45 Years of Anand: My Many Random Reasons to Love this Movie

Isn’t that funny!  I was just emailing with a friend about this film, and now Amitabh tweets that today is the 45th anniversary!  With apologies to my friend, I am going to go ahead and raid our email exchange for all the random things I thought about it, so I don’t have to re-think them all.

The first thing you need to know about Anand is that it is a Hrishikish Mukherjee film.  Mukherjee had a very distinctive film style, he liked small family stories with light touches and little mistaken identities and so on.  No big dramas, no big action scenes, no big tragedies either.  His movies are what Indian society calls “middle-class”.  In America, we think of “middle-class” as meaning sort of good hardworking humble people, not in the highest economic class, but they own their own house and have a car.  In India, it’s basically the same, but with the addition that “middle-class” usually also means educated and a little more interested in high culture: classical music and dance styles, novels, poetry, and anything but the standard Hindi film fare.
Mukherjee’s fims were going after this audience.  The other films coming out at that time wouldn’t interest the educated types, they had big sexy scenes and song numbers and overly dramatic speeches.  The “middle-class” audience wanted something a little lighter, a little smarter.  I really like Mukherjee’s films, but most of them are definitely only something you can enjoy if you pay attention and watch closely.  Not for an audience wandering out to buy popcorn in the middle or coming in late or whistling and stomping in the movie theater.  His films usually did well, often very well, but none of them were really huge blockbuster record breaking hits.
Even though they weren’t huge hits, because Mukherjee’s films were acknowledged as “Better”, he was able to get some amazing casts together.  Besides that, actors really liked working on them as sort of a break from the other sorts of stuff.  Especially the more educated and “middle-class” actors.  In Chupke Chupke, for instance, you had Sharmila Tagore, Jaya Bhadhuri, and Amitabh.  All of them came from extremely artistic, educated, respectable families, they could really dig in and enjoy this kind of complex dialogue and clever script.  And then you had Dharmendra, who got to take a break from playing the super manly action hero and do something a little different, and Om Prakash got to have a full character and plot in a Mukherjee film, instead of just being the comic relief in a bigger picture.  But most of all, it sounds like Mukherjee was just a really nice guy to work with, people liked working with him, and would do it over and over again.
Even Rajesh Khanna was willing to work with him, and Rajesh Khanna didn’t really like working with anyone.  Stories abound of him showing up hours, or even days, late to set.  He didn’t like to rehearse or memorize dialogue.  But the cameras would turn on, and it would be magic.  He was smart enough to realize that his sort of nuclear powered charm worked really well in the context of Mukherjee’s perfectly constructed light dramas/comedies.  He worked with him three more times after Anand (Bawarchi, Namak Haraam, Naukri).
Rajesh Khanna was supposed to be what made this film a little bit bigger than the standard Mukherjee film.  Although, there were still no big dance numbers or fight scenes or anything like that, or even a real villain.  So it is still recognizably “Mukherjee”.  But it had that star quality built in.  Casting Amitabh was actually an after thought, and kind of a favor.  He’d met Mukherjee socially, and seemed like a nice decent young man, who could certainly handle complex dialogue in good Hindi, considering his father was one of the greatest living Hindi-Urdu poets.
Everyone else around Amitabh and Rajesh are sort of Mukherjee stock players.  Nice low level actors who worked with him a lot.   Oh, and Dara Singh!  This was early on, he was still “Dara Singh-Wrestler!” making cameos in films instead of “Dara Singh-actor” playing a character.  It was supposed to be a Rajesh Khanna film all the way, with Amitabh just there for him to play off of.  But then somewhere in the middle of filming, Amitabh just took over.  Rajesh Khanna does a fantastic job, but in many ways he was just playing his standard persona, only dying.  But Amitabh went completely out of his established comfort zone and came up with this whole concept of his character being not just sad about losing his patient, but angry.  Like, burning hidden anger that drives him.  And then of course there is the death scene that would stand out in any picture, but in a Mukherjee picture, where everything is so restrained and quiet and non-dramatic, it really really stands out!
Amitabh was supposed to be the one who sort of fit naturally into the Mukherjee environment, with his fancy background and friendship with the director and professional attitude on set, but what this movie actually did was prove that Amitabh didn’t belong in those kinds of drawing room films, because he was way too raw for it.  The death scene in this is what got the attention of the industry and lead to Zanjeer which lead to Sholay, Deewar, and so on.
Amitabh’s star-making turn still didn’t take anything away from Rajesh Khanna’s performance.  Mukherjee made him look good, it was a great role written just right for him, and mostly, I suspect, Amitabh kind of sparked off of him and forced him to up his game.  They are just so different in every way!  Even down to their preparation, Amitabh is all about studying the script and preparing the character and so on, and Rajesh would just show up and do a shot.  And then, of course, Rajesh was the ultimate in sort of gentle charming lover persona, and Amitabh was all about powerful performances and deep wells of angst with no time for love.
And then the film actually came out, and it became the basic template for the dying figure in an Indian movie.  It’s the clear model for Shahrukh’s character in Kal Ho Na Ho, of course.  But even if the dying figure isn’t a central character, like Jimmy Shergill in Munna Bhai or the little girl in Cheeni Kum, they are shown enjoying life and being happier than anyone else, not wisely noble and above it all, but grasping at life as long as they can.  Even down to his disease, Anand is the model.  “Lymphosarcoma of the intestines” shows up way more in Indian film characters than it really should!
This is why I was so interested in how they used Anand and Rajesh Khanna in Neerja.  Because at a certain point, when it becomes clear that she will die young with her life unfinished, Anand is all anyone is going to be thinking of.  I think it was really smart of them to get the big reference out of the way right at the beginning, and then have it sort of hanging over everything for the rest of the film.  It kind of forced the audience to make the connections for themselves as she hit the beats of the Anand story (inspiring others, accepting death and the loss of love, forcing herself to remain positive and hide her own fears, etc.).  And then at the end, they could have so easily used an Anand quote for her final message.  But that would have, oddly, been against the spirit of Anand.  Better to have her talk about a short life in the beginning, when she was young and happy and thought her life would be long.  And then when she was actually facing death, to have her use a quote that is sillier and less serious (well, in this context.  In the original film, the “Pushpa, I hate tears!” line was a heartbreaker), because she wants people to remember her happy and joking.

