Monday, May 23, 2011

Hrishikesh Mukherjee or Basu Chatterjee? A Midnight Analysis

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.


Ardra said...

Now that you've dared to utter Blasphemy, let me venture to say that I too have found "The Trilogy" immensely depressing. I remember the look of abject sympathy on the face of a couple of cousins of mine, when I dared to whisper that I completely missed the point.

I loved the movies made by Hrishikesh Mukherjee, Basu Chatterjee without knowing who made them. As a kid, I never noticed.
Now, from the lists that you've mentioned, I realise that I've liked Hrishida's movies more than those of Basuda's, not sure of the reasons.
However looking forward to your next post.

Sepiamniac said...

aah tough question!!!!! I would pick Hrishikesh Mukherjee.

His films outlined the path between mainstream cinema and art films.

However, I feel that sometimes critics unjustifiably compartmentalize him as a comedy filmmaker. Anupama and Satyakaam were brilliant, according to me!

Sticking to the point, comedy films don’t get the status they deserve, at least in India, though many agree it is not an easy task to make the audience laugh. Maybe that is why Mukherjee’s films are not counted among the best movies. However, his films’ repeat value cannot be questioned.

Golmaal, which gave both Amol Palekar and Utpal Dutt a role of their lifetime, is still the best comedy film ever made in Hindi-cinema.

I have lost track of the number of times I watched Golmaal or Chupke Chupke..!!!

And, remember this comes from a Ray fan!!! I adore both the filmmakers and Chatterjeee, too:)))

Thanks for writing this post, btw :)

Anonymous said...

Groom an audience for masala flicks, make them intellectually challenged and then play a pather panchali for them. Empty stands. The villagers dont have to watch the movie, they live that life. All the directors mentioned are celebrated for valuable contributions to global cinema,audience and commercial success. Unfair comparisons. There are many more dues to be paid,if "contributions"to the indian cinema is the discussion. Pedestsl status needs to be expanded to a podium. Until you take of your horse blinds and view it 360 degrees, you shall remain intellectually challenged. Skills, hmmm, ray is a much better pass time.

Sepiamniac said...

anonymous@10:14 am: Mukherjee and Chatterjee did not make masala flicks.

Anonymous said...

Hrishikesh Mukherjee any day over Basu Da.
Inverted snobberry; we excel in that. Bong or no Bong, though you can't beat a pure bred Bengali in this game. This is the reason, we never appreciate, at least openly, the art of a Manmohan Desai or a Govinda, who is arguably one of the best actors instead we prefer the suave Aamir Khan and even would say our favourite actor is Kamal Haasan, though we may not have seen a single film of his.
BTW, i really find some Ray films entertaining.
I think your Kanpuria roots have got better of you to write this almost blashphemous (for atleast those wine sipping intellectuals) article.
A free advice: I am an outsider just like you, belonging to one linguistic group but born and brought up in another state. Keep up this outsider voice of yours.This gives you a certain advantage. Don't ever let this ethnicity play with your writing.

Anonymous said...

"Hrishikesh Mukherjee or Basu Chatterjee? A Midnight Analysis"
And half the post was about Ray! Really a midnight analysis!!

Neha said...

For me, it will be both. Haven't watched Ray's no comments :)

Anonymous said...

@janani: no they did not make masala flicks but am talking about what sect of audience you present work to. I meant all three mentioned made classic films that have their own individuality or appeal. It's like comparing the dimensional variance in a 3 D image. Not done. No one needs to decide who is better or the best. They are best celebrated and immortalised. Cheers. This BG da needs to move to kolkatta soon and stop crying over bonghood in chennai.

janani sampath said...

@anonymous3:37 PM: I get your point...

nonetheless, I shud also tell you BG would be the last person to be propagating the awesomeness of Bonghood. I guess he was just taking a stand and he is entitled to do so. Just like how I have the right to claim Rafi is the best singer(jst an eg), or as you have the right to say Ray is the best.
It is an interesting topic; I know many(non-bengalis) who voice the same opinion.



Anonymous said...

Janani: I did not say ray is the best but each one stands out for their respective contributions. Just that our popular blogger is lack lustre these days. Wonder why. He can churn out much better posts instead of constantly celebrating bonghood in almost every post. Ten years in chennai should make him leave the cloak behind and enjoy the present. Enough of kolkatta, mistresses,bong music,bong movies. He is such a good blogger but is weighed down.

Abhishek Mukherjee said...

"... not to mention the insufferable background scores."
" 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."

The music, especially the songs from most Ray films are strangely popular with the today's Bengal. This is strange, given the score was so boring.

"wonder how many people living in the villages of Bengal have actually watched Pather Panchali."
Wonder how many lymphosarcoma of the intestine patients have watched Anand. Or how many residents in villages without electricity (but with a water tank) have watched Sholay. Or how many smugglers have watched Deewaar. Or how many untouchables have watched Sujata. Or how many clowns have watched Mera Naam Joker. And so on.

I should've been livid. I'm simply amused instead. I simply cannot see the reason of dragging the greatest movie personality we have ever produced to compare a quality (Hrishikesh) and a good (Basu) director.

I suppose this is blasphemy for the sake of it.

"It is, of course, fashionable to worship Ray."
Nah. It's compulsion to do so. My intellect, however limited, has never permitted me to think otherwise. It seems rather fashionable, though, to try to demean him, and make his devotees have a laugh.

