One fine evening over drinks in 1986-87, one happened to engage Bollywood’s first dethroned ‘superstar’ in reflecting on his roles, performances and directors. To one’s surprise it was neither Shakti Samanta nor any other A-list mainstream director that he remembered: it was ‘middle of the road’ filmmaker Hrishikesh Mukherjee with whom he had acted in “Anand”, “Bawarchi” and “Namak Haraam”. Roughly, it was something like: “In ‘Bawarchi’ I did exactly the opposite of what Hrishida had made me do in ‘Anand’. He allowed me to interpret the role and perform my way. I had done enough intense roles, and ‘Bawarchi’ gave me the opportunity to interpret and perform the role the way I wanted. So I let myself go.”
Based on a story by Tapan Sinha and inspired by his original “Galpa Haleo Satyi” (1966) in Bengali, the film has denizens of a disgruntled family cribbing about everything and everybody, ruing unfulfilled dreams and desires.
Unlike most Indian films that open with credit titles, “Bawarchi” has Amitabh Bachchan’s booming voice introducing the cast.
Satirical in tone and treatment, the fast-paced narrative opens in a noisy, crowded household, paradoxically named ‘Shanti Niwas’.
A casually thrown-in single comment about the presence of a thief in the vicinity keeps the characters as well as the audience speculating about his identity. No domestic help sticks in this household, consisting of the patriarch retired postmaster, Shivnath Sharma (Harindranath Chattopadhyay), his three sons and their families.
The eldest is Ram Nath (A.K. Hangal), a lowly paid clerk, with a cantankerous wife Sita Devi (Durga Khote), and his daughter Meeta, a Kathak dancer of sorts.
Then there is the school teacher Kashinath and his quarrelsome wife Shobha Devi (Usha Kiron).
There is Vishwanath (Asrani), alias Babloo, an aspiring music director.
And there is the talented and sedate, orphaned granddaughter Krishna (Jaya Bhaduri), who’s in love with a handsome wrestler the family does not approve of.
Into this tensed up household enters a fun-loving multifaceted character, Raghu (Rajesh Khanna), a master of all, smooth talker, boasting of mastering various skills while working with real-life legendary characters. A singer, dancer, and a no mean musician as well.
He loses no time in winning everyone’s heart through his cooking expertise, and with his winsome ways, restoring faith and affection of the otherwise disjointed family — all the while keeping an eye on the jewel box chained to Daduji’s bed,.
A simple but profound, absorbing film with characteristic Mukherjee comic interludes, it had a somewhat, probably redone, unconvincing, simplistic climax.
The film ends with a scene of him travelling to a new destination with Bachchan’s narration: “Raghu is going to a new home. Let’s hope it is not yours.”
Scripted by the director himself with some very engaging, profound dialogue by Gulzar, the film had songs with succinct lyrics by Kaifi Azmi — “Bhor aai gaya Andhiyara” (Manna Dey, Kishore Kumar, Harindranath Chattopadhyay, Nirmala Devi, Lakshmi Shankar), “Kahe Kanha karat barjori” (Lakshmi Shankar), “Mast pawan dole re” and “More naina bhaven neer” (Lata Mangeshkar), “Pahle Chori Phir Seenajori” (Kumari Faiyaz) and “Tun bin Jeevan” (Manna Dey) set to hummable classical tunes by the much under-rated Madan Mohan.
The 130-minute absorbing narrative substantially benefitted from Jaywant Pathare’s cinematography, Das Dhaimade’s editing and Gopi Krishna’s choreography.
Produced under the banner of Rupam Chitra by N C Sippy, Romu Sippy and Hrishikesh Mukherjee, it won comedian Paintal his first Filmfare trophy, and ranked 8th on the box office hit chart of the year.
Director: Hrishikesh Mukherjee
Story: Tapan Sinha.
Cast: Rajesh Khanna, Jaya Bhaduri, Usha Kiran, Harindranath Chattopadhyay, A.K. Hangal, Durga Khote, Asrani, Paintal
Music director: Madan Mohan
Lyricist: Kaifi Azmi
Box office status: Eighth highest grossing film of the year “Seeta Aur Geeta”, “Pakeezah”, “Apna Desh”, “Raja Jani” and “Beimaan” were released
Lasting value: Devoid of violence, or obscenities the film focuses on spreading family values and morals
Trivia: The film has no title cards. Instead the titles and credits are narrated using a voiceover by Amitabh Bachchan. Paintal won the Filmfare Award for Best Comic Actor (1973)