Friday Classics: Chupke Chupke, The Rules of Society Are Fine So Long As You Don’t Take Them Too Seriously

I really like this movie. I know it isn’t one of the super super best Mukherjee films, but I don’t care, it makes me happy!

Hrishikesh Mukherjee is the master of the middle-class film. But what makes his movies special is that they honor the middle-class lifestyle while at the same time pointing out that these values are just transitory, not permanent or perfect. That’s what this movie is about, all the “chupke chupke” behind the perfect facade of middle-class life. In other hands, it could be a dark indictment of the pretenses of middle-class society. With Mukherjee, it’s a comedy, and everyone is a little bit in on the joke that is social expectations.

Image result for chupke chupke 1975 poster

That’s the high brow part of why I like this film, the light happy “life is all a game and isn’t it fun” attitude. The low brow part of why I like it is because Dharmendra is WEARING that Chauffeur’s uniform!!!!!! And, to a lessor extent, Sharmila in her bouffant bun and chiffon saris, Amitabh and Jaya being shy and cute together, Om Prakash in his silk bathrobe, and the adorable little girl/boy (girl character, played by a boy) industriously licking the car window in the background. It is just a feast of silly pleasant things to watch and people to enjoy and a whole world that it is delightful to escape to.

41 seconds. I love this little girl/boy!

There’s also the feeling of being in good hands with a good director, something that I have missed in a lot of recent films. But Mukherjee knew exactly what he was doing and why in every scene and every moment. There’s a story of an interview with Amitabh and Dharmendra (or Rajesh Khanna, one of them) being asked what director they feared the most as actors, and they both immediately said “Hrishida”! He would speak quietly and carefully and be always dignified and gentlemanly, but he set a tone on his sets that made his actors terrified of disappointing him. You can see it in this movie, silly plot though it is, every scene is carefully planned and every little movement of the narrative laid out and connected. In this kind of a farce, planning is everything, precision is everything, it can be harder to pull off a proper comedy than an action sequence.

Of course, it’s also a slower pace than the modern movies. And fewer bright colors, and a whole lot more Hindi. So it won’t be for everybody, and that is okay. But if you are broadminded enough to give something a bit different a try, and able to fall into the Mukherjee rhythm, you may end up loving it as much as I do.

SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS

Okay, brace yourself, this plot is a bit confusing. Dharmendra is a professor of botany on a research trip at a remote government run hill station. The caretaker needs to go away without leave for a day to visit a sick relative, Dharmendra offers to cover for him and is surprised when a bus full of students from a girl’s college arrives. Sharmila is the leader of them and is immediately excited to learn that Dharmendra, the author of their textbook, is staying there. Dharmendra (in the guise of the caretaker) teases her a little and makes up a story of a hideous elderly professor. But she overhears him talking with the caretaker when he arrives back and learns the truth, and gives him her phone number when she leaves. Dharmendra promptly sends his relatives over to present a proposal and Dharmendra and Sharmila are properly married with no tricks or secrecy.

After the wedding, Dharmendra and Sharmila are overwhelmed by all the fuss of their friends and want to get away for a bit, so plan a trip to visit Sharmila’s sister and brother-in-law in Bombay. Her brother-in-law at the same time has asked for a recommendation of a driver from Allahabad (where they live) who can speak pure Hindi. Dharmendra makes a bet with Sharmila that he can convince her brother-in-law he is a driver speaking pure Hindi, Sharmila is sure he will fail because she hero-worships her brother-in-law. Dharmendra travels ahead to Bombay as a driver and fools the brother-in-law, Om Prakash. When, a week later, Sharmila arrives, Dharmendra cannot hide his joy, and he invents a new game, he and Sharmila pretend to be having an affair, her recently married to a boring old professor, and him a young handsome driver who knew her from before.

At this point, they add on one more complication. They invite Dharmendra’s old friend Amitabh to come to Bombay and pretend to be Sharmila’s estranged husband. He goes to stay with Asrani, another old friend of Dharmendra, pretending the marriage is falling apart. He uses his position in the household to woo Asrani’s young sister-in-law, Jaya Bachchan. Jaya is torn, falling in love with what she thinks is a married man, but eventually learns the truth as well.