16 thoughts on “45 Years of Anand: My Many Random Reasons to Love this Movie

  1. Hrishida’s movies are just like Krackjack biscuits- sweet and salty at the same time.He’s one of the rare Hindi film directors who dared to make tragedies.Granted, those are dime-a-dozen in Malayalam.But somehow it seems more daring when it’s a Hindi film.Those are like Mills & Boon novels.A Happily Ever After is taken for granted.

    I think Mila (with Jaya Bachan) is similar plot wise to Anand but told from the perspective of a woman.Of course Rajesh Khanna is older than Mili but they both display a zest for life and interest in other’s affairs.

    Golmaal is still my favorite among Hrishida’s movies.I’ll never forgive Rohit Shetty for the mishmash he made of the remake.

    P.S : I just read in the wiki that Anand was remade as Chitrasalabham (butterfly) in Malayalam. Of course it flopped. Everybody had already seen the original years back.


    • I own Mili but I’ve been afraid to watch it, because I was depressed for weeks after seeing Anand and I don’t want to go through that again! I was also interested that the Malayalam movie I watched this week was also named Mili. It kind of made me wonder if it was maybe an homage towards the Jaya movie? Or at least a little subtle indication that it would be another sort of sad movie with a central female/


  2. Mili’s ending is kind of open ended.It is left to the viewers to give the sort of ending they want.On the other hand it is not as compelling a watch as Anand. It is not as depressing as its Malayalam namesake because Jaya’s Mili is more positive and does not flaunt her illness(either to the audience or to other characters)Both films have an intense Amitabh in common though 🙂


  3. I meant Mili and Anand.Malayalam movies can’t afford Amitabh! Jaya-Amitabh always bring out the best in each other.Although Amitabh did do a cameo in a Malayalam movie, Kandahar (stay away from the movie if you value your sanity) one of Major Ravi’s patriotic melodramas.The lovely Sumalata did an even shorter cameo as his wife.


    • It looks like Kandahar would break my “no sequels until I watch the prequels” rule anyway. So until I watch Keerthi Chakra and Kurukshetra, I will continue to avoid it. But if Mili has a not-necessarily-super-sad ending, then maybe I will finally give it a try!


  4. Amitabh was totally wasted in that role.It could have been done by any competent actor.Major Ravi’s movies are loud,patriotic and ‘script’ is barely there.Kandahar is about Mohanlal being a one-man army (literally!) on a mission.I really don’t understand why they bother showing his team anyway.They are only there to die heroically and the hero does all their jobs by himself anyway.I think the only positive thing I can say about those movies is that Major Ravi’s heart is in the right place!


    • Hmm. Well, I only really have so much space in my life for super patriotic and unbelievable films, and that’s already filled by Sunny Deol, so I won’t worry about tracking these down!


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