Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s 1971 film Anand has developed a cult following in the last few decades. The film’s story about a dying man who is always upbeat and cheerful, and changes the lives of those around him, is remembered for its melancholic yet hopeful take on life. While the Rajesh Khanna and Amitabh Bachchan starrer is now seen as a Hrishikesh Mukherjee classic, there was another film by the director that was pretty much on the same lines as Anand and this was the 1975 film Mili. In case you are wondering how, let me explain.
Mili, starring Jaya Bhaduri (now Bachchan) and Amitabh Bachchan, is the story of a girl who loves to live. She lights up a room with her effervescent energy. From oldies to young kids, Mili is loved by everyone and people around her find it unreal if she isn’t smiling or laughing. Even the stubborn neighbour who is dealing with his personal tragedy is taken by Mili’s exuberance and falls in love with her. So when we are told that Mili has a rare blood disorder, we can’t help but appreciate her positive outlook towards life even more. And this is where we start drawing parallels with Rajesh Khanna’s Anand. Like Anand, Mili doesn’t sweat over the small stuff and befriends everyone she meets. She is not as verbose as Anand about her philosophy of life. While he keeps reminding the audience that ‘zindagi badi honi chahiye, lambi nahi’, Mili just lives it. She has her quiet moments in the dead of the night and that’s where we discover her vulnerable side.
For Anand, his immediate support comes from his newfound friend Bhaskar Banerjee, played by Amitabh Bachchan. And for Mili, she finds her support in the new neighbour Shekhar, again played by Bachchan. In both these films, the Bachchan character transforms from being a rigid, hardened man to someone who discovers his emotional side. While Bhaskar Banerjee knows about Anand’s condition right from the start, Shekhar is unaware of Mili’s struggles until almost the end. His first instinct is to flee because he can’t watch her die but when told to re-evaluate the situation, Shekhar decides to fight for her.
Anand has drawn a lot of appreciation for its climactic scene where Anand passes on and as Bhaskar is urging him to speak again, a record player with his voice starts playing. To date, it’s almost impossible to not shed a tear in that scene but Mili does not push things as far. Despite the many parallels between the two films, Mukherjee treats their climax sequences very differently. In Anand, we are prepared from the beginning, much like its lead character, that this is all going to end in tragedy. But in Mili, we are kept in the dark about the extent of her illness. Like her family members, the audience is told to stay hopeful so when doctors give up on Mili, the audience is told that an experimental treatment could help her. Our journey with Mili ends when she flies off to Switzerland with Shekhar. Hrishikesh Mukherjee makes a conscious choice to end the film on a hopeful note, that maybe Mili survived. Even though Anand did not survive physically, there too, the film ended with Bhaskar’s lines ‘Anand mara nahi, Anand marte nahi’.
Mili has been appreciated for Jaya’s spirited performance and Amitabh’s restrained act that convinces you that this man is trapped within a society that would never allow him to forget his past. The scene where Shekhar lets his guard down for the first time and almost smiles but refrains himself is just a moment on screen but it allows you to see that the impact of Mili’s presence has broken the hard shell of this otherwise stern man.
Mili released four years after Anand and by this time, Hrishikesh Mukherjee was known as the director who was leading the charge the middle-of-the-road cinema in India. The ethos and the style of a Hrishikesh Mukherjee film is pretty distinct but in the case of Anand and Mili, the plots are very similar too. Nevertheless, their own unique charm allows both these films to exist in the same Hrishikesh Mukherjee ecosystem and hold their own.