Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The Hrishikesh Mukherjee book (and a photo from the Satyakam shoot)

As some of you know, I have spent much of the past two-and-a-half years working on a book about Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s cinema. More hard work, zeal and paranoia have gone into this than in any other single project I have ever undertaken, and a lot of it coincided with periods when things weren’t good (to put it mildly) on the personal front; when, among other things, I spent a lot of time dealing with illnesses and the surreal madness of hospitals. There was one particularly bad phase that lasted around four months – though it felt much longer at the time – when, having dropped the thread of the book, I was certain I could never pick it up again; paralysed by the very thought of opening a word-file that I knew was full of sentence fragments which needed to be reexamined, made sense of, organised into something readable (or at least something sane).

But enough of the dramatics. (And there are no inspirational lessons to be found here.) The book is done now
or as “done” as such a thing can ever be and should be out this September. And since this is a time in publishing when writers have to do their own marketing and publicity, I will in the coming months be putting up information and updates, sharing photos, drawings, and general reflections about Hrishi-da’s work and how I tried to engage with it. Hopefully some of this will be of interest to regular readers of this blog – not just those who like Hrishi-da’s films but also those who are interested in the workings of popular cinema more generally. (Rest assured that the other posts with my regular writings will continue – I do have to earn a livelihood, or pretend to.)

For starters, here’s a photo I like very much. This was taken on the set of one of my favourite Hrishikesh Mukherjee films (and his own personal favourite), Satyakam. Hrishi-da is to the right, Dharmendra in the centre, and on the left – only the back of his bald head clearly visible – is the wonderful actor David Abraham, who played such an important role in the Hrishikesh Mukherjee universe.

One of the things I like about this photograph is how it almost gives the impression that David is directing Dharmendra, while the real director passively looks on. In Hrishi-da’s very first film Musafir, David played the landlord who steers different sets of tenants to a house where the many stages of human life play out; over the next two-and-a-half decades, in films such as Anupama, Abhimaan, Chupke Chupke, Kotwaal Saab and Gol Maal, the actor often played someone who wasn’t a full-fledged part of the narrative but commented knowingly from the sidelines, providing avuncular advice to young people, often expressing opinions that Hrishikesh Mukherjee himself expressed in his interviews. In many of those films David can be seen as a director-substitute, which gives this picture an odd resonance. 

(The scene being rehearsed here, I’m almost sure, is the one where David’s character, the crafty Rustom, holds a mirror up to the idealistic hero, showing him his own hypocrisy – it’s one of the film’s many morally discomfiting moments, a depiction of a rogue briefly turning into a sutradhaar and guide.)

My editor Udayan and I both considered using a cropped version of this image on the book’s front cover. (One such design was created and it looked appealing to my eyes.) I was very tempted, especially since some of my favourite cinema books use similar covers to terrific effect. This one, for example:

One problem is that the Satyakam photo may not mean much to someone who is only casually familiar with Hrishikesh Mukherjee's work. It isn’t a great composition – it might have been better if we could see more of David’s distinctive face – nor does it represent an immediately identifiable scene from a popular HM film (like the Psycho pic above does). Imagine a black-and-white image of Hrishi-da on the sets of Gol Maal, overseeing the film-studio scene where Deven Varma tries on a fake moustache in his makeup room while a fretful Amol Palekar watches. What a brilliant cover shot that might have been.

[To be continued]


  1. that is a lovely still and has whetted my appetite. can hardly wait to see the book and the cover now.

    1. thanks, Sup. But this image is not being used for the cover, as I have indicated here. We are going with a more populist design...

    2. yeah got that, ended up deleting a crucial word "final" (cover) from my comment earlier.

      from recent reading, had conjured up the impression that authors have very little say, if at all, on book jacket designs. that was probably an extreme inference, guessing it's a bit of push and pull, like with anything else, yes?

    3. Push and pull, yes. I made my peace early on that the cover would have to be bright and fuzzy, and perhaps not reflective of the tone of the actual book - but then I understand a few things about how publishing works as a business; am not idealistic that way.
      Still, in this case I did separately commission an artist to work on a few illustrations, and am happy about the results - even though they might not get used in the book.

  2. Dear Jai Sir,

    I hope there will be proper book-launch events and you will visit Chennai?

    All the best for the book!


    1. Mahesh: thanks. don't know if there will be any proper launch events, but I will go for a couple of the lit-fests. In Mumbai and Kolkata at least. Nothing concrete planned at this point.

  3. Hi Jai - All the best. Looking forward to reading the book.

  4. Yes, my interest is aroused in the book, well and truly. And what a lovely pic. Hope the replacement won't disappoint much :)

  5. That is great news indeed Jai. As a lifelong admirer of Hrishi da's films I was awaiting a book that delves into his films focusing on the scripts, characters, music anecdotes and such. It is a double bonus that it will be authored by you , who's writing I have long admired. Cant wait!

  6. thanks everyone! Prem: I'm already a little nervous about elevated expectations. Must clarify that the principal mode of the book is that of analysis - not so much anecdotes and behind-the-scenes information (though there is some of that too).

  7. who's the publisher?

  8. Priya Jai
    as an ardent admirer of Hrishi-da i wish to pay my respect to you personally
    please give me a chance to meet you
    i am a resident of Kolkata
    my email id is --
    warm regards
    Ajit Bachhawat