Tata Steel Kolkata Literary Meet
Jai Arjun Singh, Balaji Vittal and Sharmila Tagore

Balaji Vittal in conversation with Sharmila Tagore and Jai Arjun Singh about Hrishikesh Mukherjee at Tata Steel Kolkata Literary Meet

     On a cold winter morning, with the sun beating down on them, sat Sharmila Tagore and Jai Arjun Singh in conversation with Balaji Vittal. The topic of discussion was the Babumoshai in Bombay, in this case Hrishikesh Mukherjee and the time when Bengal defined Hindi cinema. Mr. Jai recently wrote a book titled “The World of Hrishikesh Mukherjee: The Filmmaker Everyone Loves” where he explores this well known and amazing director who made a total of 43 films during the span of his career. I never knew that some of my favorite films of yesteryear were made by him like Golmaal and Khubsoorat. Some cult films like Anand, Guddi, Namak Haram, Chupke Chupkke, etc are also his creations. He was a man who was a visionary and no one would ever refuse to work with him. A brilliant editor and a talented technician Hrishikesh Mukherjee was able to successfully combine elements of mainstream cinema and art cinema to deliver films which dealt with social causes especially gender relations.

Tata Steel Kolkata Literary Meet
Sharmila Tagore talks about her on-set experiences

     Among all his works one film kept coming up again and again throughout the discussion ie Satyakam. Based on a Bengali novel by Narayan Sanyal it is the story of an idealistic man who would always stand up for his principles. The twist comes in the end when he is lying sick in bed about to pass away leaving his wife and child behind that he decides to compromise on his principals for their sake. Ranjana, his wife, was molested by Satyapriya’s employer something which he didn’t prevent and in the end he married her out of a sense of guilt. Hrishikesh da apparently strayed from the original novel in the final crucial scene where he puts the emphasis on Ranjana showing her tearing up the documents thus preventing her husband from compromising till the very end. In the novel, Narayan Sanyal made the grandfather of Satyapriya take such a decisive action. When the author asked the director as to why he choose to do so he pointed out that why was Ranjana given such a short end of the stick in spite of being a strong woman character in the novel. The author has apparently admitted in a book that Hrishikesh da was correct with his treatment and it made more of a sense. This tidbit was shared by one of the members of the audience. It is a huge thing I feel when an author will admit such a thing and give such a credit to someone else.

     Sharmila Tagore who has worked with the director on a couple of films shared some of her on-set experiences. She remembers Hrishikesh da as being a fun person to work with who created a lot of energy on set and had the ability to draw out the best as well as unexpected from his actors. He was a very well known and respected person in the industry who was known to complete his films on time and within budget. She mentioned how as actors they were allowed to improvise but at the same time if he felt that they had strayed out of character too much he would always reel them in. She shared how the actors were afraid of him in a way coz he was a brilliant editor and if they were late on set then he would simply edit them out of the scene and in such a manner that their presence would not be required in the narration of that scene.

     Balaji Vittal asked Jai Arjun Singh about the influence Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s mentor Bimal Roy had on him and if he broke out of that mold. Mr. Jai replied that he never truly broke out of his mentor’s mold rather that influence became subtler over the years. He mentioned a movie called Mem Didi where he felt the director sort of really came onto his own. Intrigued by it I watched the movie last night. I remember films from the olden times as being very choppy when it came to scene transitions with a lot of unnecessary ones being thrown in which made no contribution to the narrative. But Mem Didi was so beautiful! Not only is the story very touching but it was beautifully executed sans the choppiness or redundancy. It has a very different feel to it and I’m sure in its time this treatment would have been quite unique.

Tata Steel Kolkata Literary Meet
Unveiling the book The World of Hrishikesh Mukherjee: The Filmmaker Everyone Loves

     The session ended with some more anecdotes and even contributions from the audience. Jai Arjun Singh in the presence of Sharmila Tagore and Balaji Vittal launched his book on Hrishikesh Mukherjee. Sharmilaji said that she was very happy to see such a book being made that talks about films and its makers since it was so important to document this for future generations especially students of the craft. As I walked out of the venue with my head filled with the conversation that took place I realized how little I knew of such a great man who had made some of my favorite films over the years. How happy and grateful I was to be introduced to him in such a manner and how important such books and discussions were to bring forth the great men and women who were responsible for creating the magic of cinema and not just the ones enacting them. Looking forward to purchasing the book and learning a bit more about this amazing director.

If you want to catch some of the other amazing speakers lined up for the event check out the schedule and details at www.kolkatalitmeet.in #tatasteelkalam #kollitmeet

Shikha Agarwal is part of the official blogging team for Tata Steel Kolkata Literary Meet