We live in an era where mainstream filmmakers assume that the audience is not smart enough to catch what is being implied, hence, we get the overdose of sound effects, multiple shots establishing who is the hero (as if we would forget otherwise), and every beat of the story being hammered into our heads over and over again. The cinema space is as competitive as it has ever been but nuance have left the building. With films like KGF 2 and RRR being the new benchmark of success, and suggestions that they have brought back the Hindi film hero of the 1970s, it is probably the right time to actually examine what the 1970s were all about.
Of course, the 1970s were the era of the ‘angry young man’ but it was also the era where every ‘larger than life’ hero masala offering was balanced with a subtle, almost relatable film. For every Deewar, there was a Chupke Chupke (both from 1975). The Hrishikesh Mukherjee film is one of the most popular films of the director and thanks to its many satellite runs, it has gained a loyal following. Looking back at the Hrishikesh Mukherjee classic, it is evident that the director had a clear vision for the kind of situational comedy he was trying to create.
For the unversed, Chupke Chupke stars Dharmendra, Amitabh Bachchan, Sharmila Tagore, Jaya Bachchan, Asrani, David and Om Prakash in significant roles, and the film balances its ensemble cast in a way where every character has something to offer to the main plotline. The story, in short, is about a newly married man Parimal who has to visit his wife’s sister and brother-in-law. The relatives could not make it to the wedding so this meeting is of utmost importance. The brother-in-law is a pompous but adorable man, so Parimal decides to pull a prank. He lands up 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 just about who knows what. The comedic bits trigger from the plot point – ‘Who knows he is Parimal and who thinks he is Pyare Mohan?’, but the way Hrishikesh Mukherjee explains it to his audience, there is no room for confusion, despite the large set of characters.
Amitabh Bachchan has shared in many interviews that Hrishi Da, as he was fondly called, was a simple man. He would just put up two walls, not build any elaborate sets, and would shoot even the most significant scenes in the simplest way. Even the costumes or the look of his actors wasn’t of any paramount importance. Bachchan once shared that actors would sometimes end up in front of the camera wearing what they showed up in because, for him, none of it mattered. And it is this kind of simplicity that is distinctly visible in Chupke Chupke.
The film gets most of its laughs when the characters on screen are pretending to be something they are not, and the audience is already in on the joke. The scene where Amitabh’s Sukumar is pretending to Parimal and teaching botany to Jaya’s Vasudha is a classic as he mumbles around trying to differentiate between ‘gende ka phool’ and ‘gobhi ka phool’. The many scenes where Dharmendra’s Parimal, pretending to be Pyare, is asking questions about the etymology, and pronunciation of English words are another hilarious bunch.
With loud, slapstick comedy becoming the only kind of comedy that we often see in mainstream films, and even on television, the audience is spoon-fed on how they should react. Hrishikesh Mukherjee stayed far away from this trope, even though this was the era where ‘dhishooms’ dropped in films like they were leaves in autumn.
Like most Hindi films of the era, Chupke Chupke too had a melodious music album composed by SD Burman, with lyrics by Anand Bakshi. The songs might not have aided the story in any way but their picturisation underlined 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.