Anonymous said...

Oh boy! I Think I am in love with Abhishek!
You rock darling. Absolutely over the moon with language and comment.

Abhishek Mukherjee said...

Thanks, Anonymous, it's always nice to know that I have company. Bishwanath, I've been following The Ganga Mail for some time now, and am an ardent fan. But this? THIS? Why? :(

Anonymous said...

kolkatta closes its door on you.
you somehow hang on to her window and strum the tanpura to please her.
but the lady has DECIDED.
her charms will slake only her lord.

Anonymous said...

Ha ha ha such a cute comment. Bishy would strum a guitar better I think. He is such a rossogulla caught between the past (kolkatta) and current mistresses(chennai). Actually pardon me,the past is wife. Anyways I have hope in his writing. Seduce us again with your brilliant stuff. We love you.

Anonymous said...

And my question is: Instead of defending your writing yourself, why do you let Ms Janani Sampath speak for you. I guess you can speak much better for yourself and your bonghood.

Anonymous said...

Hey. . .Lets leave names out of this alright? Yes, BG has been pulled up and ridiculed for the post and ofcourse he made his point and so did I and so did abhishek. But that's that. No one needs to defend anything here. Each blogger to his own. Peace folks. Lets not leave a mess out here. Next post am sure will be interesting. Something from life in THIS metro. Cheers Editor!

Sepiamniac said...

anonymous @7:39 Pm: Thanks a tonne, fellow commentator. Sad that some don't share that maturity you have, as a reader, to accept others views and have a healthy discussion. But, nothing would stop them from airing their views and censure others and their posts, not to forget comments, as if their reasoning is unassailable.
I think it is better to leave them alone and let them bask under their self-righteousnesses and omniscience.
And, yes like you said to each his own.


Desi Babu said...

Peace. Please.


Abhishek Mukherjee said...

Exactly my point. Not liking Ray is his personal choice. I didn't like this specific choice of his, and tried to put up an argument as logical as possible.

But direct attacks are really uncalled-for. We are here to read The Ganga Mail, and we might not like a particular post or opinion. As a form of expressing our opinion, we can always comment, as logically as possible, without getting personal.

Let us keep this discussion clean. Please.

Paresh Palicha said...

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?

I think it was just your subconscious writerly instinct that made you do this. Otherwise, there is no point comparing Ray with the two other Bong stalwarts. You just wished to catch a few more eyeballs & have a comment-war of sorts here. You've succeeded in both (I won't be surprised if even after five years people continue commenting on this post and the count will be in thousands because anybody searching for Ray, Hrishida or Basuda on the Net will eventually land here). So, congrats! :P

I'd bookmarked this post expecting it to be longer & a time consuming read. So, the delay in posting a comment.

Prateek said...

Hi, this is off topic. Are you seeding Pancham Unmixed. Since you are a big fan. I guessed who else can be from Chennai. :)

Anonymous said...

hey Bishi,

vote for this contest blogger if you liked the post.
i could not for i had to sign in then:-(

Anonymous said...

write write.

i read ur blog with my coffee daily.
bishi are you listening??

bishi bishi...

Anonymous said...

Hope you are alive and kicking editor!

Anonymous said...

It's (the denigration of Ray and Tagore, or maybe 'denigration' is too hard a word, but you get the point) like saying you don't get what is 'so good' about a 12-year aged single malt whiskey or not liking caviar or missing the whole point of a Picasso painting (I get the first 2, not the latter). To appreciate art (or any other form) of the highest order, one has to cross a certain threshold in that particular field. To not cross that threshold and make claims of 'not liking' the epitome of excellence (in respective fields) belittles your stature as a writer/blogger.

I don't understand most of Picasso's artwork, but I take the word of others (more informed than I am) that it is really good art. My opinion here counts for nothing. It probably makes me stand out as the 'idiot'. When someone tells me that Officer's Choice is as good as Chivas Regal, similarly, his/her opinion counts for zilch.

~ Krishanu

Anonymous said...

everything else is debatable but " inverted snobbery"! I think you just coined a classic term! It can't be bettered.

Unknown said...

Indian Cinema has evolved completely by Bonghood. No Doubt Ray Saab has been the father figure for Indian cinema as his creative art gave us an International platform and made India stand out solely in European dominated market. As Cinema is always divided between two streams making one as for art lovers and other completely as for mass lovers as entertaining cinema.
Now if we compare between Hrishi da and Basu Sir the only thing Hrishi da scores over an extra emotional space which he covers very sincerely within the serious situation and made lakhs of us Indian smiles while having tears in our eyes. This was the beauty and elegance of his cinema. With all due respect to Basu Sir, he has his favorite style of making an ordinary class as his mainstream hero which gave an close impact for masses to relate with the theme and flow in it. Seriously it is very difficult to compare two but all it is a very minute difference. And yes, today we all are missing that cinema for that comman class for that hero who comes out form an ordinary middle class.
Great writeup Bishwanath and Abhishek from your side. And for people who make any forum for discussion as a political and divided India platform. Kindly don't make it so as it takes just one step to divide us on basis of caste, state, language anything that sort but as a heart we all are one Indians.
Cinema has always made us feel proud Indian. Let's celebrate cinema and salute the leaders who made those beautiful movies for us.