Starring Dharmendra, Sharmila Tagore, Amitabh Bachchan, Jaya Bachchan, Asrani, Om Prakash

Sweeping generalisations never did anybody any favours. A single stroke and even the most talented of artistes are reduced to a mere prisoner of image. It happened to Amitabh Bachchan. It happened to Dharmendra. The astounding success of G.P Sippy’s “Sholay” reduced them to only Jai and Veeru in the minds of the common man. Worse, even the filmmakers fell into that image trap. And Bachchan was to be forever typecast as the angry young man. Dharmendra became the He-man! The loss was cinegoers’ alone, as both Bachchan and Dharmendra were incredibly gifted artistes who were seldom provided an opportunity to step beyond the trite, the trusted. One look at Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s “Chupke Chupke” that released the same year as “Sholay” and you would know how heavy a price many had to pay for the success of Sippy’s blockbuster.

Hrishikesh Mukherjee, however, was not your usual filmmaker. He went beyond the image and did a number of films which tapped the comic talent of the duo. “Chupke Chupke” is a classic example of a film where you smile almost all the way through. Nobody drops his pyjamas. Nobody slips over a banana peel. Nobody indulges in innuendos. It is that kind which has humour as its lifeline. Its Hindi-English contests are the stuff of a masterpiece, its one-liners have a timelessness written over them. Be it Dharmendra entering the film as a botany professor and quickly donning the garb of a watchman, or Bachchan, an English professor who soon finds himself in the botanist’s shoes, or Om Prakash and his inimitable comic touches with his ham-ho ways, “Chupke Chupke” is a joyous film which regales the viewers despite the number of mishaps which take place in the faced-paced narration. The drama begins early in the film: The solitary watchman of the guesthouse has gone to tend to his ailing relatives. Dharmendra as Prof Parimal Tripathi decides to masquerade as the watchman for a group of college girls, including Sharmila, (Sulekha) who have come on an excursion. By the time she finds out the reality, they are in love. The drama gets a twist with the entry of Sulekha’s jijaji (Om Prakash in crackling form) and his constant wit and repartee sessions with the professor who uses drag as his main weapon in the game of one-upmanship. Enter Bachchan as a sober, drab academic and we have all the ingredients of an out and out entertainer.

Hrishikesh, though, was not the one to just let comic situations take the film along. He created moments of happy humour even in songs: cases in point are three of the songs. In “Ab ke sajan sawan mein”, Sharmila is playful, joyful, teasing her beau, irritating her jijaji! She sings in the drawing room, her friend stands behind the curtain at the entrance, and her jijaji sits on the sofa at a distance. As she conveys mischief with a twinkling of her eyes, her lips and body movement, her jijaji suspects the presence of her friend yet cannot see him as he has just slipped out!

Similarly, the two professors square up against each other in the song “Sa Re Ga Ma”, sung with zest and abandon by two geniuses, Mohammed Rafi and Kishore Kumar. As each tries to outwit the other, Sharmila watches with amusement, leaving the viewers to draw their own conclusions! Something more gentle works in the number “Chupke chupke chal ri purwaiya” rendered with grace and charm by Lata Mangeshkar. Here Jaya Bachchan lips the song on the lawns even as the hero stands on the balcony, a floor above.

The song, penned by Anand Bakshi, was a world removed from the usual poetic flourishes which characterised Bollywood songs then. No words of Persianised Urdu, no English words thrown in, it was in chaste Hindi and retained the smell of Awadh! Jaya was suitably demure, and Bachchan, in his own way, understated.

Yes, “Chupke Chupke”, a remake of Bengali film “Chhadmabesh”, was the sort of film you watched when you were alone and had nothing more than a dreary summer afternoon to pass. You could smile all by yourself. It was also the sort of film you took your bunch of friends to watch. You could laugh out loud at the comic sequences. Conversely, it was not such a bad idea to take your girlfriend to watch the film! You could hold her hand and hum along with S.D. Burman’s music. In retrospect, watching “Chupke Chupke” was not a bad idea at all, any which way you looked at it!

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