PLU Comedies and RK Retro

A few days ago Amitabh Bachchan was reported as saying that he thought Madhur Bhandarkar was the new Hrishikesh Mukherjee....

Written by Shubhra Gupta | Published: June 5, 2010 11:02:58 pm

A few days ago Amitabh Bachchan was reported as saying that he thought Madhur Bhandarkar was the new Hrishikesh Mukherjee. That sent us flying back to the original,just to see if there was anything we’d missed that Bachchan had seen. And we are happy to report that Mukherjee’s successor is still to be found.

A four-pack DVD,which has some of his best comedies — Bawarchi,Golmaal,Chupke Chupke (the fourth,Anand is a strange inclusion,because it makes you cry as much as laugh,while the others are plain laugh riots),is a good starting point for anyone who wants to get acquainted with Mukherjee’s gentle yet sharp,small-in-canvas but large-in-scope films about people like us. Or get re-acquainted.

I had forgotten that Bachchan had done the introduction of Bawarchi until I heard the familiar voice roll smoothly out from behind the curtains: the film starts like a play,with a short bio of all the characters who live in a house,and how disagreeable they are to each other. Except for the light of their lives,played by Jaya Bhaduri in her uber-chirpy Guddi persona,everyone is in need of a life lesson. And the teacher is the bawarchi,played by Rajesh Khanna,who was at the top of the heap in Bombay cinema those days.

Amol Palekar was the other kind of hero who was trying very hard to come to the fore,but he was good only for the kind of movies that needed regular fellows going off to work,earning a salary (Rs 800 was considered a princely sum),and for whom family picnics were the most exciting form of recreation. Palekar does all of this in Golmaal,and he is funny,but funnier by far is Utpal Dutt in his Bhadralok Bengali accent trying to do shuddh Hindi. It remains a classic,mistaken-identity caper that directors like Sajid Khan and Priyadarshan are still trying to cog,and failing to re-create.

Chupke Chupke is an all-time favourite. It was Dharmendra’s first attempt at comedy and he comes up trumps. His drollery is matched by Bachchan,who had proved that he was a dab hand at loud Manmohan Desai-type humour. This was very different. The ladies,both Sharmila Tagore and Bhaduri,though they are not given as much to do as the men in standard Mukherjee style,keep up quite nicely. Want to get me out of a grouch? Sit me in front of Chupke Chupke.

Some of the humour seems a little dated. And a re-visit also shows how much the women are made to do “appropriate womanly tasks” — cooking,ironing,cleaning — in movies those days. The lassies who are pert and wear nighties are to be shown the error of their ways. But no one can touch Mukherjee when it comes to putting an unerring finger on what makes people sad or happy.

Also,just out is a collector’s 21-disc DVD of Raj Kapoor’s films. His 22nd death anniversary falls this week. The pack has the RK banner films from the 1948 Aag where Kapoor was fair and slim and lovely (there are also Barsaat,Awaara,Boot Polish,Jaagte Raho,among others) to his middle-period (Jis Desh Mein Ganga Behti Hai,Sangam) to the post-70s,which he only directed (Satyam Shivam Sundaram,Prem Rog,Ram Teri Ganga Maili). But given a choice,I’d take the first lot,all black-and-white,lambent classics,and run with it.

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