Mention Hrishikesh Mukherjee and it is obvious that we conjure up images of boistrous households, kurta-clad men and sari-clad women celebrating their middle-class lives on-screen and everyday images of, what was then, Bombay. But way back in his inchoate days as a director, Hrishida came up with a silent gem called Anuradha. In the year 1960, the successes of many a good movie remained unheard due to the thunder of K.Asif’s Mughal-e-azam. Anuradha too celebrated its success under its mighty shadow.
What goes on in the mind of a superstar when she gives up glamour and glory to marry a doctor working in a village? Anuradha has some answers. Based on a short-story by Sachin Bhowmick, the movie tells the story of Anuradha Roy (Leela Naidu), a singing sensation, who chooses a domesticated life in an obscure village with her husband Dr. Nirmal Chaudhri (Balraj Sahni) and daughter Ranu. In a series of flashbacks, Anuradha’s past as a successful radio singer is revealed to us. Rejecting her father’s warnings of a difficult life and her suitor Deepak‘s (Abhi Bhattacharya) entreaties, she decides to get married to Nirmal, who has set his mind to work in a village. Ten years on and the marriage loses its colours as Nirmal is absorbed in the welfare of the villgers, quite unmindful of the subtle needs of his wife. The story takes a twist with the serendipitious meeting of Deepak and Anuradha. Deepak rekindles her past and juxtaposes it with her mundane present, shorn of the pleasures of a married life, where her husband is wedded to his work more than his wife. Anuradha finally puts her foot down when Nirmal fails to keep a promise on their anniversary and declares her decision to move out of his life for good. She stays back to play host to Dr. Trivedi (Nazir Hussein) , who praises her to the skies and attributes Nirmal’s success to the dedication and devotion of Anuradha. In a daintily drafted climax, Nirmal’s penitence and Anuradha’s forgiveness lends life to their ruined relationship.
Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary was the major source of inspiration for Sachin Bhowmick, who wrote the story of Anuradha. Post-marital life has been the toast of many a Hindi movie like Abhimaan, Kora Kaagaz, Anubhav, Grihapravesh, Aavishkar and most recently Chalte Chalte. But Anuradha can be seen as a predecessor to Basu Bhattacharya’s Anubhav for both talked of a marriage running out of colours with passing years. While movies like Guru Dutt’s Sahib Biwi aur Ghulam talk of an indifferent husband, shorn of any love, Anuradha is about a marriage where the husband turns emotionally inexpressive with advancing years. The indifference in Anuradha is not intentional.
The gap in their marriage is evident in the scene where Anuradha appraoches Nirmal, lost in his work, in a sari he had bought for her during their courtship and asks him how he finds it. He lifts his head for a moment and resumes his work and asks “When did you buy it?” Anuradha chuckles to herself and says sarcastically “A deceptive salesman came and gave it to me. What to do, he spoke such sweet words when I bought it and now when I have problems with it, he has just disappeared.”
In a poignant scene where Anuradha tells Nirmal about her decision to call it quits, she says “I thought I will not lose much leaving my music and dance as I would be getting you. Little did I know that after ten years of marriage, I would be left with nothing. I failed to get even you. However, my decision will not cause much loss to you”.
Balraj Sahni strikes a dignified composure and looks every bit Nirmal Chaudhari and gets into his role with ease. He looks every inch a dedicated doctor, unmindful of his domestic life. Abhi Bhattacharya makes an impact but his scenes are by and large too less. But the point of attraction is the stunning beauty of Leela Naidu. Though she fumbles a bit with her Hindi dialogues at places, one simply ignores it for she lights up every frame with her luminous being. Leela Naidu, who had been Miss India (1954) was spotted by Hrishikesh Mukherjee when he saw her photos captured by Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay. Leela Naidu did far and between few films in her career – Anuradha, The Householder and Trikaal being the most memorable among all.
The beauty of Anuradha lies in its silent charm. Anuradha’s distance from her music is expressed through dusty music notes and a veena, lying unused for years. The charm of the movie is accentuated by its music. Many associates suggested Hrishekesh Mukherjee to go for their usual favourite Shankar-Jaikishan for the movie. But Hrishida was sure that the classicism in the story could be brought out only by a classical musician. It is said that initially Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan was approached. But finally, Pandit Ravi Shankar agreed to score the music for this movie. Though Anuradha failed to give chartbusters, the plaintive notes of Jaane kaise sapnon mein, Haay re woh din and Kaise din beete, sung mellifluously by Lata Mangeshkar, fail to fade away. But it is the stupendous background score that enunciates the latent emotions of the characters.
Hrishikesh Mukherjee raises many points which hold water even in today’s world. In a jocular scene, Ranu (played brillaintly by Baby Ranu) asks her father why her mother became Anuradha Chaudhari from Anuradha Roy and whether she too will have to change her name after her marriage. The contribution of women behind the success of men, though an oft-repeated fact, is used as the pillar of this story, which finally dawns on an insensitive Nirmal in the climax.
Anuradha won the President’s Gold Medal and was nominated for the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival in 1961. Hrishikesh Mukherjee however failed to make any notable works for the next six years, save the Dev Anand-Sadhna starrer Asli Naqli (1962), till he finally saw a tangible success with Anupama (1966). Deep under the colours and revelry of the Hrishikesh Mukherjee classics of the seventies, Anuradha still shines radiantly like the luminescent face of Leela Naidu. The radiance has now assumed golden shades as this year marks the 50th anniversary of this classic. Pages after pages in the press will celebrate the golden jubilee of Mughal-e-azam, but Anuradha will still live under a glorious ignominy, quite like what she did under the eyes of her husband.
(This article was published in the magazine I-Witness of The New Sunday Express)