Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s Chupke Chupke was the subtle antidote to the era of the ‘angry young man’; a balance that we have forgotten today
We live in a time where mainstream filmmakers assume that audiences aren’t smart enough to grasp what’s being implied, therefore we get an overdose of sound effects, multiple shots establishing who the hero is (like if we forget otherwise), and every beat of the story being hammered into our heads over and over. The movie space is more competitive than it’s ever been, but nuances have left the building. With films like KGF 2 and RRR being the new success benchmark, and suggestions that they brought back the 1970s Hindi film hero, now is probably a good time to really examine what the 1970s were like.
Of course, the 1970s were the era of ‘angry young man’ but it was also the time when every “larger than life” hero masala offering was balanced with subtle, almost relatable film. For every Deewar, there was a Chupke Chupke (both from 1975). The movie Hrishikesh Mukherjee is one of the director’s most popular films and thanks to his many satellites he has gained a loyal following. Looking back on the Hrishikesh Mukherjee classic, it’s obvious the director had a clear vision for the kind of situational comedy he was trying to create.
For the uninitiated, Chupke Chupke stars Dharmendra, Amitabh Bachchan, Sharmila Tagore, Jaya Bachchan, Asrani, David, and Om Prakash in prominent roles, and the film balances its ensemble cast so that each character has something to offer the main plot. The story, in brief, is about a newly married man, Parimal, who has to visit his wife’s sister and brother-in-law. Relatives could not come to the wedding, so this meeting is of the utmost importance. The brother-in-law is a pompous but adorable man, so Parimal decides to pull a prank. He lands at their house and disguises himself as the new driver Pyare Mohan, and the comedy of errors ensues.
Like many other comedies, the plot on paper is pretty much who knows what. The comedic bits kick in from the plot point – “Who knows he’s Parimal and who thinks he’s Pyare Mohan?”, but the way Hrishikesh Mukherjee explains it to his audience, he doesn’t there is no room for confusion, despite the large number of characters.
Amitabh Bachchan shared many interviews that Hrishi Da, as he was affectionately called, was a simple man. He would simply erect two walls, build no elaborate sets, and film even the most important scenes in the simplest way. Even the costumes or the look of its actors were not of primary importance. Bachchan once shared that actors sometimes find themselves in front of the camera wearing what they show up in because, to him, none of it mattered. And it is this kind of simplicity that is distinctly visible in Chupke Chupke.
The movie gets most of its laughs when onscreen characters pretend to be something they’re not, and the audience is already in on the joke. The scene where Amitabh’s Sukumar pretends to be Parimal and teaches Vasudha de Jaya botany is a classic as he mumbles trying to tell the difference between ‘gende ka phool’ and ‘gobhi ka phool’. Another hilarious bunch are the many scenes where Dharmendra’s Parimal, impersonating Pyare, asks questions about the etymology and pronunciation of English words.
With loud, slapstick comedy becoming the only kind of comedy we often see in mainstream movies, and even on TV, audiences are being spoon-fed how they should react. Hrishikesh Mukherjee stayed away from this trope, even though it was the time when ‘dhishooms’ fell in movies as if they were leaves in autumn.
Like most Hindi films of the time, Chupke Chupke also had a melodious musical album composed by SD Burman, with lyrics by Anand Bakshi. The songs may not have helped the story in any way, but their acting underscored the relationships the characters shared with each other.
Hrishikesh Mukherjee was one of the finest filmmakers of his generation and with comedies like Chupke Chupke, the director proved that simplicity is the most important ingredient in making a good comedy.
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