During the 1991 general elections in India, as votes were being counted in hundreds of constituencies across the nation, Doordarshan was broadcasting old Hindi movies juxtaposed with election news on the hour. The nation had just lost Rajiv Gandhi and I was curious to see who would become Prime Minister, not because I was interested in politics at the time but from a general knowledge perspective. Instead, what caught my attention was a movie starring Rajesh Khanna and Amitabh Bachchan. I was totally drawn to the movie that over the course of the next 20 odd years, I would watch it more than 20 times! The movie was Anand (1971) directed by Hrishikesh Mukherjee and co-written for screen by an illustrious quintumvirate of poets and writers.
Anand is the story of Anand Sehgal, a man so terminally ill that his cheerful disposition comes as a whiff of fresh air. For someone who wasn’t expected to live for more than 6 months, making friends with total strangers must have been easy and difficult at the same time. Perhaps his loneliness combined with the stark inevitability of his illness drove him to acquaint with others – a stabile search for companionship, even if short-lived, for the few minutes of extreme joy that it delivers. Literally living up to his name, Anand spread happiness all around him until he succumbed to his illness. Rajesh Khanna comes through in the role and did every bit of justice to the character he depicted. There is something about Anand’s past that lingers mysteriously long after the movie has ended, but we can certainly live with that.
The person Anand influenced the most was his doctor, Bhaskar Banerjee, portrayed by Amitabh Bachchan. A disillusioned doctor, his conversations with Anand seemed to lend contractions to his misgivings and slowly alter his attitude. This is a refreshingly clear case of the patient turning around the life of a doctor – one that is at odds with the usual doctor-patient chemistry which we ordinarily get to watch. Anand’s banter and his wisdom beyond age had this magical quality. He truly belonged to that genre of influencers.
Amitabh Bachchan and Rajesh Khanna play diametrically opposite roles in the movie and they cannot be compared. The exuberance of Anand and the aloofness of Bhaskar made it inevitable that both had to make subtle adjustments. I felt that Bachchan had to do a lot more hard work for this role. This is not noticeable on watching the movie, but rather the benefit of hindsight. We all know how he came of age a couple of years after Anand was released.
The film’s tragic but beautiful storyline offers plenty of lessons for today’s generation – both movie makers and movie watchers. 45 years is a long time in the Indian cultural milieu but the messages and the inspiration that the movie brings to the populace is enduring. The lyrics penned by Gulzar are astounding. The nuances of life come out on more than one occasion in those lines. The songs are warm and melancholy.
Each time I watch Anand, I try to think of what his past was. A jilted lover seemed to lurk somewhere in that mysterious book which he carried in that bag of his. Anand is a beautiful movie – a simple story transformed very well to the canvas of the big screen. It’s the story of a patient who chose to be happy, in spite of the condition he found himself in.