Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Hrishikesh Mukherjee - Part 1- Satyakam

This was a real long break, I am sorry, I was away attending to some work.

 Bimal Roy was my father’s favourite director, he revered him, however, besides Roy, there were some other directors with whom my father enjoyed working and Hrishikesh Mukherjee topped that list.

Those days Mukherjee was acknowledged as the industry’s  best editor. He used his editorial skills to great effect while directing his films. My father used to say, “Hrishida edits the film in his mind while directing a film”. He was at ease both with comedy and serious films. While I surreptitiously wiped my tears after watching Aashirwaad, Satyakam and Anand, I found myself in splits while watching Chupke Chupke. Usually when I see the Hindi remakes of Bengali originals, I usually prefer the originals, but as far as Chupke Chupke was concerned I loved Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s version, the Bengali version was absolutely tame in comparison.

Despite being an ace technician he did not resort to any gimmickry to draw attention to his ability, he indicated his brilliance through his precise editing, unobtrusive camera placement and beautiful shot compositions. His focus was the film’s story, therefore the audience was able to identify with the characters and participate in their joys and sorrows. I had the opportunity of interviewing Hrishikesh Mukherjee for the

Screen August 14, 1992
film weekly 'Screen', he told me, “Like Bimalda I do not much care for the very obvious movements of the camera. I learnt to place the camera unobtrusively from Bimalda, as well as by watching Chaplin’s films. If you keenly watch Chaplin’s films, you will notice that the camera is always placed unobtrusively.”

I could do several posts just focusing on Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s films but as I have restricted myself to my father’s films, I will just talk about Satyakam and Anupama. Incidentally, when I asked him, with which film was he most satisfied, he unhesitatingly replied, “Satyakam”. It is only right therefore, that I begin with Satyakam.

I thought I would do just a single post on Mukherjee, but on going through my interview with him, I realized that would be difficult since I had plenty to share with all of you.

 Coming back to Satyakam, I have seen several films based on novels, some have been good adaptations, while others have been a huge disappointment. It is apparent while watching these films that, either the director did not understand what the novelist wanted to convey or he perhaps thought that he knew better and sought to “improve” upon the novelist’s work. Hrishikesh Mukherjee was different, he did make changes, after all you have to when adapting a novel for the celluloid, but he stayed true to the novelist’s vision.  Satyakam was one such film. I have once again taken advantage of Tube Chop and chopped off some clips from You Tube, I feel there is no better way to illustrate one's post on a film, than by posting clips.If you are wondering why I have mentioned the duration of the scenes, well that is just to assure you that I haven't embedded the whole film.

Satyakam was an acclaimed Bengali novel written by Narayan Sanyal. The film opens with Narendra

(Sanjeev Kumar) penning the story of his friend Satyapriya’s (Dharmendra) life. Long, long ago there was a

young man who went in search of God, when he neared the Himalayas he learnt the best way to reach God is to seek the truth and spread the message of truth. This young man Satyanarayan Acharya, in order to fulfill this mission, married and settled down in a village and started a Gurukul. All his descendants’ names had the prefix Satya (truth) because they all lived for the truth and nobody could ever accuse them of lying.

Satyapriya who was studying engineering with Narendra belonged to this family. Satyapriya’s mother passed away soon after he was born and his father became an ascetic. It was left to his grandfather Satyasharan

Acharya (Ashok Kumar) to bring him up.

The story begins in the year 1946 just before India’s independence. Satyapriya, Narendra and their group of friends are about to finish their education and are hopeful of the future. The country’s independence fills them with joy; they are sure that corruption, hunger, unemployment will now come to an end.

After passing out, the friends go their separate ways, Narendra lands a lucrative job and Satypriya ends up

 getting a job at a paper mill. The mill is owned by a petty Prince (Manmohan) - a debauched person - lusting after women. Soon Satyapriya realizes that there is something  amiss when his assistant Anant Chatterjee

 (Robi Ghosh) informs him that he has been working in this organization for the past two months whiling away his time writing poetry. Soon however, Satypriya is ordered to go to the Prince’s estate Bhawanigarh,

to do a land survey. It is here that he meets Ranjana (Sharmila Tagore). It does not take him long to realize
that her foster parent Rustomji (David) is pushing her into the arms of the Prince, thereby trying to ensure a life of luxury for her.

When Satyapriya asks Rustomji why does he not arrange her marriage, he learns that her mother who belonged to a good family had run off with her father’s driver. Ranjana does not know who her father is, obviously finding her a respectable groom was not going to be easy. Desperate to get away from the clutches of the Prince, she seeks protection from Satypriya, who despite his obvious attraction for her hesitates;

consequently Ranjana becomes a victim of the Prince’s lust. Consumed with guilt, Satypriya decides to marry Ranjana, eight months after his marriage he takes his wife and baby boy to meet his grandfather.

 The grandfather is shocked to learn that Satyapriya has married a woman who has no clue about the identity of her father, and the child is not his grandson’s biological child. He refuses to have anything to do with Satapriya.

