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Sumana Roy
Free Verse

The film Hrishikesh Mukherjee could not make

etween Shah Rukh Khan's "Cool" and Amitabh Bachchan's "Coolie" lie much more than two vowels.

For long before Shah Rukh Khan wore the "Cool" pendant in Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, Amitabh Bachchan was to wear something even more outrageous. It was a pendant with the word "Fool" that hung from a gold chain on his hairy chest. Bachchan, like most actors of the time, rarely wore any jewellery in his films, but this he had specially got Hrishikesh Mukherjee to order from a reputed jeweller in Bombay. This was in 1984, and Mukherjee was trying to weld the seriousness of Abhimaan with the humorous tone and treatment that would become his trademark — Chupke Chupke, Golmaal, Naram Garam, to name a few. He had, of course, made Bawarchi with Rajesh Khanna and Jaya Bhaduri a year before Abhimaan, but it wasn't just the tragicomic air that he wanted to abandon for this new film. Mukherjee, whose films would give us the Common Man like no other filmmaker did, was also looking for a door to move beyond the restricting archetype of the Middleclass Indian Man. The men in his films were simple, honest, affectionate and hardworking folks who loved a laugh when they could find it. They found themselves in tricky circumstances that demanded common sense — and this Mukherjee's heroes seemed to have in inexhaustible measure. Their sense of humour annotated our estimate of them, but it wasn't always necessary to their persona. Goodness gave them their spine, but that goodness was never naiveté. Mukherjee now wanted to make a film about a man who had never found a home on his camera — the fool.

And so he called this film April Fool. Amitabh Bachchan was to star in the titular role. The actor did not need much convincing — one can be an Angry Young Man only for so long. The Emergency and Operation Bluestar had left him and his audience claustrophobic — a laugh was the only cure. It was all set: the film would release on the 1st of April, 1985 even though it was a Monday. Jaya Bhaduri needed convincing. She had last acted in Silsila three years ago, having decided to spend more of her time with the children. Also, she thought she might look a little old for the part. April, the character she was to play in the film, was, after all, a Christian girl in her mid-twenties.

pril Fool was scripted as a caper story, and it feels a bit strange to say this today that it might have been a great ancestor of Bunty and Babli, a caper made exactly two decades later. But as the schedule began to be drawn up, the Bachchans began to grow uncomfortable. Several climactic events had changed the contours of their lives since Mukherjee had first narrated the script to them — Indira Gandhi's violent death had made his closest friend the Prime Minister of the country. Rajiv Gandhi, on his part, was insistent that his childhood friend contest the Parliamentary elections as a Congress candidate in the Allahabad constituency. Reluctant at first, Amitabh Bachchan had caved in to the emotional plea eventually. This he found difficult to explain to Hrishikesh Muherjee — would his electorate be able to trust a "Fool" as their representative? The Angry Young Man was a vote-catcher, a hopeful figure for the masses waiting for a political and economic miracle in the country. But a Fool?

He called this film April Fool. Amitabh Bachchan was to star in the titular role. The actor did not need much convincing — one can be an Angry Young Man only for so long... It was all set: the film would release on the 1st of April, 1985 even though it was a Monday.

Jaya Bhaduri, happy contrarian and always educated in her opinions, tried to reason with her husband — the Fool was, after all, the wisest figure in all of Shakespeare. But who would explain that to Amitabh Bachchan's constituency, both literal and figurative? One could say "the haemoglobin in the atmosphere" in a song and return to the seriousness of the world, but to have people laugh at you for three hours was something else. Amitabh was certain that he did not look like Shakespeare's Feste or Touchstone, but how was one to explain this to Hrishikesh Mukherjee now?

And so the arguments began to be stacked up in Pratiksha. A film with the same title had been made by Subodh Mukherji exactly two decades ago. Based on the ways of a prankster who finds himself at the receiving end of a practical joke, the film starring Biswajeet and Saira Banu had not fared too well at the box office. Would it not turn out to be an April Fool joke on the filmmaker himself?

When Amitabh and Jaya Bachchan went to see Hrishikesh Mukherjee at his Bandra residence, the filmmaker was busy finalising dates and travel plans to Fulbari (spelled as "Foolbari" in Mukherjee's notes) in northern Bengal. They got to the point soon enough — Amitabh had been busy campaigning for the elections and now that he had won from Allahabad, it was doubtful how much of his time he would be able to devote to the movies. The other apprehensions also began to scale the wall.

Hrishikesh Muherjee did not speak for a long time. Being let down at such an advanced stage of the prepping process of the film came as a shock of course.

"Hrishi-da," said Jaya Bachchan, tying a bracelet on his hand.

The "Fool" of Amitabh Bachchan's pendant had found a suffix.

"Foolproof". The words sat on Mukherjee's wrist.

And all was well.

(Jack Nicholson plays the joker, and so do we. Almost every word in this edition of The Sunday Guardian 20 is an unnecessary elaborate joke. Happy April Fools' day from Guardian20, two days in advance!)

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