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Will Hrishida?s legacy live?

Tangible characters have of late resurfaced occasionally in Hindi films, writes Saibal Chatterjee.

india Updated: Aug 29, 2006 17:18 IST
WIDE ANGLE | Saibal Chatterjee
WIDE ANGLE | Saibal Chatterjee

Is Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s unique storytelling style, which could extract drama, humour and pathos out of ordinary lives and commonplace occurrences, lost to us forever?

The Mumbai movie industry, which has made rapid strides in recent years in terms of production values and filming techniques, and has, in the bargain, moved light years away from the gentle narrative universe that the deceased filmmaker represented with such distinction.

As a result, mainstream Bollywood has been overrun by gloss, glitz and gossamer: it is now for the most part peopled by soulless Cadillac men, preening Casanovas and canny conmen whose exploits have nothing in common with the daily struggles of the man in the street, the man who spends his hard-earned money to seek instant escape into Hindi cinema’s make-believe world of fake crises and pat resolutions.

Moreover, the ever-widening scope of the consumerist frenzy that has gripped post-liberalisation India has impacted popular Hindi cinema in ways that haven’t always been salutary. Mercifully, however, the intrinsic quality of Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s cinema, rooted in the literary traditions of a nation, still lives on, if only on the extreme fringes of big bad Bollywood.

Is Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s unique storytelling style, which could extract drama, humour and pathos out of ordinary lives and commonplace occurrences, lost to us forever?

Tangible flesh-and-blood characters have of late resurfaced occasionally in films by Nagesh Kukunoor, Sujoy Ghosh and Chandan Arora, but their reach and impact have obviously paled in comparison to the influence exercised on the masses by a flying superhero borrowed from an alien comic book series or by sundry philanderers seeking to raise a few laboured laughs with their bumbling sexploitations.

But a Krrish cannot replicate the connection that Kukunoor’s deaf-mute hero, Iqbal, an underdog in every respect of the word, makes with the audience. The former is pure escape; the latter is touching revelation. The former is instant gratification; the latter is permanent value. The former is commercial success; the latter is deep acuity.

It is in the films made by Kukunoor and others of his ilk that the spirit of Hrishikesh Mukherjee still survives. Common man heroes struggling to make sense of the vagaries of everyday life will probably never die. They will continue to stand out in the crowd of the designer-draped, archetypal mannequins that are of late being passed of as representatives of humanity.

There is something to be said for the band of boys and their little dreams and challenges that Sujoy Ghosh conjured up in the delightful Jhankaar Beats or the small-town girl determined to make it big in Bollywood in Chandan Arora’s Main Madhuri Dixit Banna Chahti Hoon (shades of Guddi?) or a man insanely insecure about his pretty wife and the constant male attention that she commands in Arora’s Main Meri Patni Aur Woh. But do we see enough of them these days?

Sadly, with the exception of Jhankaar Beats and Iqbal, these odes to the mundane haven’t exactly set the cash counters jingling. But will small films about little men die out for good as a result? They will probably not. As these films find newer outlets and fresher forms of expression, as, for instance, in Meghna Gulzar’s upcoming probe into a contemporary marriage in Honeymoon or Rituparno Ghosh’s second Hindi-language film, Sunglass, the ‘real’ drama of family life will in all likelihood keep going. And in them will live Hrishida’s valued legacy.

First Published: Aug 29, 2006 16:19 IST