Saturday, September 2, 2006

Farewell to Hrishida
Amita Malik

AMITA MALIKStrictly speaking, Hrishikesh Mukherji was a film man, a director of rare sensitivity and wonderful sense of humour. Why I am mentioning him in this column is because he endured so well on TV. I think I have mentioned this before, but whenever his endearing comedy Golmaal crops up on TV, I watch it. I am never bored by it. It embodies the best qualities of Hrishida.

It depicts a typical middle class background with Amol Palekar, who’s shown as the equally typical boy next door, giving one of his best tongue-in-the-cheek performances. And it has another of Hrishida’s favourites, Utpal Dutt, the typical heavy-handed householder. They all started their careers from scratch in Calcutta and remained friends and colleagues for life.

The other reason I mention Hrishida, who together with Basu Chatterjee, brought subtlety and genuine humour into Hindi cinema, is because the most highly paid actors and actresses willingly acted in his films for the simple reason that he had recognised their talent early and cast them in his financially modest films with a sure touch when it came to casting. Think of the list — Raj Kapoor, Amitabh Bachchan, Rajesh Khanna, Jaya Bhaduri (as she was before marriage), Rekha, Sharmila Tagore, and many more. Having known him personally, I knew why they treated him with such respect and affection. He was such a natural, normal person, warm and affectionate always. He had no airs, not even when he got the Dadasaheb Phalke award.

And the most important reason I mention Hrishida and his films in a TV column is because Indian TV, notably its serial makers, are in sad need of a director like him, down to earth, like the Italian neo-realists. He was a director who made us believe that the characters in his films were real people. The saas-bahu lot and the makers of so-called humorous programmes have a lot to learn from him. Farewell, Hrishida. TV viewers who have had the good fortune of seeing your films on the small screen will miss you. But your films will endure.

We again lived in the middle of catastrophe. The 12 amazingly ‘un-angry’ men from Mumbai who returned home after being handcuffed and pushed around in Amsterdam made a startling contrast to the Dutch passenger, a typical angry young man with long dishevelled hair who seemed to have been the sole person to fight on their behalf at Schiphol airport, where, he said on TV, they were "treated like dogs". TV is indeed at its visual best in such situations.

Also very disturbing was the killing of Baluch leader Akbar Khan Bugti in Baluchistan. NDTV immediately put on, with heightened effect, his last interview in Quetta by its Pakistan correspondent, Munizar Jehangir, where he predicted his own death. A product of the prestigious Aitchison College in Lahore and then Oxford, he must have been one of the most disturbing, sophisticated tribal leaders for the Pakistan government.

Meanwhile, parched deserts like Barmer succumbed to floods. And that terrible sight of five men on the roof of a car in the middle of a river, watched by crowds for eight hours and then being washed away one by one, was one of the most shattering sights one has seen on TV.

In contrast, things were very lively on the sports front. Hair, to make a bad pun, seems to be getting in everybody’s hair, including the cornered ICC and the drama is being played to the hilt on TV, its been much more graphic than that in the press. The US Open Tennis, with the ever-colourful Andre Agassi taking his last bow, and Sania listed as having dropped to 54 in the ranking list, even before she played her first match, was very depressing for Indians.

I said long ago that we tend to kill promising youngsters with too much hype. I sincerely hope we shall not kill Sania with too much kindness. A quiet entry and less TV exposure might have done more for her career.