“Corolla kadva hota hain aur liver ke liye accha hota hain”
“Gobi ka phool, phool hokar bhi phool nahi hain, Gobi hain! Jhinga Macchi, macchi hokar bhi macchi nahi hain, jhinga hain! Waise hi gende ka phool ….”
To a whole bunch of people, the above lines will mean nothing. Throughout my thirty years , hearing these words emanating from a TV have meant me dropping whatever it is I am doing, plonking myself down in front of the Idiot Box and not changing channels until Chupke Chupke ends.
Chupke Chupke by itself is a case study in longevity. It is one of the few movies that has retained its appeal and charm and aged well. For multiple generations of film-goers and film lovers, it occupies a position of privilege in a set of ‘comfort comedies’ – films that one can watch over and over and that do not seem stale with repeated viewing like Golmaal (the original, and the only one that matters) and Choti Si Baat, to name a few.
Unlike the two last named films however, it didn’t exactly set the box-office on fire when it released and that is precisely what has driven me to obsessively peel away at the onion that is Chupke Chupke. It is, to mangle what Churchill said, a fairly straightforward film that is however wrapped up in a tangle of contradictions and subtle nuances that aren’t immediately apparent. And perhaps the biggest contradiction in all of this is that it is the most prototypical ‘Hrishikesh Mukherjee comedy’ and yet significantly different from the rest of his oeuvre.
Yes, there have been comedies before this – Bawarchi for example. Guddi and Anand had their light hearted moments for example. But these were a bit Aesop fable-ish in that the comedic elements were often overshadowed by some deeper moral at the end of it. Strangely, neither is the film an absolute inflection point – there were serious films after this one too, Alaap being the most notable example. Most of these, sadly never did connect with the public or set cash registers ringing, not the way comedies like Khoobsurat, Rang Birangi and Golmaal did.
And that is Chupke Chupke’s biggest and not so glaringly obvious contribution. It is in multiple ways the spiritual predecessor to almost every Hrishi da comedy post 1975. In the shuddh hindi bhasha, chhand and vyakaran of Pyare Mohan/Parimal Tripathi, is the genesis of Amol Palekar’s kurta clad Ram Prasad Sharma from Golmaal. In the many instances of mistaken identity and cross connections that drive the plot of Chupke Chupke are hidden the core elements of the plots of Golmaal and Rang Birangi. The atypical un-starry performances by Dharmendra and Amitabh – arguably the two biggest stars of the age are mirrored by Shatrughan Sinha’s “Aye Sala ghonchu” act as Babua from Naram Garam. The harmless deceptions and lies of omission that are the heart and soul of this film are easily transplanted to those of Kisi Se na Kehna and Naram Garam. And lastly in Keshto’s poetic – “Aaj bagh mein khilenga ek gulab, pila de pila de pila de saaki ek gilas julab” shayari lie the roots of Rekha’s kaafiya in Khoobsurat.
In many ways Chupke Chupke is the apt example of the ‘comedy whodunit’ template that Hrishi da perfected. Let me explain. Every Hrishi da comedy is essentially a comedy of errors. Where a series of misunderstandings become a series of well-connected incidents – that are real and humorous. Some of them are fairly predictable and make no bones about the fact that you know what is coming next, in very broad terms. Thus affording you the unbelievable paradox of knowing when what will happen. Unlike the conventional whodunit though, the suspense isn’t when or who, but how. A close parallel I can think of is watching the guys who make sand art in bottles – you watch the guy do his thing, you think you understand how it works and yet you cannot quite fathom how the thing took the shape it did. That is a typical Hrishi da film.
Like most other Hrishi da films Chupke Chupke boasts a stellar cast, where the so called ‘bit part players’ seem to shine more than the actual stars of the film. Om Prakash, Asrani, David, Usha Kiran and above all my personal favourite Keshto (hic)! In the years to come to this mix would be added the likes of Deven Verma and Utpal Dutt. Jaya Bachchan’s quiet and demure characters that were a staple of the early Hrishi da films would pass their baton to a suitably bit more modernized Deepti Naval and as a mild counterpoint to the prevailing violent heroes of the time would emerge Amol Palekar and Farooque Shaikh.
