John Abraham’s Aashayein that opens this Friday is about a young man who rediscovers the joy of living after learning that he has only days to live. It brought back memories of Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s classic film on the Big C. Anand made cancer, or rather lymphocircuma of the intenstine, the most famous medical term in Hindi cinema.
Years ago, Hrishida had admitted to me that the film had borrowed many moments from a real life friendship. Curious, I had enquired about the identity of the two friends and learnt that one was Raj Kapoor and the other Hrishida himself. Anand mirrored RK’s exuberance and flamboyance while Dr Bhanskar, like Hrishida, was a Bengali babumoshai (gentleman), intense and introverted.The actor-director relationship had blossomed since the Anari days. Once, when Kapoor learnt that his babumoshai who was shooting in London was crippled by arthritis, he flew to the Queen’s city and overriding Hrishida’s protests, brought him home and nursed him back to health. On his part, Hrishida was perennially worried about Raju who suffered from cardiac neurosis: "I used to wonder how I would carry on if anything happened to him."
The anxiety translated into a heart-wrenching script that Kapoor wanted to film under the RK banner. “Yes, Raju wished to play Anand and he was a perfect fit,” confirmed Hrishida. “But I couldn’t see him die, not even in a film.”
RK begged but Hrishida wouldn’t budge. And after a few weeks he took the script to Uttam Kumar. But things didn’t work out with Bengal’s matinee idol and Hrishida approached Raj’s younger brother, Shashi. He was working three shifts a day and couldn’t accommodate another film.
Kishore Kumar was also over-committed. Back to Shashi who promised dates next January. Hrishida wanted the film in the cans by December. He was at his wit’s end when Rajesh Khanna suddenly dropped by, wanting to hear the script. Hrishida narrated it and Khanna said he’d do it.
The new superstar was even ready to bring down his price, from Rs 8 lakh to a lakh. And was ready to allot 20 days immediately. Hrishida had wanted three months but was willing to compromise. “If I overshoot, I will pay you on a pro rata basis,” he promised Khanna. “But you have to come on time.” Khanna wrapped up his work in 20 days, the film was finished in a month.
Amitabh Bachchan who played Bhaskar also came home to meet Hrishida when he was laid low with another bad case of arthritis. He was accompanied by filmmaker KA Abbas. One look at his sunken cheeks, burning eyes and six-foot frame and Hrishida knew he had found his babumoshai.
Khanna’s sunny smiles were a perfect foil for Bachchan’s brooding stares. The reel-life dosti was made memorable by an unforgettable end. Anand’s gone, Bhanskar can’t believe it! Then the tape starts playing, Zindagi aur maut uparwale ke haath mein hai jahanpanah, usse na aap badal sakte hain na main…’ Staccato laughter follows...
Stooped over Khanna’s seemingly lifeless body, Bachchan’s sobs were initially agonised. Till, Khanna started convulsing with laughter as Bachchan’s chin tickled him. When Hrishida announced “Cut!” the two actors looked up, guffawing helplessly.
Sometimes, even death can become a joke!