Monday, August 28, 2006

Farewell to Hrishikesh Mukherjee

Bollywood said goodbye to legendary director Hrishikesh Mukherjee who died in his sleep at age 84 in Bombay on August 27th. His biggest hits (Anand, Mili, Abhimaan & Gol Maal) are from the 70's and not well known to current Desi film fans. The films he made were deceptively simple in construction (no violence or silly song/dance routines) but rich in emotion. He was known as the common man's filmmaker because anyone could connect with the stories he told. However, the actors in his movies often gave career defining performances under his direction. Amitabh Bachchan stated "his knowledge of the craft (neither too artistic nor too commercial) was so immense that we just left ourselves in his hands. We never heard any scripts, never heard any stories - we just showed up." Amitji's 1st film with Jaya (after they were married) happens to be my favorite Hrishikesh Mukherjee movie - Abhimaan (see post from 7/17/06).

He is a recipient of the Dadasaheb Phalke Award - an annual award given by the Indian government for lifetime contribution to Indian cinema. It was instituted in 1969, the birth centenary year of Dadasaheb Phalke, considered the father of Indian cinema. He is also a recipient of the Padma Vibhushan, India's 2nd highest civilian honor.

The 1st selection for today is from Kal Ho Naa Ho, which was a remake of Hrishikesh Mukherjee's Anand (arguably Rajesh Khanna's finest role) - the song, Kal Ho Naa Ho. The 2nd selection is from Mili, Amitabh & Jaya's 1st movie after their marriage - the song, Maine Kaha Phoolon Ne. Ironically, both of these very upbeat songs hail from otherwise tragic movies. And therein lay the genius of Hrishidada - to get us to feel empathy for his characters - while the ordinary filmmaker would be satisfied with mere sympathy for them.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

25th Anniversary of 'Silsila'

What do you get when you mix together the biggest stars of the day, a top-notch director, a flawless production team, timeless songs & the juiciest 'story behind the story' Bollywood has ever known? One of the biggest and most expensive flops in the history of Indian cinema - the now classic, 'Silsila', originally released this month in 1981. Why audiences stayed away in droves is still a matter of debate today. The songs themselves were on top of the charts months before the movie came out. Plus the movie was coming from Yash Chopra Films (which already had superhits with 'Kabhie Kabhie' & 'Kaala Pathar'). Was the story on screen too close to what was happening off? A case of life imitating art a little too well?

For those who don't know - the rumor of an extra-marital affair between Amitabh Bachchan & Rekha was Bollywood's worst kept secret well before the movie was released. In the movie, Amit (Amitabh Bachchan) & Chandini (Rekha) fall in love only to see their relationship shattered due to a family tragedy. Amit is forced by tradition to marry his deceased brother's wife Shobha (Jaya Bachchan) because she is unwed & a soon to be mother. Jaya & Amitabh of course, are married in real life as well. Although Amit marries Shobha - his heart still belongs to Chandini & an affair (Silsila) between the two then makes up the bulk of the movie.

Watching the movie today one cannot help but think what must have really been happening behind the scenes. Is the passion Amit feels for Shobha real - and vice versa? Watching the reactions on both women's faces when Amit is singing 'Rang Barse' while drunk makes the scene incredibly difficult to watch. The scenes between Chandini & Shobha when they confront one another are subtle yet incredibly powerful. It is at that moment that it hits you - that these 2 women aren't really acting anymore - they are just saying things to eachother on the screen that they could not say off.

The songs were written by the team of Shiv/Hari in their inaugral film. Shiv Kumar Sharma (santoor) & Hariprasad Chaurasia (flute) were already accomplished classical musicians in their own right before composing the tunes for 'Silsila'. The movie opens with 'Sarke Sarke', a Kishore/Lata duet in which we see Jaya looking radiant with her fiancee (Shashi Kapoor), watch it here. However the 2 songs (also sung by Kishore/Lata) on the are the Amitabh/Rekha ones... The 1st one, 'Ladki Hai Yah Shola' takes place when Amit & Chandini initially meet and find they are attracted to one another. The 2nd one however, is the true show stopper. It is actually a dream sequence between the two filmed in a tulip field outside of Amsterdam. Both stars (without Jaya) and the crew were flown to Holland specifically for this song. The lyrics, music & rendition of 'Dekha Ek Khwab' make it a true classic. It can be seen here.

Check out fellow Bollywood fan Filmiholic's review