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Every Director Only Bothered To Expose Sheetal’s Legs Or Bosom And Did Not Bother To Exploit Her Dormant Talent Like I Have Done In Bemisaal”

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By Jyothi Venkatesh

(On 27th August 2006, Hrishikesh Mukherjee passed away at the age of 84 leaving behind a legacy of his own films. In memory of the prolific filmmaker and also to commemorate his 93rd birthday which falls on September 30 this year, we reproduce this interview with HRISHIKESH MUKHERJEE by JYOTHI VENKATESH which appeared for the first time 38 years ago)

It was with a little bit of trepidation that I opened the gate of Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s Carter Road bungalow. I had heard of his love for puppies and dogs and his hobby to collect canine creatures in his house just as you and I may collect postage stamps or coins. However, I was ushered in by Hrishida’s own brother who assured me that the dogs had been chained inside. I had reached there ten minutes before the appointed time of 7.30 pm for a change. I was told that writer Sachin Bhowmick was closeted inside with Hrishida. I waited for the call from inside and kept on browsing the books that were kept outside in the visitor’s room.

As soon as the clock struck eight times, Sachin Bhowmick came out of Hrishida’s room and I was ushered in. Hrishida was relaxing on his bed. There were nearly a dozen files strewn all around, a couple of pens, erasers and a note book nearby. “Ever since I agreed to be the Chairman  of the Board of Censors, I do not get time even to sit and discuss with my writer, leave alone fondle my pet dogs,” Hrishida looked at one of the dogs and  said wistfully after picking him up and letting him sleep on his bed.

All the papers and files, he explained, were part of his work as the Chairman of the Censor Board. These days, Hrishida is busy finishing all his pending assignments because he has already submitted his resignation but has not yet been relieved for want of a better successor. Since the release of Bemisaal is also round the corner (in fact, by the time this comes in print, there are possibilities of the film having been released too). Hrishida is busy from morning till night editing and preparing the first print and shooting for the trailer of the film for the first time in the history of Cinema in India with Amitabh Bachchan instead of making the trailer from the first print as the other producers normally do.

Shoot your questions. I can, however, spare you only about half an hour because I have got to go through all these files before I retire to bed tonight”, he said.

When you are in a position to cast new faces and make a film, why do you go in for the same stars for every film of yours-like for example in Bemisaal you have repeated Raakhee and Amitabh Bachchan and Vinod Mehra who had earlier been teamed in Jurmaana?

Look here. I did not produce Bemisaal or Jurmana. I am associated with both the films as just the director whereas it is Debesh Ghosh who is the producer. Naram Garam and Golmaal both had Amol Palekar and Utpal Dutt. Now can you call Naram Garam a hangover of Golmaal? You cannot. Similarly Bemisaal is definitely not a hangover of Jurmaana. In fact, Debesh Ghosh was so happy with the cast of Jurmaana that he asked me to choose a subject for his second film with me as the director which could accommodate all the artistes who had worked with him in Jurmaana.

 Is it necessary for a producer to play safe and cast only stars?  Who will then give breaks to new faces?

The economics of the film industry is such that a producer will be crushed to death if he does not play safe when he enters the game. Once you are able to make your money, you can afford to take a risk and cast anyone who you feel is talented. The ticket rate is the same in the theater whether a film has new faces or stars. The petrol fare to go to the cinema house from your house is also the same. The raw stock also costs a lot to the producer. The government is not going to charge him less because he is going to make a film with new faces. And last but not the least today a situation has come when people prefer to see their favorite stars on the screen.

Nobody has taken as many new faces as I have done so far. Rajesh Khanna and Amitabh Bachchan were not stars when I signed them for Anand. I introduced new face Jaya Bhaduri in Guddi. At that time when I signed Amitabh again for Namak Haraam, people advised me not to take a risk because he had been thrown out of Duniya Ka Mela and replaced by Sanjay Khan.

I made Naram Garam with new comer Swaroop Sampat. When I signed Rekha for Khoobsoorat she was not half as popular as she is now. In Acha  Bura I am introducing a new girl called Anita Raaj. However, before my film could be released, she has gone ahead and acted in two films which have already been released- Prem Geet and Dulha Bikta Hai. In Acha Bhura, Amjad Khan and Ranjeet are playing the heroes. In Mem Didi, Jayant and David did these roles. Acha Bura is the remake of my own Mem Didi. Anita will be doing the role which Tanuja did in the original.

Is it true that you are dealing with an explosive subject in Bemisaal- that of racketeering in the medical profession by the medicos?

Yes. Bemisaal deals with the racketeering by the medicos. It isn’t something unusual in India. It happens in every nook and corner of the country and lots of quacks claim several innocent lives only for the same of a few currency notes. Bemisaal is the remake of Aami Se O Sakha in Bengali in which Uttam Kumar had played the role Amitabh is playing in Bemisaal and Kaberi Bose had essayed the role played by Raakhee. The producer of the Bengali original of Bemisaal is Shyamal Mitra who had introduced Tanuja in Bengali with Deya Neya.

Raakhee says that she is the heroine of Bemisaal whereas Sheetal claims that you have cast her as the heroine. Who is the heroine- Raakhee or Sheetal?

Let me put an end to this unwanted controversy which was started in all papers by Sheetal due to over enthusiasm. Raakhee is the heroine of the film by all means. The producer has sold the film as an Amitabh-Raakhee starrer and not as a Amitabh-Sheetal starrer. Let me also tell you one thing. All these years, the producers-every one of them only bothered to expose Sheetal’s legs or bosom and did not bother to exploit her dormant talent. She is talented, let me assure you  and for the first time in her career as an actress ever since she faced the camera for  the first time for Kishore Kumar’s Badthi Ka Naam Dhaadi, she has acted in my film. Wait till the picture is released before you chuckle away.

What happened to the project that you had announced-Sapne Apne Apne starring Rajesh Khanna and Smita Patil?

I have shelved the project because firstly Smita wrote to me a letter that she would not be able to allot the days as and when I required them because she was committed elsewhere. We had replaced her with Sharmila but then the distributors felt that the Rajesh Khanna –Sharmila Tagore team had lost its magic and insisted on having a different star cast. I decided to shelve the film rather than bow down to the dictates of the distributors.

Did you plan to cast Sameer and Shabana Azmi too in the project?

I had planned a project with Sameer and Rekha long back. It was based on two short stories. We had to show two stories in a single movie like I showed three stories in Musafir. People advised me that the time was not ripe for experiments which may involve investment of several lakhs and hence I gave up the plans. Sameer is today a prosperous business man, I hear.

Lastly, do you prefer directing films for yourself or for outside producers?

I am making a film called Rang Birangi for Jayant Pandya who had made Namak Haraam with Amol Palekar and Parveen Babi. I am also planning to make a film for myself with Kamal Haasan. He has given me two months this year to make the film. He has not even asked me for the story. Once the subject is finalized, I’ll make the film,” Hrishida signs off and his Man Friday takes the cue and comes to lead me on to the gate of the bungalow

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