The fate of a terminally ill patient is known. But hope over-rides pessimism and negativity that weighs down sufferers of cancer. World cinema over the years has strung many poignant tales around protagonists afflicted with terminal illness, the heart-wrenching “Love Story”, starring Ryan O’Neal and Ali MacGraw, an all-time hit that left audiences the world over in tears in the early 70s. At home, “Anand”, so stirringly portrayed by Rajesh Khanna, gave the actor a cult status, as he taught his fans to enjoy life even when faced with premature end. “Safar” and “Ankhiyon Ke Jharokhon Se” belonged to same genre. So did “Mili”, a classic from Hrishikesh Mukherjee that brought the best out of each actor involved.

Jaya Bhaduri is very realistic as Mili, her mischievous smile so arresting. Amitabh Bachchan gives a memorable performance too. Ashok Kumar as Mili’s doting father is lovable. Aruna Irani and Usha Kiran, Shubha Khote and Suresh Chatwal shine despite small roles. Music by Sachin Dev Burman plays its part. So does, Hrishikesh Mukherjee, dealing with the story in a masterly manner. It would be unfair to pick one character for Mili is a collective success of natural talent in every department.

Amitabh, in the role of Shekhar, a young son devastated by the loss of mother, shot by his father, gives an exemplary performance even though Jaya is the one present in almost every frame. It is her movie as Mili, the effervescent, at times intrusive but simple girl in a Bombay housing society, the most popular soul in the nieghbourhood. Shekhar seeks peace and anonymity from his distressed past, drowning his evenings in star gazing. Sadly for him, the past keeps confronting him. As he moves to a new flat adjoining a terrace, Shekhar runs into this boisterous group led by Mili, a caring and affectionate didi to every kid in the building. She loves life and lives it with bubbling energy, quite reminiscent of Rajesh Khanna’s “Anand”, an epitome of exuberance. In a similarity, both Anand and Mili, waiting for the dreadful moment, plead “I want to live” when death draws closer.

Hrishikesh Mukherjee was an acknowledged maestro in his field. Comedy was an essential part of his subject but few could match his ability to handle tragedy as a matter-of-fact happening. There was well conceived component of comedy and melancholy, rich in narration, as projected by Mili, a character so adeptly portrayed by Jaya. The banter with her father and brother (Suresh Chatwal) is so natural and real, and delivered with rare spontaneity. There is a Mili in every sphere of our life, at various stages, and this Mili might well have given reasons for many to relive their days of youthful adventures, pulling off rip-roaring pranks at the slightest pretext and opportunity.

After a couple of altercations with the angry and stern Shekhar, the chirpy Mili and her gang come to strike friendship and a deal that allows the kids to use the terrace for music and dance rehearsal. “Maine Kaha Phoolon Se” strikes the chords of affection and Shekhar welcomes them with open arms, even inviting them to his flat and volunteering to indulge in story telling sessions. A recluse, he turns into an affable neighbour and allows Mili to probe his past. He soon develops a liking for her and their acquaintance blossoms into love. His “Badi Sooni Sooni Hai” life is transformed pleasantly into “Aaye Tum Yaad Mujhe”, two epic numbers by Kishore Kumar that capture the mood of the situation to brilliantly.

Unmindful to Shekhar, Mili is hurtling towards death. Bed-ridden, she exchanges letters with Shekhar and at one point makes her friend Runa (Aruna Irani) read them too; yes, love could be so chaste. Bouquets of optimism from Shekhar arrive daily but soon the flowers wither in a symbolic indication of Mili’s health. Doctors give up hope, Mili shrinks, weak in body but not heart, as she worries for Shekhar. On learning of her state, he decides to move, unable to accept the reality that she will soon be gone. When Runa admonishes him on his selfish designs, Shekhar makes a decision that brings great joy to Mili, now living on borrowed time. Shekhar marries Mili, vows to get her the best treatment abroad and they leave on a honeymoon of hope, giving us no clue of what lay in future. Mili, however, lives in our daily life, there are many like her, teaching people to live life as one ought to; hope and joy triumphing over despair. This film effectively gives the message.

VIJAY LOKAPALLY

Genre: Social drama

Director: Hrishikesh Mukherjee

Cast: Ashok Kumar, Amitabh Bachchan, Jaya Bhaduri, Usha Kiran, Shubha Khote, Aruna Irani, Suresh Chatwal, Asrani.

Story and screenplay: Bimal Dutta

Dialogue: Rahi Masoom Raza

Music director: S.D. Burman

Lyricist: Yogesh

Box office status: Average

Trivia: Amitabh Bachchan won the BFJA Award for Best Actor and Jaya Bhaduri was nominated for the Filmfare Award for Best Actress.