Zindagi kaisi hai paheli haaye, by Vijay Kumar

Remembering Hrishikesh Mukherjee on his birth anniversary

Hrishikesh and his Anand

Hrishi was a great filmmaker even though he was seemingly under a self-imposed restraint as to the scope and sweep of his creativity. His films thrived on and leveraged human goodness and offered escapism of sorts. He very rarely chose to handle the ugly side of human nature. He did it in Abhiman and demonstrated that he could if he decided. The existential predicaments that he created were more circumstantial, to take the story forward, but the alternatives that he offered had hardly to do with congenital human badness. Villainy had no place in his films. For instance, Raj of Awara picked pocket for a living but Raj of Anari returned the purse that he found on the road even though he needed money to survive. Raj of Anari easily connects emotionally with the viewers. But Raj of Awara is of the real world. He does fall in love, the social disparity between the lovers notwithstanding. In Anari, however, Raj’s insurmountable goodness seems to barrier his love for Aarati ( Nutan ).

Hrishi’s films were generally linear, were kept on a narrow and straight path, and each film was made brilliantly. He was quite unlike Gulzar, the other disciple of Bimal Roy, who handled human emotional conundrum so adeptly, so brilliantly – instances Aandhi, Khamoshi, Macchis.

Five films of Hrishi that I like the most are Anand, Anari, Chupke Chupke, Gol Maal and Abhiman. And my favourite characters are Madame D’Sa of Anari and Anand of Anand. In fact, I hold a rather outrageous view that Anari was as much a story of love between Madame D’Sa and Raj as between Raj and Aarati ( Nutan ). And for the former, Gulzar’s famous lyrical line – pyaar ko pyaar hi rahane do, rishte ka koi naam na do… is so very apt…


And Anand, for me, is numero uno amongst Hrishi’s films. It invariably emotes me despite my being conscious that such aggregate and accretion of goodness can happen not in a world that is ours !

Each character in this film is unbelievably good; is goodness personified.

Bhaskar in Anand ( the film ) is a doctor with literary interest – writes poems and chronicles the last days of a terminally ill cancer patient Anand ( Rajesh ).

However, the doctor who is under the Hippocratic Oath to provide succour and heal to those sick and ailing writes ‘ deathly’poems: मौत तू एक कविता है,…….मिलेगी मुझको…The poetic fantasy of a doctor! Some of those who are still uninitiated to this film could even think that the man has a tryst with a girl with a gun!

But the doctor meanders further and deeper :

डूबती नब्ज़ों में जब दर्द को नींद आने लगे
ज़र्द सा चेहरा लिये जब चांद उफक तक पहुचे…..
मुझसे एक कविता का वादा है मिलेगी मुझको

Does this connect to realities in any way? Perhaps yes, in the ancient ritual of Santhara practised by a branch (Swetamber) of Jainism. It consists of voluntary starvation to embrace death – considered the ultimate way to attain moksha, when one believes his or her life has served its purpose. A friend of mine, also a distant relative ( name withheld ) is said to have practised it and passed away That happened in the year 2015. I wonder if he experienced, during santhara concluding in his death, the slumbering pain in the sinking pulse …..डूबती नब्ज़ों में जब दर्द को नींद आने लग े?

Doctor’s further muse :

दिन अभी पानी में हो, रात किनारे के करीब
ना अंधेरा ना उजाला हो, ना अभी रात ना दिन
जिस्म जब ख़त्म हो और रूह को जब साँस आऐ 
मुझसे एक कविता का वादा है मिलेगी मुझको

is just a leaf out of an Aastha episode where all tangible, mundane conclusions rely upon two abstractions namely aatama and anand!

However, Anand in the film is not an abstraction but a man in flesh and blood even if in decay. He leverages his cancer to the hilt to tease people, to make fun of them, to also emotionalize them, and to eventually die a death that a few may even fancy and covet! And I must say that here Hrishikesh succeeds in creating a visual in Anand’s death scene that connects to the poem: डूबती नब्ज़ों में जब दर्द को नींद आने लगे / मुझसे एक कविता का वादा है मिलेगी मुझको

I guess, this film’s success also owes itself to the fact it is able to lend a sublimity to death – a sublimity that easily connects to the Indian otherworldliness.

But before experiencing death – doobati nabzon ka dard – Anand – the man under the death’s seize – writes and reads ode to life : maine tere liye hi saat rang ke……

For me, however, one scene in this film that stands out and invariably emotes me, and is also a fine example of Hrishi’s directorial brilliance, is the one involving Johnny Walker – wherein JW acting Isha Bhai calls on Anand in the pangs of death. In this seven-minute scene, JW lived at least four emotions – one emanating from the other – of surprise on discovering that Anand had cancer, his disbelief that he was in his last moments, his wearing a brave mask as he comforted Anand, and finally the catharsis! If Anand gave Rajesh a high histrionic orbit that yet remains unscaled in this genre of films, it also gave JW an opportunity to come up with his best ever performance – sublime, philosophical with an overlay of comedy!

Presently, I play zindagi kaisi ye paheli haay…


Originally published on 30th September 2018

Exceptional thinker and writer Vijay Kumar was with The Ministry of Tourism, New Delhi, where he resides. He enjoys his children, dotes on his grandchildren, and loves Hindi film songs with meaningful lyrics.

One thought on “Zindagi kaisi hai paheli haaye, by Vijay Kumar

  1. Near the end of your brilliant essay, you say “Presently, I play zindagi kaisi ye paheli haay”…but you actually do more than that. You play with our minds, our thoughts, and our feelings. Your thoughts bring a tsunami that sweeps away everything in its path. Your thoughts compel one to pause, to think, to go back and read them over, and then to re-think! I just wonder about you, and how well you critique films and songs _()_ I am also amazed that you propose that Mrs D’Sa feels love for her boarder, young enough to be her son, even if as you say, Pyaar ko pyar hi rehne do…I do have faint visuals of her drooling about him, but never gave those visuals a touch of Eros 🙂 Perhaps you are right. At the very least, you are iconoclastic! I submit before your quite superior mind and writing. Stay blessed Vijay _()_ 🙂

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