Anand 1971

counter point Amitabh Bachchan as the taciturn Dr Bhaskar was a perfect foil to Rajesh Khanna’s optimist in Anand  

Rajesh Khanna, Amitabh Bachchan, Johnny Walker, Durga Khote

In the field of art and expression, film-making is perhaps the most team-oriented medium – the outcome rests on the collective effort of a group of individuals representing diverse fields. ‘Stand alone brilliance’ can add sparkle to a movie, but can never take it to zones where excellence ends and perfection starts. As in sports, so in cinema, it is the leadership provided by the director – undoubtedly the captain of the team, whose vision plays in darkened cinema halls that inspires actors to rise above the mediocre.

Hrishikesh Mukherjee or Hrishi Da as he was fondly known in the film fraternity was such a leader, a captain par excellence. He had the rare knack to knit often temperamental actors, technicians (he had a firm grip owing to his training as a technician in a film laboratory and then as an editor with Bimal Roy) and others into a team, and extract sterling performances from them. His enviable oeuvre includes sensitive, middle-of-the-road films like “Mili”, “Bawarchi”, “Chupke Chupke”, “Abhimaan” and “Khoobsoorat” which catered to family audiences with their low key study of human relationships, generous dose of intelligent comedy and soulful music.

However, Hrishida’s brand of films got an icon, the 1971 release, “Anand” – centred around a patient of terminal illness, Anand, literally meaning joy, who, despite knowing that his end was approaching, refused to wallow in self pity.

Movies on similar subjects had been made even before “Anand” came along and indeed since. But most fall prey to over-the-top emotional hyperbole with the main plot getting sidelined. It required a director of Hrishida’s calibre and finesse to tackle such a complex subject with sensitivity and panache.

The mainstay of “Anand” was the script, in which all characters, no matter how miniscule the screen time allotted to them, became central, and remain etched in memory till date. The screenplay – by a dream team comprising Gulzar (who also wrote dialogues and lyrics of a few songs), Bimal Dutt, D.N. Mukherjee besides Hrishida gave “Anand” a solid foundation.

Mega superstar of the day, Rajesh Khanna (with his stylised mannerisms), at the zenith of his prowess as an actor and star, breathed life into Anand – the large-hearted Dilliwallah, zestful, endearing, die hard, often pensive optimist, who wants to embrace death on his own terms. But the film had a revelation – a till then, not so successful, lanky and skinny Amitabh Bachchan. As the brooding, taciturn Doctor Bhaskar, fondly called ‘Babu Moshai’ by his patient Anand, who in course of time becomes more than a friend – was outstanding. His deep baritone and smouldering eyes, in a role underplayed to the hilt, gave a peek into his abundant talent, besides winning him the Filmfare Best Supporting Actor award.

Some consummate ‘character artistes’ under Hrishida’s magical baton also added substantial weight to the storyline, with powerhouse performances. Johnny Walker as theatre actor Isa Bhai, and Lalita Pawar, as the doting but strict nurse, stand out for their virtuoso performances, as do Ramesh Deo, Seema Deo and Durga Khote. Skillfully weaved into the script, the ensemble is a lesson for many filmmakers, who assemble large casts and then do not know what to do with them.

The editing is taut, with the narrative moving at a steady pace towards the finale, which, although predictable, was handled with amazing sensitivity by the director; it can form an entire chapter in film school curriculum across the globe. The end – a tearful and inconsolable Bhaskar at Anand’s deathbed, draws solace from Anand’s message recorded earlier which plays in the background – it could not have been handled better.

Music by the redoubtable Salil Choudhary infused soul into the movie. Each of the four tracks, skilfully shot by cameraman Jaywant Pathare, took the story forward. The experiment of not using Kishore Kumar for Rajesh Khanna’s songs paid rich dividend – the irresistible freshness of Manna Dey’s voice in “Zindagi kaisi hai paheli” with Khanna walking barefoot on a beach, against rushing sea waves, releasing balloons into the sky, symbolising the soaring human spirit is pure magic. Other songs include the melancholy laced “Kahin door jab din dhal jaye” and “Maine tere liye hi saat rang ke sapne” by Mukesh and “Jiya lage na” by Lata Mangeshkar.

It was inevitable that such a classic should reap a windfall at Filmfare awards function for that year. Besides Khanna, who bagged the Best Actor Filmfare award, it also won the Best Picture and Best Story (Hrishida) Filmfare awards, as well as the National Award for Best Hindi Film.