Starring Amitabh Bachchan and Rajesh Khanna.
Now I know those names should be the other way around, but this is the second in my series of reviews of Big B’s old movies, so AB before RK it is
Amitabh’s second outing (for his first movie click here) on the big screen and he bagged two awards out of two already – this time for best supporting actor in the Filmfare Awards for the movie Anand (released March 1971). Watch it here!
And it’s easy to see why, whilst he played against established superstar Rajesh Khanna in the titular role of Anand, Amitabh’s character went through an intense gamut of emotions that essentially made him a proxy for what the audience would experience.
Whilst Anand is inspiring and enchanting thanks to his unique eccentricity and spirit, Amitabh’s character, Dr Bhaskar Banerjee, is us: ordinary, bitter, frustrated, astonished, annoyed, surprised, inspired, then totally enchanted with Anand, and finally utterly devastated at losing him.
In this movie Amitabh Bachchan plays us, and he does that to perfection.
What happens in the movie?
Anand is dead.
We know this right at the beginning of the movie – because it’s told as a flashback by Dr Bhaskar Banerjee (Amitabh Bachchan) who has published excerpts from his diary regarding his friendship with Anand.
Director Hrishikesh Mukherjee wanted to make this clear so as not to lull the audience into any kind of misplaced suspense about some type of filmi miracle curing Anand. The story is about a man making the most of life in spite of death, not about him cheating it.
When we meet Banerjee in flashback, we he is young doctor already becoming disillusioned with his profession. He wants to treat everyone but faces impossible struggles against poverty – how can he ask the ill to buy medicines when they can’t even afford food?
Although since this isn’t core to the story, it seems that Mukherjee himself is making a statement of social inequality here. But the scene does serve to set up the humourless Dr Banerjee as passionate but angry, frustrated and extremely serious.
So much so that he admonishes his friend Dr Prakash Kulkarni (played by Ramesh Deo) as he sits smoking in his office, charging rich patients huge stipends for medicines and treatments they don’t need, but think they do, as he corroborates their hypochondria.
Dr Kulkarni is a hustler, and if he can be called a crook, it’s only in a Robin Hood sort of way, because he justifies what he does by using the funds to treat the genuinely in need who can’t afford it.
One thing to note, especially in these early scenes between the two doctors, is how realistic their interaction and dialogue is, which is rather unusual in Indian movies where such conversations would normally be absurdly dumbed down.
Anyway Kulkarni introduces Banerjee to Anand Sehgal, who has cancer and will be dead in a few months.
But rather than being desolate and depressed by his impending fate, Anand is a motormouth who devours the occupants of any room he enters like a joyous whirlwind of mischief and makes instantly apparent an irrepressible lust for life that would fuel several lifetimes rather than one so short.
As Anand says to Banerjee – who he immediately takes to calling Babu Moshay: ‘Life should be big, not long.’
And that’s pretty much it. Not much actually happens in the story.
It’s not about the events that take place, or even the time that passes, but the impact that this amazing individual has on the lives of the people he meets, even as his own life force begins to diminish.
Along the way he makes it his mission to get Banerjee together with the girl he loves but hasn’t been able to profess to. Which he does successfully.
Meanwhile everyone falls in love with him for his energy, sense of fun, vivacity and hugely generous heart. To the point that the two Doctors, including the cynical Dr Banerjee, who are both men of science and fact and recognise the inevitability of a cancer in its final stage, actually resort to seeking divine intervention and miracle cures in desperation not to lose their dear patient.
I’ve never met someone who would live so large in so little time whilst knowing their days were numbered so shortly, so I don’t know if this is a realistic story. I certainly don’t think I could be so dismissive and defiant of death, or be able to frantically squeeze out every second of every minute of life to its fullest should I have to face such a fate.
So I’m going to proffer that Anand is a very unusual character, but I’ll have to concede that through the telling of this story, and Khanna’s portrayal, he becomes an entirely believable person.
Sure Rajesh Khanna is a known over-actor, but his performance manages to just stay on the right side of where it would get annoying. Mukherjee would have known this was crucial, and must have kept some rein on Khanna, because if the audience failed to fall in love with Anand and feel an unstinting empathy with him, the film would not work at all.
