachchan was “reduced” to a “stuntman” after “Zanjeer” and threw him against the grain in “Chupke Chupke” and “Alaap”.
- He made Lalita Powar, known for her dirty tricks, the adorable Mrs. D’Sa in “Anari” and again made her play a sympathetic role in “Anand”. He made Johnny Walker cry in the same movie – Hrishi-da never liked the pictures.
- His film “Buddha Mil Gaya” was a great thriller, but thanks to his image, audiences weren’t expecting it and he flopped. He also directed “Sabse Bada Sukh” which would be the very first Indian film in the sex comedy genre.
- “Anand” was inspired by the Epicurean philosophy and his friendship with Raj Kapoor. In the early 1960s, Kapoor was once very ill, and Hrishi-da was petrified of what would happen if he died. This is why the film was dedicated to Kapoor. For the same year, Kapoor won the Best Director Award for “Mera Naam Joker” while Hrishi-da won the Producer Award for Best Picture.
- Kapoor had immense respect for him too and would often bring his edited films (he was a master editor himself) to Hrishi-da with a request to review and cut what he felt was unnecessary! Hrishi-da has also edited so many outdated films, regardless of who made the movei and its genre.
- Hrishi-da also dedicated “Anand” to the city of Bombay (as Mumbai was then called). He told me that he was “proud” to have never made a Bengali film and that Mumbai was his “karmabhoomi”.
- He told me that any director could only make 15 good films, after which his expertise waned. But “Satyakam” was his 16e movie and it made so many perennials after that 1969 movie!
- He also told me that he considered the songs unrealistic and unnecessary, although he studied classical music. In the best traditions of filmmakers on earth at the time, he respected his audience and would always have good situations for songs in his films and gave us great sheet music from an assortment of composers, Shankar-Jaikishan down.
- He looked after his assistants very well and paid them on time, frequently increasing their fees. But if someone made a mistake, he would call him an “assassin!” “
- He didn’t like stars dealing with his assistants. But his incredible sense of humor and economy combined to make Nitin Mukesh the on-screen songwriter in two songs from “Abhimaan”. He told her that only his hands would be seen, but the pictures show him with an empty face, the singer laughs.
- When Dharmendra asked him to shoot his face from the best angle when Hrishi-da had already shot him from the opposite side, Hrishi-da took six more takes and then told his man to hold onto the first! Dharmendra laughs and says that Hrishi-da has always felt good from all angles.
- Dharmendra remembers his last visit to Hrishi-da in the hospital. “I couldn’t bear to see him with all the tubes, including his nose. He gestured as if he wanted to remove them and talk to me. Everything was too much and I quickly left the room!
- Its publisher, Das Dhaimade, was another genius. Nitin recalls that Dhaimade was the only one the director never yelled at, but would obediently follow his suggestions despite being a top editor.
- The director always incorporated good suggestions from anyone into his films, including his actors, but could never work without playing chess on set! Incredibly, he would know what was going on even concentrating on his game! He had a “pitthu” (assistant) playing with him and Hrishi-da hated losing and laughed at him when he did. But the man has always had a role of about a minute in each of his films!