Jai Arjun Singh’s ‘The world of Hrishikesh Mukherjee’ is a symphony of 26 notes

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“I wouldn’t like a film to be made on my life. Parts of me have already been projected in some of my films. Satyakam reflects my idealism, Chupke Chupke my humour and Alaap my pessimism, while Bawarchi was about my father…” This quote by Hrishikesh Mukherjee in the book, ‘Talking Cinema’ kind of sums up this remarkable book by Jai Arjun Singh.

In fact, the author has created a world within 300 odd paper sheets neatly bound between cardboard papers. So, calling ‘The world of Hrishikesh Mukherjee’ a book would be indeed unfair. Book sounds tad ordinary, making it belong to either the highest Rushdish echelons or lowest Bhagatish levels.

So book just happens to be a medium here. It might as well be termed a film in alphabets, symphony in 26 notes, or perhaps a time travel machine. Anything is fine, as long as it’s not being compared to any literature. Ask any Hrishi da fan and you’ll know what I mean. And while we’re at it, who doesn’t love Hrishikesh Mukherjee? (Precisely what the book’s cover reads: The filmmaker everyone loves).

Call it a romanticist’s musing or a fanboy’s indulgence, but Jai Arjun Singh’s ‘The world of Hrishikesh Mukherjee’ is a book that will evoke such extremes and compel you to grab the DVD of those films that become almost a character in this ‘world’ of simplicity and treasure trove of stories.

The chapter, ‘Yeh raha mera makaan’ takes you through the homes of Hrishikesh Mukherjee films. These homes, right from Hrishi da’s films surely seem familiar. We’ve been there over a cup of tea (how can a Hrishi da films be complete without chaai?), a game of chess (His favourite), a game of ‘kaafiya’ where words rhyme with the beats of one’s heart, ‘naatak’ being played out as pranks or perhaps discussing Botany and English literature by the idyllic ‘corolla’-filled lawn.

Jai Arjun Singh makes the reader stay there for a while before moving on to the other aspects of Hrishi-da films – his personal favourite, ‘Satyakam’, the ‘commercial’ films like ‘Anari’, ‘Asli Naqli’, ‘Chupke Chupke’ and ‘Golmaal’, real life inspirations from ‘Bawarchi’, ‘Anupama’, ‘Anuradha’, pessimistic musings like  ‘Alaap’ and a perfect tribute to our film industry like ‘Guddi’ (The only contemporary film that can perhaps come close to it is Zoya Akhtar’s ‘Luck by chance’).

Apart from these gems, the author doesn’t shy away from criticizing his failures like Achha Bura, Kotwal Saab, Sabse Bada Sukh, Aashiq, to name a few. Well, even these chapters are richly rewarding to the reader. Sample this:

“And here is Deven Varma in real life (Hrishi-da’s interview to Lata Khubchandani in Encyclopedia of Hindi Cinema):

Deven (Varma) once asked me (Hrishi-da), ‘Why does somebody always die in your films?’ I asked him, ‘Who died in ‘Sabse Bada Sukh?’ Deven replied, ‘The distributor!’ (pp. 492-94)”

The ‘deliberate faults’ in basic grammar of filmmaking like beginning ‘Anand’ with a flashback of Dr. Bhaskar (Amitabh Bachchan) musing about his patient, Anand (Rajesh Khanna) and ending the film with Anand’s death instead of going back where the film begins (I bet you never realized this ‘mistake’ before reading this and you must thank Hrishi-da’s filmmaking skills for it), to the genius in capturing camaraderie in films like ‘Satyakam’ (Sanjeev Kumar-Dharmendra), ‘Anand’, ‘Namak Haraam’ (Amitabh Bachchan-Rajesh Khanna), to delving into the labyrinthine lanes of marriage and ego in ‘Abhimaan’, each aspect of Hrishikesh Mukherjee films greet you with a glee of a childhood friend.

Last, but as the cliché goes, not the least, the best thing about Jai Arjun Singh’s ‘The world of Hrishikesh Mukherjee’ is its unusual structure. Unlike other authors penning ‘autobiographies’ or ‘analytical musings’ of a film director, lyricist or musician, Jai Arjun Singh doesn’t treat Hrishikesh Mukherjee films like chapters of his book.

For instance, he doesn’t begin with ‘Musafir’ and end with ‘Jhooth Bole Kauva Kaate’. The films keep revisiting you as and when the need arises. If he’s talking about ‘chaai’ in Hrishi-da films, ‘Khoobsurat’ obliges with an encore, just like ‘Bawarchi’ might show up while discussing classical music in the same breath as ‘Alaap’. At first, this structure might make you wonder, ‘Why isn’t the author yet done with ‘Mili’ and ‘Abhimaan’?’ By the time you reach the final pages, you’ll appreciate the craft.

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“I’ve made 40 films, I’m exhausted and burnt out. In retrospect I feel I should have been more choosy. But then, I’m not a very courageous man. I never had the nerve to break away from the commercial structure. So how can I be proud of my work? Today’s TV serials are like the films I make myself: skin-deep, shallow, only meant to entertain.”

This Hrishi-da quote from Times of India (March 1985), followed by “I was fortunate to be in an industry where one is lionized even if one is average or a little above average.” From Times of India (September 1995) leaves one marveling at the modesty of this man who remains an idol for millions and shall always remain so. We are yet to find a Hrishikesh Mukherjee in our times.

Till then, all we can do is watch his films while flipping through the pages of Jai Arjun Singh’s ‘The world of Hrishikesh Mukherjee’. Reading it leaves one wishing to have a conversation with the author over a cup of ‘chaai’ and indulging in some Hrishikesh Mukherjee anecdotes that he might have omitted or perhaps reserved for the Hrishi-da fan in him. Now when was the last time reams of papers made you feel that way? Dare you call this a book! It’s a world – the world of Hrishikesh Mukherjee.

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