Film director Hrishikesh Mukherjee's biggest achievement is that he successfully uncovered the face of the vast Indian middle class with its virtues and foibles and made it universally appealing on celluloid.
From the laugh-a-minute Chupke Chupke and Golmaal to the sensitive portrayal of a young couple battling their egos in Abhimaan, Mukherjee understood the nuances that characterized the middle class of the 1970s and depicted it with great skill mixing pathos, sarcasm and objectivity.
Shorn of the glamour and glitz, that is so much a part of films in today's cinema, Mukherjee's films still manage to bring a smile or tears whether it is Anand's (Amitabh Bachchan's) resounding Babu Moshai that echoes in the room minutes after the character played by Rajesh Khanna is dead or Rekha's daring disregard for rules that results in disastrous consequences in Khubsoorat.
Born on September 30, 1922 in Kolkata, Mukherjee began his cinematic career as an assistant to his guru Bimal Roy in 1951 and made his directorial debut with Musafir in 1957, an interesting film that strung together three stories in the form of three sets of tenants that occupy a house at various points in time.
Success, however, came with his next venture Anuradha, (1960), a sensitive film about a doctor who neglects his family to focus on his work, winning him the President's Gold Medal.
From then on, there was no looking back for Mukherjee . He made Anupama, a touching film about a daughter who yearns for her father's affection, a role that earned rave reviews for Sharmila Tagore. He followed it up with Ashirwaad and Satyakaam, which saw the macho man and action hero Dharmendra in a totally different role.
The golden phase of Mukherjee came in the 1970's, the first of which was Anand, a film that many still consider his best piece of work. Rajesh Khanna's unforgettable portrayal of Anand, who retains his joie de vivre inspite his impending death of cancer and Amitabh Bachchan's restrained depiction of the doctor who overcomes his cynicism after meeting him, touched many a heart. To this day, the film's songs and dialogues echo in the hearts of film lovers.
Some of his best loved films, including Bawarchi, Abhimaan, Chupke Chupke, Golmaal and Guddi also came during this phase and launched the careers of some of the biggest stars the industry has seen, including Amitabh Bachchan and Jaya Bhadhuri—the big B in Anand and Jaya in Guddi.
Mukherjee also appreciated the acting skills of Sharmila Tagore and worked with her in Chupke Chupke and Anupama. Later on, Amol Palekar became a regular feature in his films.
A great friend of Raj Kapoor and Bimal Roy, Mukherjee admired the duo very much and the story goes that Anand was inspired by a grave illness Raj Kapoor was suffering from at the time.
Although Hrishida, as he was popularly known in the film world, attempted to make a comeback with the 1999 film Jhooth Bole Kauwa Kaate, the film was neither a commercial nor a critical hit and it seemed that his genre of film making had been buried under the avalanche of glossy, candyfloss romances that seemed to dominate the Bollywood in the 1990's.
The heart of his films and in the larger picture and his philosophy in life however remained relevant—that everything in life can be made easier with a bit of laughter and whether it is a comedy or a tragedy: life is best lived simple.