With the ongoing pandemic, and the sense of loss that has shaken the world, we need to look at life and death through a different prism
Bushra Alvi Razzack | Clarion India
Fifty years after having seen it for the first time, the dialogues of the classic film ANAND still have the power to make me moist-eyed, the songs still reverberate deep in my senses and my heart still skips a beat when the image of an ever smiling, twinkling-eyed Rajesh Khanna flashes across my mind.
Released on 12 March 1971, Anand is one of the most iconic films produced in Bollywood. It starts with an award function where a young doctor, Dr Bhaskar Banerji (Amitabh Bachchan) is presented a literary award for his debut book. Speaking about the book, he says it is the story of a terminally ill man who wishes to live life to the fullest until the inevitable happens. The film, which follows in flashback, marked the pairing of Rajesh Khanna, the original ‘Superstar’ of Indian films and Amitabh Bachchan, a relative newbie and unknown entity with just one film as an actor (Saat Hindustani, 1969) to his credit who would some years hence take over the mantle of superstardom from Khanna. The duo was to later pair up in only one more film, Namak Haram (1973).
While Anand was made when Rajesh Khanna was at the height of success, for Amitabh Bachchan, it was a film that catapulted him into instant stardom and made him a household name. Interestingly, in morning of 12 March, the day of the film’s release, Bachchan had gone to fill fuel in his car at a petrol pump at Irla, on S.V. Road in Bombay’s Vile Parle West. No one had recognized him then but when he went again later in the evening for more fuel, everyone there recognized him!
Anand was directed by Hrishikesh Mukherjee and produced by him and N.C. Sippy. It has the unmistakable stamp of Hrishida whose films focus on middle class households and their stories. Hrishikesh Mukherjee is said to have written this story when his friend Raj Kapoor, whom he had directed in Anari (1959), had become seriously ill and he feared that he may lose his buddy. It however took several years before the story could be made into a film.
Hrishikesh Mukherjee had originally wanted to cast Raj Kapoor for the title role but by that time Raj Kapoor was too old to play the character of Anand. Other actors who were in the fray included Kishore Kumar, Shashi Kapoor and Dharmendra but one wonders whether they would have done justice to the role or made the character of Anand as endearing as Rajesh Khanna had done. Hrishikesh Mukherjee and Raj Kapoor’s friendship finds echo in the film, the most obvious being the bond between a Punjabi and a Bengali where the former addresses the latter as ‘Babumoshai’. Yes, that is what Raj Kapoor used to call his friend!
Rajesh Khanna plays the role of a young man, Anand Saigal who learns that he is suffering from a terminal illness, lymphosarcoma of the intestine, a rare type of cancer of the intestines, and that he is literally hanging in the jaws of death with only about four months to live. In what can perhaps be stated was his best role ever, Khanna essayed the character of a young man facing the inevitability of death with a positive outlook, spreading smiles and sunshine among people, wanting to do the most he could in the short time left to him. His mantra was that life should be lived large, not long. “Zindagi badi honi chahiye, lambi nahin,” he says.
His outlook, his positivity and his cheerfulness have a profound effect on Dr. Bhaskar Banerji, his oncologist friend with whom he spends the last few months of his life and who becomes a changed person by the end of the film. Anand was fond of being surrounded by friends and was forever seeking them out. By the time he had met Anand, Dr Bhaskar had become disillusioned with the world. He could fight illness, he said, but not hunger and poverty. This had made him feel helpless as he realized that people who could not afford to eat could certainly not afford healthcare. He was also disheartened that there was nothing he could do for Anand except watch and wait for his death. We see him as a man who is not very expressive and keeps his emotions tightly under check. However he maintained a diary in which he vent his feelings and wrote daily observations about his patient and friend, Anand Sehgal. These observations were later complied into the book mentioned in the opening scene.
Anand is the antithesis of Bhaskar. Always bursting with life and enthusiasm, Anand wanted to share happiness with people around him. But that doesn’t mean he wasn’t overcome with moments of regret and sorrow for those whom he had lost along the way or for those dreams that would never be fulfilled. When Dr Bhaskar comes upon him singing in the balcony and comments that he sounded sad which was in contrast to the ever bubbling Anand he knew, he replies, “Udasi khoobsoorat nahin hoti hai?” Isn’t sorrow also such a beautiful emotion? “Har hasi ke peeche sirf khushi nahi hoti, kabhi, kabhi gham…” It is not just happiness that lies behind every laughter; sometimes sorrow lurks too. He just didn’t want to share those sorrows. If one could call him selfish for this reason, so be it.
Much of the charm of the film lies in its timeless dialogues. Written by Gulzar, they touched the hearts of an entire generation and beyond and are remembered to this day. Babumoshai, zindagi aur maut upar waale ke haath hai…Usse na toh aap badal sakte hai na main…Hum sab to rangmanch ki kathputliyan hai jinki dor upar waale ki ungliyon mein bandhi hai. Kab, kaun kahan uthega ye koi nahin janta.
Babumoshai, life and death are in the hands of the Creator…Neither can you change that, nor I… We all are just puppets on a stage whose strings are controlled by Creator. No one knows when or where a person will die.
The songs too are immortal, my favourite being Zindagi, kaisi hai paheli haai; kabhi ye hasaiy, kabhi ye rulaiy. What an enigma life is, sometimes it makes us laugh, and sometimes it makes us cry…written by Yogesh and sung by Manna Dey with music composed by Salil Chowdhry.
Anand went on to garner several Filmfare Awards: Hrishikesh Mukherjee and N C Sippy (Best Film), Rajesh Khanna (Best Actor), Amitabh Bachchan (Best Supporting Actor), Hrishikesh Mukherjee (Best Story), Gulzar (Best Dialogue) and Hrishikesh Mukherjee (Best Editing). This epic film remains popular even today.
With the ongoing pandemic, and the sense of loss that has shaken the world, we need to look at life and death through a different prism. The need for positivity and companionship cannot be stressed enough. The message of living for the moment and living life large holds truer now than ever before.
Bushra Alvi Razzack is a Delhi-based writer, editor, translator and poet