You don't have to be an avid watcher of Hindi films to have heard of Hrishikesh Mukherjee or Basu Chatterjee. In case you still haven't, let me tell you that without these two directors, the Hindi film industry would be as poor as a rich man with all the grandeur but without a soul.
I would, in fact, place them on a pedestal that would make them stand taller than Satyajit Ray. It is, of course, fashionable to worship Ray. Especially as a Bengali, if you are not found to be in awe of him, or Tagore for that matter, you are bound to be sneered at. No doubt Ray was a genius -- you only have to watch Nayak, Aranyer Din Ratri and Ghare Baire to get an idea about his mastery over the craft. These happen to be the only Ray movies that I would like to watch over and again. Let me add Seemabaddha and Pratidwandi to the list. On the other hand, I found Joi Baba Felunath foolish (I would any day settle for Johnny Mera Naam) and Agantuk to be replete with overacting.
Between these two extremes, Ray made numerous other films that I have always found depressing and never had the patience to watch -- not to mention the insufferable background scores. I have also always wondered why he never hired S.D. Burman or Salil Chowdhury to do the background score for him. I guess the whole idea was not to have big commercial names on board -- most award-winning films either don't have background music or have a score so boring that you instinctively know it is an award-winning film.
Now, if this makes me an intellectually-challenged Bengali, so be it. Ray's films have had nothing for me -- me, as in the average Indian (and not French) movie-watcher who once upon a time could afford a ticket and now has the money to buy a DVD. I wonder how many people living in the villages of Bengal have actually watched Pather Panchali (it would be a good idea to find out even now); am pretty sure the film, no matter how good, got immortalised due to people who had their breakfast in Flurys or sipped red wine in French cafes. Appreciation of Ray's films came to exemplify the art of inverted snobbery -- an art that continues to flourish in parts of Calcutta and of the world even today. If you happen to be spending the night at a Bong woman's place, and if, over drinks, you choose to watch Amar Akbar Anthony over any of her Ray collection, be warned that that could be your last night with her. Unless you are so good with the basic skills that she switches off the TV and throws away the remote.
Even when Ray was at the height of his creative genius, two fellow Bengalis happened to make friends with the audience. They were Hrishida and Basuda. They told the audience stories that they could instantly relate to, and in the process made them laugh as well as cry. In short, they touched hearts. End of the day, that's what matters.
Hrishikesh Mukherjee made Satyakaam, Chupke Chupke, Anupama, Anand, Abhimaan, Guddi, Gol Maal, Aashirwad, Baawarchi, Namak Haraam -- to name a few.
Basu Chatterjee made Piya Ka Ghar, Chhoti Si Baat, Rajnigandha, Khatta Meetha, Apne Paraye, Manpasand, Shaukeen -- to name a few.
These two men -- who gave their best in the 1970's and 80's -- successfully demonstrated that a Hindi film did not have to revolve around a superman-like hero chasing smugglers (who landed on a deserted Bombay beach under the cover of darkness) or baying for the blood of his parents' killers. The hero, they proved, could be you, or the man next door -- basically the middle-class Indian man, without superhuman powers, who could be working as a clerk in some private firm or the other.
Now, the question that arises in my mind is (actually the comparison to Ray was quite pointless here, but never mind): who is greater of the two, Hrishida or Basuda?
It's a tough question, but I have an answer ready: if there is ever a fire at my home, I would first save the DVDs of Basu Chatterjee's films. Why so? Wait for the next post -- if you still want to.