But Chupke Chupke also has a unique casting coup – in that coaxes out of two known superstars the performances of their lives. Unlike a lot of their later films, the parts seem tailor-made and almost to be written for these two. To the extent that it now seems unthinkable for anyone else to be playing them. Both actors in their time on screen in Chupke Chupke are clearly enjoying themselves to the hilt, a feature that is glaringly absent from most of their later works. Similarly, both Sharmila Tagore and Jaya Bachchan, manage to achieve some sort of contradictory presence – where they simultaneously seem peripheral to and central to the plot of the film. All this while being utterly devoid of glamour. And where Dharmendra offers a rare reminder of what he was capable of in the right director’s tutelage with a delightfully understated performance, it is Amitabh, on the cusp of stardom and the inevitable transition into a box office commodity called the ‘angry young man’, who really steals the show. Much like he did in Namak Haraam, where he put another superstar Rajesh Khanna in the shade – Amitabh positively owns the second half of Chupke Chupke.
As a train from Allahabad pulls into some obscure station in Bombay – David cautions Amitabh and tells him “Acting mein aath aana gussa, chaar aane abhimaan, do aane shanti, ek aana humbleness, ek aana guroor. Solah aane ho gaye”. Amitabh pushes his oversized glasses back with his middle fingers and says “Solah aane ho gaye” and then delivers a performance to remember. In an apt metaphor for a train steaming into a station it is Amitabh’s entry that grabs the film by the jugular, shakes it out of a languid trot and kicks it into a full blown gallop.
Sadly, in the years post this film, both Amitabh and Dharmendra forgot all about the need to give acting their ‘solah aane’ and were content to lap up the adulation of the masses with less. There is a poignant scene in the second half where Dharmendra and Asrani caution Amitabh with the sage words “Ye mat bhoolo ki tum is drame mein ek actor ho, sirf ek actor. Aur actor kya hain – director ke hath ki kathpootli”. The dialogue is followed by an ironic wink being exchanged, perhaps as if to re-inforce what Hitchcock said about ‘actors being cattle’. And as an acknowledgement that it took Hrishi da’s stern but benevolent presence for them to act themselves.
And that acknowledgement is also perhaps revealing, in the context that there is more to this film than meets the eye. That it is a film that carries the bold stamp of Hrishi da the editor – with not a superfluous scene anywhere, is beyond doubt. Often though in the assumption that these films are light-hearted (that I allured to earlier), one very easily tends to forget that Hrishi da’s comedies didn’t represent a departure from ideology. Only from style. That in the 70s and 80s of an India already dealing with much strife, Hrishi da chose to couch his messages in a more palatable form. If Satyakam, Anuradha and their ilk were bitter medicine, the Hrishi Da comedies are the spoonful of sugar that makes the medicine go down.
Chupke Chupke released in 1975. To an entire generation, that year only means one thing – The Emergency,and all the horrors associated with it. Tucked away in a small scene somewhere in the two odd hours of the film, is a telephone conversation that echoes this with a subtle allusion to the dreaded Maintenance of Internal Security Act (or MISA). Similarly the conflict between Pyare Mohan Tripathi’s “parikshan-nirikshan” and Keshto’s “Gaadi ke differential mein lafda hain”, is the tacit acknowledgement that the lingua franca of Bombay was pushing out pure language as it was known. Possibly the greatest feature of the film (and multiple others of its kind) that goes unnoticed very easily is that there is no pretense of pandering to the lowest common denominator. A reminder that it is possible to keep things clean and still make people laugh. That it was not impossible to make films without gratuitous displays of violence. That formulaic filmmaking was no bad thing, when done right. More than anything else to disprove the dogma then prevalent, that the audience comes to the cinema, to forget their lives and troubles. And to offer a gentle counterpoint – that it is possible to remind an audience that life with all its troubles isn’t so bad after all, provided one can find the humour in it.
Chupke Chupke is a strange paradox of a film, best summed up by something Amitabh memorably says on multiple occasions throughout the film –
“Jo hain woh zaroori nahi hain ki woh ho, aur jo nahi hain wo kaise ho sakta hain”
Image Credits: www.desimartini.com