Bollywood multi-hyphenate Hrishikesh Mukherjee died of septicemia Aug. 27 in Mumbai’s Lilavati Hospital, where he had been admitted in early June for renal failure. He was 83.
A producer-director, whose keen observation of India’s middle-class found innovative reflection in more than 47 movies, Mukherjee’s pics were not always box office hits. But the movies’ honest characterizations, effortless humor and adroit treatment attracted the biggest stars of the time — all of whom considered it an honor to work with this soft-spoken director.
Mukherjee was awarded India’s prestigious Dada Saheb Phalke Award for lifetime achievement in 1999. He served as the chief of the Central Board for Film Certification, India’s film censor board in the early 1990s.
Mukherjee’s socially relevant films included President’s Gold Medal winner “Anuradha” (1960), “Asli naqli” (The Real and the Fake, 1962), “Saanj aur savera” (Dusk and Dawn, 1964) “Anupama” (1966) and “Satyakam” (Speaker of Truth, 1969), “Ashirwaad” (Blessing, 1968), “Namak haram” (The Ingrate) and “Abhimaan” (Pride), both in 1973. Other pics include “Mili” and “Chaitali” (both 1975), “Aalap” (Refrain, 1977) and “Jurmana” (Fine, 1979).
Although the first film he directed was the lack-luster “Musafir” (Traveler, 1957), it attracted the attention of Bollywood star Raj Kapoor, who had Mukherjee direct “Anari” (The Innocent One) in 1959. Although he was a Bollywood director, his films didn’t have the typical song-and-dance routines; instead the melodies were incorporated in a more natural way.
With 1970s sleeper hit “Anand,” about a cancer patient who changes the life of his doctor, starring then-matinee idol Rajesh Khanna, he launched the career of Amitabh Bachchan. The following year’s “Guddi” launched thesp Jaya Bhaduri, who later married Bachchan. Working with Gulzar, who wrote the dialogues to his screenplays, his pics frequently had oft-quoted lines in films like the laugh-a-minute “Chupke chupke” (On the Quiet, 1975), and comedies like “Gol Maal” (Hanky-Panky, 1979), “Khubsoorat” (Beautiful, 1980) and “Bawarchi” (Cook, 1972), as well as “Anand.”
Born in Kolkata, Mukherjee started his career in 1945, with Calcutta’s New Theaters as an editor. He went on to edit his mentor, Bengali auteur Bimal Roy’s “Do bigha zamin”(Two Acres of Land, 1953) in Mumbai.
While his last film He “Jhoot bole kauva kaate” (Beware of Lies, 1998), wasn’t a box office hit, it showed his trademark human touch.
Mukherjee is survived by three sons and a daughter.