'Ae maut tu eik kavita hai' -- Dr Bhasker Banerjee's line from Hrishikesh Mukherjee's 'Anand' poignantly summed up what death meant, and still means, to Indian filmmakers -- more so, to him.
Bhasker was a loner. And a seeker of wisdom -- quite evidently shown in the opening scenes of the movie. He later found peace in Anand's company. Hrishikesh Mukherjee did the same in the 1975 movie 'Mili'.
While Anand was largely about Rajesh Khanna, Mili was owned by Jaya Bachchan -- she was literally present in every frame of the film. One of the striking similarities between the two movies was how the two characters -- Anand and Mili -- provided solace to the battered Amitabh Bachchan.
In Mili, Amitabh Bachchan's Shekhar is tortured by a past that doesn't involve him at all. He bears the brunt of being a son to a man who mercilessly killed his wife. He seeks refuge from this legacy and drowns himself in alcohol and stargazing -- unlike what Bhasker did in Anand.
Bhasker faced realities, Shekhar ran away from them. And probably, that's the only reason Shekhar needed a Mili to be his anchor.
Mili, effortlessly played by Jaya Bachchan, was the ultimate manic-pixie-dream-girl of yore -- affectionate, effervescent, and brimming with life. Mili's love for life was contagious and while she fought pernicious anaemia, she found love in the brooding Shekhar.
Shekhar's "Badi Sooni Sooni Hai Zindagi" transforms into "Aaye Tum Yaad Mujhe" once he gets close and personal with Mili. The two songs -- referred to as two of the best Kishore Kumar songs -- still are the favourites of Hindi music lovers.
Mili is hurtling towards her end -- and when Shekhar gets to know this, he steps back, only to be goaded by Aruna Irani's Runa, the sexually liberated secretary of the Bombay high-rise, to follow his heart.
Shekhar then proposes marriage to Mili, and they do get married. But unlike the movies of 1970s, Mukherjee does not divulge what would happen to Mili. The movie ends with Mili's father, played by Ashok Kumar, waving her goodbye. Some things are best left unsaid.
It was Hrishikesh Mukherjee's knack of drawing his own universe and superimposing it on the more commercialised cinema that he did not, even for once, think before casting Amitabh Bachchan, who had done Sholay and Deewar by then, as Shekhar.
Shekhar was unlike every other character Bachchan had played -- it had layers; it was emotional; it was, perhaps, reminiscent of his idol Dilip Kumar's roles in the 1950s and 60s. But then it was only Hrishikesh Mukherjee who channelled the unbridled talent Bachchan had into something more meaningful.
Mukherjee reinvented Bachchan, every time he cast him in a movie. For a generation that has grown up watching him, there are several forms of Amitabh Bachchan it is connected to. Amongst them -- and more than the angry young man -- it is Hrishikesh Mukherjee's portrayal of Amitabh Bachchan as the man with many layers (sometimes, grey shades) that looked real.
"I will have to admit that most of the interesting characters that I played have been in films that were made by him — be it Anand or Mili or Chupke Chupke or Bemisal or Namak Haram or Jurmana. They were all exceptionally well-etched. The greatest opportunity to perform for me has been in his films. It is difficult to pick one character and say that’s the best — there was Anand and Abhimaan, Mili too — all of them unbelievable moments in filmmaking," Amitabh Bachchan had once said, in his tribute to Mukherjee.
In Abhimaan, Hrishikesh Mukherjee saw Amitabh Bachchan as an egoistic husband; in Namak Haraam, he was the hurting friend, but a selfish corporate; and in Chupke Chupke, he was the funny, lanky fellow who played party to a prank on a middle-aged man -- roles other filmmakers couldn't see him doing.
Amitabh Bachchan was offered Mili when he had fallen victim to his own larger-than-life image and histrionics. It was Mili's Shekhar that brought out to the fore the range of emotions Bachchan could portray -- giving a tough competition to an actress of the calibre of Jaya Bachchan's.
In one scene, when Mili chides Shekhar for hurting himself, the pain in Bachchan's eyes is so palpable that one can stand in applause for the megastar.
It's vulnerability that underlined Amitabh Bachchan's Shekhar in the movie, and not the invincibility that was forced down our throats with his action films.
That Amitabh Bachchan could do justice to both his images -- the angry young man and the layered, battered soul -- with such ease is a different matter altogether -- justifying him being reverred to as the star of the millenium.
Anand is certainly one of the best made movies in Indian cinema, but it is Mili and her Shekhar that deserve all your attention on Amitabh Bachchan's birthday.
India TV recommends Hrishikesh Mukherjee's Mili on October 11 as a tribute to the megastar and the range of emotions he could/can portray on screen.
And we can only wish Hrishikesh Mukherjee had exploited Amitabh Bachchan more :)
Mili is now streaming on Amazon Prime Video (though we would never know if Mili achieved her happily-ever-after).