There is a vast difference in the career graph of the two friends, while Narendra moves up the ladder, Satypriya, who is unwilling to compromise on his principles, keeps changing jobs and consequently does not make much progress in life.  Years later Narendra finds himself in the position of Satyapriya’s boss. It does not take him long to see how unpopular his friend is, thanks to his fight against corruption. There is this particular scene (watch the clip below) in the film where one man refers to Satyapriya as a very bad man for he does not accept bribes.

Scene Duration 40 seconds

 When Satyapriya refuses to pass the contractor Mr Laadia's (my father) bills, Narendra tries to get him to

 compromise on his principles and pass the bills, Satypriya refuses to do so, as a result the two friends have a heated argument.

 Once again the friends are separated. After some passage of time, Narendra learns that his friend is on his death bed.

The story by Narayan Sanyal is moving with a heartwarming end. The performances by all the actors are brilliant, the dialogues which are more less translations from the novel, tug at your heartstrings. While watching the film, you see that Hrishikesh Mukherjee has stayed true to the story. During the course of the interview, he told me, “Personally I feel that my primary job as a director is to tell a story. The novelist uses the ink in his pen (this interview was taken when computers were not as ubiquitous as they are now) to write a story, while I use a camera. The emphasis should be on the manner in which the story is told rather than on the colour of the ink. When I plan a visual, images automatically surrender to me. It was Bimalda who told me ‘Think intensely and the visual images and sounds will automatically surrender to you.’ And this is how I go about planning and composing my shots.

There are several things that catch your attention, for instance the film is definitely not a tear jerker all

through there are light moments featuring Asrani and Bengal’s legendary comedian Robi Ghosh – like Bimal Roy, Hrishikesh Mukherjee did not portray comedians as buffoons in his films. What I particularly liked was he

 very intelligently worked around Robi Ghosh’s inability to speak Hindi, by establishing him as a Bengali who is not too comfortable speaking Hindi. After doing so, he refrained from converting the character into a caricature as is usually done with the countless South Indian and Bengali characters that you see in our Hindi films. When a non-Bengali or non-South Indian tries to imitate a Bengali or South Indian accent, he/ she seldom gets it right, in fact it is downright offensive. In this case, as both Robi Ghosh and Hrishikesh Mukherjee are Bengalis the comic scenes were just perfect. There is, for instance, this scene where Chatterjee (Robi Ghosh) tells Satyapriya that he would like to have a sumptuous meal or as we say in Hindi pet bharke khana. There is a similar phrase in Bengali, but there is also another phrase  ek pet khawa which literally translated would mean to have one stomach of food, so you have Chatterjee who doesn’t know Hindi saying, main ek pet ka nahin do pet ka khana khaunga. Thereafter he says, main daant majhke aata hoon, what he wants to say is main daant ghiske aata hoon. He uses the Bengali phrase, these dialogues made the scene very enjoyable. You can have a look at the scene below I have tube chopped this 13 seconds scene.

There are few songs in the film, just three of them, beautiful songs and very well picturised. Mukherjee’s editing skills come to the fore particularly in the song  zindagi hai kya, there is this shot of one of the students clinking  the cup and saucer, these shots are not in your face, may even go unnoticed, but make the

 song that much more enjoyable.

How can I go on to the trivia section without discussing my father, so here is a bit about my father’s role. He plays the role of Mr. Laadia, a corrupt man who pretends to be the epitome of human goodness. Though my father’s role was short, it was a very important role. It was a very well etched role. In the book there were several corrupt characters and Mr Laadia was one of them. His presence in the novel was brief. In the film Mr Laadia’s character was created after combining all these characters. The role was so well-written and presented that you feel that is how the author intended it.

 You can have a glimpse of his sweet talking badmaashi in this scene below.

Scene Duration 3 mins 19 secs

It was a quirk of fate that brought Hrishikesh Mukherjee to films in the year 1945. He was a B.Sc with Chemistry honours and used to teach at a girls school. His maternal grandfather objected to him teaching at a girls school and he therefore had to give up his teaching job. He soon found himself a job at the film processing laboratory of New Theatres.
Subodh Roy who was an assistant editor at New Theatres, was a friend of Mukherjee. He requested Mukherjee to help out in his spare time. Mukerjee informed me, “Those days editing was done directly on the negative, so only a person knowledgeable in these matters could do this work. This is how I got into the field of editing. Subodh Roy was my guru as far as editing was concerned.”.
It was Bimal Roy who gave Mukherjee his first break as an editor for the Bengali film Tathapi.  After this he edited several films at New Theatres. Being academically inclined, Mukherjee was keen on acquiring a masters degree. He therefore quit New Theatres to continue with his studies, however fate once again intervened. He happened to meet Bimal Roy on the streets of Calcutta; Roy was then planning to go to Bombay and he invited Mukherjee to join him. That was it, his fate was sealed, he never had to look back after that.
How can I end my trivia section without a bit of trivial information about my father. I was almost a child when I lost my father, so it is not surprising that as the years flew by, my memory began to fade. However, sometimes his films trigger some of my fading memory. For instance while watching Satyakam, I noticed my

 father  offering a cigarette to Sanjeev Kumar with a movement of his head. I suddenly realized while watching the scene that he wasn’t really acting, he had the habit of doing that in real life too. See the clip below.