The end of the film is the culmination of every middle-class fear. Sharmila, the proper new wife, is running off with the low class uneducated and already married driver. Jaya, the innocent young girl, has been seduced by an older married man. The whole world is falling into anarchy. And it is only then, that the tricksters reveal to Om Prakash the truth. What appears to be anarchy is, in fact, order. Amitabh is as innocent and inexperienced as Jaya, and is wooing her with the blessing of her family. Sharmila and Dharmendra are passionately in love, but in love within the bounds of marriage.

But isn’t it more fun to pretend? That’s what makes the middle-class straight jacket worth wearing, the freedom to pretend. Young couples pretending to have an affair to make the honeymoon last longer. A proper young girl falling in love because she thinks the man is married and tragic. And a proper boring English professor learning how to woo a young girl by pretending to be a bitter heartbroken married man. All the way back to the beginning, when Dharmendra has far more fun pretending to be a lowly caretaker teasing a proper young woman than he ever would have had meeting her in proper circumstances.

There is a way these kinds of chaos-under-order plots can work that make the treatment of the lower classes seem like a fantasy, like they only exist to act as sex aids to their betters. But this film is careful, Dharmendra starts the charade not as a lark or a joke, but because he is concerned about the caretaker and wants to help him visit his family. And he keeps it up in order to protect his job, not to flirt with Sharmila. The pretense of being a driver, that is accidental as well. It was intended to be a brief joke, to puncture the pride of Sharmila’s brother-in-law, not make fun of the real drivers. Punching up, not down. But when the brother-in-law did not recognize him as expected, Dharmendra chose to continue the charade. In the end, looked at from a class perspective, the only people they hurt are each other. The dignified middle-class folks, Om Prakash first among them, have to learn that they aren’t as untouchable and perfect as they like to think they are.

And there is so much to enjoy along the way! Amitabh desperately studying up on Botany at night, so he can “tutor” Jaya during the day, Dharmendra and Sharmila playing sex games in her room at night, Jaya’s amazing hair, it’s all a delight. Again, so long as you can give yourself over to the 70s of it all.

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5 thoughts on “Friday Classics: Chupke Chupke, The Rules of Society Are Fine So Long As You Don’t Take Them Too Seriously

  1. I love this movie so much. It is one of my go-to movies when I am sad or need just pure entertainment or some background noise while I work. The dialogues are clever, the charactors are lovable, and the songs are fun!

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  2. I loved the visuals of this! I loved everything that everyone wore except Asrani. I think Sharmila’s red sari and Jaya’s white outfit are my favorites (and kind of symbolic—Sharmila is knowing and playful and sexy and Jaya is quiet and demure). Also loved Amitabh’s “English professor “ apartment, with all the modern paintings of Tagore (again:wouldn’t that be weird for Sharmila?) and what looks like a framed picture of himself on the bookcase. I was thinking that maybe in the mid seventies we had moved on from the more outre fashions of earlier, but just two years before Sharmila in Daag was wearing a huge bouff and really aggressively ugly clothes. (Great movie though).

    Also I really like Sharmila with Dharmendra—he’s so huge and masculine it really complements her. The othe thing I’ve seen them in is Anupama, where he is the strong hero who rescues her fragile and broken heroine. I like their relationship in this movie—he’s the prankster, but she’s game for anything.

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    • It took me hours for that Tagore picture to work it’s way into my awareness. I saw it, and I thought “Tolstoy? No, Tagore. How pretentious”. And then like 6 hours later I woke up at 2am and went “WAIT!!! Tagore-Tagore!!!! That is so WEIRD!!!!”

      I really like the look of Mukherjee’s films. He isn’t over the top glamour, but his heroines were nice clothes and look nice in them. I especially liked the printed sari look in this film, so many interesting patterns. And yes to Sharmila and Dharmendra! With different casting, it could have felt like a prankster and a boring straight woman wife type, like the worst kind of a sitcom. But Sharmila has so much spice to her, it felt like she could more than match him. His size versus her delicacy just added to it, the way the visuals said he must be in charge, and then she would bat her eyes and he would come running. Plus, great sexy chemistry!

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