Within minutes of the announcement that Gulzar is to be the recipient of the Dadasaheb Phalke Award, his old friend, Debu Sen, was at his place for a few moments of quiet celebration. The accolades were deserved for Gulzar, as he has just completed 50 years in Hindi cinema. It was no ordinary moment for Debu too; he had seen Gulzar grow from his first day in the industry. And were it not for him, Gulzar probably would not have crafted a masterpiece called Angoor.
More than a decade before Angoor hit the silver screens across the country, Gulzar had penned a script obviously inspired from Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors. It was adapted for cinema by Debu Sen in the form of a film called Do Dooni Char. The film, made in 1968, sank without a trace at the box office. It left Debu crestfallen but the fire in Gulzar raged on. Even as he went from one to another, graduating from Mere Apne to the likes of Mausam, Aandhi and Khushboo, the unfulfilled promise of the script of Do Dooni Char stayed with him. It came to bail him out at the right time. His film, Kitaab had not done too well; the thought of making something completely removed from his usual style of filmmaking occupied his mind once again. However, no producer was ready to put his money on a failed script. A producer in fact wondered aloud that directors want to remake their successful films and this was the first time he saw anybody keen to remake a flop film! However, luck was with Gulzar, and a first-time producer Jai Singh, a lover of Shakespearean drama, stepped in. The script got a new lease of life, was given a new dash of paint. And thus came about Hindi cinema’s best tribute to the saga of mistaken identities.
Half of the film’s genius lay in its casting. Starring — one uses the word with a degree of inaccuracy — Sanjeev Kumar, as effortless an actor as one has seen in Hindi cinema, with Deven Verma, an under-rated actor with a gift for timing, Angoor had everything going for it. At the helm was Gulzar, a man who would tolerate no slack; also now a man possessed, keen to prove that the debacle of a couple of films was just that. Nothing more. Working under his baton were Moushumi Chatterjee, Deepti Naval and Aruna Irani. It was early days in the industry for Deepti while Moushumi and Aruna were never suspected to possess any unusual skills when it came to acting. All three delivered. And to think they were all supporting actors in a script about a pair of male twins! Yet Gulzar chalked out neat characters for all the three ladies with Moushumi surprising everyone with her voice modulation and near perfect timing.
The story, for the uninitiated, is about a pair of twins separated in childhood during a sea voyage. They grow up, go their own ways, meet. And from there begins the journey of fun with not just bystanders but even spouses mistaking one for the other! It gives rise to several crackling scenes, none more than the one involving Sanjeev Kumar and Moushumi! Here the wife tries to make amends for her early misbehaviour with her husband. Turns out, she chooses the wrong man to do so! Sanjeev conveys it all by rolling his eyes, Moushumi by modulating her voice mid-sentence.
Then there is a wonderful scene with Deven Verma where he talks of his marital status even as Sanjeev contests it, mistaking one Deven for another! Laced with such delicious ironies, Angoor comes across as a sweet, clean comedy; one where nobody has to slip over banana peels to make us laugh. Nor does the director even come close to raising ugly laughs with insensitive shots of people with special needs — our Hindi cinema has seldom shied away from raising cheap laughs at the expense of the section. Nor are there any filthy innuendoes. Angoor is just a nice, crisp film with a jest a minute. Some fun comes from the one-liners, a good portion from the unsaid words and well expressed emotion. Add to that really well chiselled performances from the cast, and you have a masterpiece.
Until Angoor came along, comedy was not a much respected genre in Hindi cinema. The film, along with Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron, changed the way we looked at the medium. Yet the brilliance of the film leaves you asking one question: Why didn’t Gulzar make another comedy? Indeed.
As for Debu, well, he would have loved Angoor too. Sweet, sour, always delectable.
Cast: Sanjeev Kumar, Deven Verma, Moushmi Chatterjee, Deepti Naval, Aruna Irani, Yunus Parvez, C.S. Dubey, T.P. Jain
Dialogue, screenplay and lyricist: Gulzar
Story: Based on Shakespeare's The Comedy of Errors
Music director: R.D. Burman
Box office status: Superhit
Trivia: Deven Verma won Filmfare Award for Best Comic Actor. Remake of Do Dooni Char starring Kishore Kumar and Asit Sen in double role. Gulzar wrote lyrics for the movie.