Scene Duration 40 seconds

I will continue with Hrishikesh Mukherjee in my next post and this time the focus will be Anupama.


  1. Shilpi, Daer aaye durust aaye! :) And you were working at Screen in '92? Heck, we were almost neighbours! I was at The Sunday Observer at the same time. :) Talk about coincidences!

    Satyakam is a favourite film of mine. Do you know that Hrishikesh Mukherjee once said that he stopped making serious films after the box-office failure of Satyakam? Dharmendra was also very disappointed. It was his first home production. :( Perhaps, if this film had been a hit, then we might have seen a different Dharmendra on screen.

    Thank you for such a detailed post about the background of the film. As usual, your little anecdotes make the post all the better. :)

    1. Actually Anu, I used to freelance, I never worked for any publication and btw I also freelanced for the Weekend Observer, wonder whether you were there at that time, quite likely you were.
      Yes the box-office failure of Satyakam was huge disappointment for Dharmendra and Hrishikesh Mukherjee and I guess for my father as well. Well people just could not relate to the story.

    2. That's really interesting, Shilpi. I used to work for the Weekend Observer. I'm surprised we never ran into each other! What a small, small world this is turning out to be.
      Well people just could not relate to the story.

      Perhaps what Sanjeev Kumar says in the film is what most people feel - what use an honesty that will not put food in the family's mouth... :(

    3. Yes it is a small world Anu.
      You see Anu in my life also I have seen that honesty is not the best policy, if you are honest and straight forward and do not believe in beating around the bush people just do not like you, I guess that is why the writer had Satyapriya say in anger "Honesty is not the best policy".

  2. Echoing what Anu writes: Yes, I remember reading too, in an interview with Dharmendra, that after he didn't get any awards for his performances in Satyakam and Anupama, he simply gave up putting much effort into his acting.

    I loved this post, Shilpi. It's been many, many years since I watched Satyakam (and, I must admit, I steer clear of it, because it is painfully real for me in some ways, since my mother had to suffer a lot because of my father's uncompromising attitude towards corruption! She was proud of him, as we were, of course, but had to bear the consequences of that too). Your review and the trivia make me finally want to rewatch the film. :-)

    1. Yes Madhu I remember him saying that at the Filmfare Awards function when he was given the Life Time Achievement trophy.
      You and your mother had every reason to be proud of such a father. My father played the crook and corrupt man in countless films but in real life he was just too honest and quite a simpleton. Not surprising therefore he was quite popular in the industry.

    2. Your father sounds like such a wonderful person, Shilpi (and no, it's not just through your blog! - I remember thinking "What a nice person he must be" when I first saw him in that 'feeding-Sujata-the-halwa' scene from Sujata). I wish I could have met him now. :-(

    3. Oh you would have loved him, he was very affectionate, full of fatherly affection, children just loved him.

  3. Shilpiji, Dharmendra, Hrishikesh Mukherjee, Satyakam - all my favourites are featuring in this post, so how can I not like this post? I remember Dharmendra mentioning in an interview that this movie was his home production and he had to mortgage his bungalow. I believe it flopped (yes! hard to believe) and he underwent many hardships. No wonder he had a long list of movies released the next year in 1970, so he must have signed that many to make up for the loss.

    1. Yes it was a quite blow for him, he had given his heart, soul and of course money to this film but it all backfired.

  4. Just discovered your blog. This is like hitting a gold mine.

    I became a huge fan of Mr Bose after I watched Anupama, I also liked him in Gumnaam and Sujata.

    I'm about to start reading rest of your blog posts and then look online for Satyakam's DVD to order. Thank you so much for your posts (I'm eagerly waiting for one on Anupama).

    1. Welcome to my blog Rohit, thank you very much for your kind comments. Many people have told me that they are eagerly waiting for my post on Anupama, my request to you and everyone is that you will have to wait a bit for it as personal matters keep me busy and I am not able to take out time for the post. I hope that when I do publish my post you enjoy it as much you did this one.

  5. Oh, that was such an enjoyable read, Shilpi. You've told so much and described so much in a really simple, flowing manner in your writing.

    Unfortunately I can't read the interview. Too small. Even when I enlarge it doesn't go beyound a certain size. I'll see if I can do something there.

    Satyakam is a beautiful film, and goes very well with the present scenario of corruption finally being spoken against and loudly.

    That movement of your father's head when offering a cigarette is such an endearing one, Shilpi. I was touched that you could see your father there as he was.

    Thanks once again for this excellent article. Waiting for the next one of course :-)

    1. Thanks Reeba, as for the article, hold on a bit I plan to add a pdf file of the article in my next post, so you should not have a problem. if you do have a problem even then, I can send you the pdf file via email.
      Thanks once again for the compliments

  6. Oh that will be great, Shilpi, thanks. I'm quite eager to read it. :-)

    1. Hope you enjoy it, only problem it is sure takes me a long time to get my posts ready.