New Delhi: Fifty years ago, on March 12, 1971 when Rajesh Khanna’s film Anand was released. I was 10-year-old when I first saw the black and white print of this movie in my school. The school auditorium reverberated with sobs, even I was sobbing uncontrollably.
Why? The delicate sensitivity of a child in me could feel the looming death in the film. I was devastated witnessing my favourite star rue in silence. Fifty years hence has made me old and heralded wisdom, and since then Anand has become a very different film for me
The movie with a terminally ill patient as the protagonist, Anand Saigal (Rajesh Khanna) is anything but sad and gloomy. In its profound way, the film is a lyrical treatment of the one certain thing in the world, death; it is like a poem with which we have a preordained tryst. Death, in Anand, does not cast a dark shadow on any of the delights that the beautiful journey of life has to offer.
Today’s generation believes that you only live once (YOLO) so live this life happily, and that is what ace filmmaker Hrishikesh movie is all about. Mukherjee colours the background of the film with philosophy and optimism, thereby turning its deeply disturbing moments as a lesson for the viewers. Having seen several springs, that is how I relate to the film now!
Anand with death staring in his face is undeterred. Challenging it heartily, he wants others around to support him in this daunting task and not be despondent. Be it the doctors treating him, Dr. Bhaskar K. Banerjee aka Babu Moshai (Amitabh) and Dr. Prakash Kulkarni (Ramesh Deo), or Deo’s wife Suman Kulkarni (Seema Deo); and the strict Matron D’Sa (Lalita Pawar), Anand wants all them around him and make the best of his remaining time.
Anand in his first interaction with Amitabh — with his deadpan and serious demeanour is clinically sure of Rajesh’s death — makes it amply clear that he does not want to lament and lose the little time he has at his disposal. Rather, he would love to be happy and spread joy around! What a noble thought.
Mukherjee’s Anand is a complete human. Brave in facing the final call, he is also vulnerable. On his death bed, he confides to Bachchan’s love interest Renu (Sumita Sanyal), that he does not want to die. The last flicker wants to hang on!
The ever cherubic Anand has many a sorrow buried deep in is heart. There is a poignant moment where Anand becomes vulnerable. ‘Kya har hasi ke peeche ek khushi rehti hai Babumoshai? Kabhi kabhi gham bhi to…’ He stops abruptly, giving a fleeting view of his sadness.
Short but yet leaving an indelible impression! That is what the veteran actor Johnny Walker’s Issabhai Suratwala (Murarilal) was in the film. Keeping pace with Anand’s liveliness and zest for life, his last encounter with Khanna who takes to the bed, is a lesson in emoting. Keeping a straight face, he tells Anand to get a theatre group ready in heaven as he is soon to follow him. The moment he comes out, he breaks down, and cries inconsolably!
Mukherjee initially wanted to make Anand in Bangla and wanted to cast Uttam Kumar while taking Raj Kapoor, one of his best pals, in the Hindi version. The Bengali film was to be titled Ananda Samba. Shashi Kapoor too was offered the lead before Rajesh Khanna.
The other actors considered by Mukherjee were Kishore Kumar and Mehmood in lead roles of Anand and Babu Moshai. When Mukherjee to Kishore’s residence to discuss, he was driven away by the gatekeeper due to a misunderstanding. Kishore Kumar who done a stage show organized by another Bengali man, and was involved in a dispute with him, had instructed the gatekeeper not allow any “Bengali” inside. Mukherjee became the victim and then later refused to with Kishore. Consequently, Mehmood had to leave the film as well.
Kumar who had become the Khanna’s after Aradhana success did not sing any songs in Anand. The evergreen composer Salil Chowdhury insisted on having Mukesh as he felt that the latter’s voice would give the required pathos to Anand’s character. Khanna readily agreed. When asked his favourite song, Khanna had said it was Mukesh’s song Kahin Door Jab Din Dhal Jaye.
Mukherjee initially was reluctant to consider Khanna because of the latter’s superstar status. When the actor insisted on hearing the story and immediately agreed, the director, known for making films on a shoe-string budget told him that he will be unable to pay him his going fees. No problem, said the actor.
Contrary to Mukherjee’s expectations that he will get limited dates for shooting from the superstar, Khanna, would reach the studio, whenever he got free from other shoots. In an interview, Mukherjee had revealed that the moment he spotted Khanna’s car, he would be startled expecting Khanna to insist on shooting!