The movie is masterfully crafted, all the players perform perfectly, and it is two hours you won’t regret. Even the songs are well spaced out, poignantly placed and beautifully presented. The comedy is not overblown and the romance between Bannerjee and Suman (Seema Deo) is subtle and grown-up.
Also it’s from an era in Indian film-making when their movies had heart.
Frankly I can’t find much to put in this section. If you don’t like Rajesh Khanna you’re going to struggle, but if you can get past that and allow yourself to be swept up by the character of Anand, it’ll be worth it.
Amitabh in the movie
Like I said, he represents us in this movie – sitting down to watch it with all the weight of life’s miserable realities heavy on our shoulders, incredulous and bewildered by someone who could so loudly and brazenly laugh it all off. Angry and annoyed even that some people managed to not take life – and death – as seriously as us.
Then taken in by the irrepressible spirit, ending up riding high in heady delight at the joy present in the now, but finally crashing back to Earth, distraught and helpless.
Amitabh may not be the main character in this story, but it’s through him that we experience this movie, and like Rajesh Khanna’s role, it iwas absolutely crucial for Amitabh’s performance to be perfectly balanced for the film to work. And it absolutely is.
Did you know?
Unsurprisingly this movie picked up a load of awards: Best Feature Film from the National Film Awards, and Filmfare gave it gongs for Best Film, Best Actor (Rajesh Khanna), Best Dialogue, Best Editing and Best Story in addition to the Best Supporting award already mentioned.
A relatively low budget movie, Director and Writer, Hrishikesh Mukherjee, is said to have filmed it in just 28 days, and Rajesh Khanna took a big pay cut just to be in it. But Khanna wasn’t the first choice for the movie, he only got it after it bounced around a few times. Mukherjee originally created the role for his friend, Raj Kapoor.
In fact the character of Anand (which means bliss and joy) was inspired by Raj Kapoor. In the movie Anand refers to Dr Bannerjee as Babu Moshay (Great Gentleman), in real life, that’s how Kapoor actually used to address Mukherjee. Mukherjee apparently wrote up the concept of the movie whilst Kapoor was seriously ill, and he was afraid that he would die.
But when it came to casting him in the movie, Mukherjee couldn’t actually do it, because even watching him die on screen in the final scene would have been too much for him to bear. So the role was instead offered to Raj’s brother, Shashi Kapoor, but he declined it too.
An approach was made to the famous singer and actor Kishore Kumar, but a misunderstanding between the Director and Kumar ruled him out too. So finally it went to Rajesh Khanna.
At the beginning of the start credits you’ll see the movie is dedicated to Raj Kapoor (and Bombay [Mumbai] as the bustling city is cited as reflecting the life and vitality of the lead character).
The iconic comedy actor/director Mehmood was lined up to play Dr Bannerjee’s part, but when it didn’t work out with Kishore Kumar, he stepped back too. However, he is said to have advised Amitabh to take the role (it was probably around this time he was working with Bachchan on the 1972 movie, Bombay to Goa).
Should you watch it?
EVERYBODY should watch this movie.
It’s a rare gem from Indian cinema; simple straight-forward storytelling that’s both uplifting and emotionally overpowering.
It works no miracles, it produces no mystical magic, but it wrenches at your very soul even as it inspires you to embrace life. It’s enchanting, it’s sweet, it’s endearing, it’s a movie that stays with you long after the end credits roll.
It really is Rajesh Khanna’s movie, but whilst you might find him slightly grating to start with, you’ll begrudgingly let him take up a space in your heart, and finally you’ll be at a loss to know what you’ll do without him when he dies – all this in the space of two hours!
Anand gets under your skin, both the character and the movie itself. It’s perfectly scripted, paced and timed. Efficient, tight but with enough tangents and side characters to make it real, and just the right amount of dwelling on the scenes that count. You never want it to hurry up or feel that that a scene or character wasn’t give enough time.
The editing is spot-on, right down to the strangely silent gap in the audio tape recording that Anand seems to leave inadvertently, but which then fits so perfectly with the end of the end, leaving you with laughter even through the tears. You’ll know what I mean when you watch it.
Which you must; absolutely you must! But be warned, keep some tissues handy, it’s a major tear-jerker!