Gol Maal completes 40 years: Hrishikesh Mukherjee's Amol Palekar was the not-so-Angry Young Man of 1970s
While Salim-Javed wrote dialogues laced with rage for Amitabh Bachchan's Angry Young Man movies, Gol Maal director Hrishikesh Mukherjee commented on issues like unemployment in siganture lighthearted style.
Decades before Rohit Shetty took over with his comedy franchise Golmaal, a filmmaker of a different sensibility used the same name to tell a simple story — Hrishikesh Mukherjee's Gol Maal, that released on this day 40 years ago on 20 April, 1979.
Mukherjee's Gol Maal went beyond being just an entertaining film. It was aware of its times and was a strong comment on the middle class' burning issue of sustainability in the 1970s. While on one hand, Salim-Javed wrote dialogues of rage for Amitabh Bachchan to add fuel to the fire of The Angry Young Man, Mukherjee pushed the envelope rather gently, commenting on issues like unemployment in his signature lighthearted style.
His muse in Gol Maal was Amol Palekar, arguably the Amitabh Bachchan of the middle-of-road cinema, a space that Mukherjee pioneered. Instead of fighting the system violently, Palekar protested through relatable decisions that a common man takes when his job is in danger. The sad state of affairs was not reflected by an anti-establishment streak, but through helplessness or desperation of a middle class man.
In Gol Maal, Palekar plays Ram Prasad Sharma (sounds familiar?), a sports and film enthusiast who acts as if he is only interested in commerce when he learns that his prospective boss Bhavani Shankar (Utpal Dutt) is a stickler when it comes to Indian culture. He also does not shave his moustache because Shankar is of the belief that a man without a moustache equals a man without character.
Impressed, Shankar hires Ram at once. But a few days later, he spots Ram at a football match (Indian culture violation alert!) when his new workaholic employee has 'reluctantly' asked for a leave because his mother is unwell. But Ram defends himself by claiming that the man Shankar saw at the football match was actually his twin brother Lakshman Prasad Sharma (yes, Farah Khan was clearly inspired by Gol Maal when she made Main Hoon Naa in 2004).
When Shankar demands Ram's 'twin brother' Lakshman (who as Ram revealed, is also a great singer) teach music to his daughter Urmila (Bindiya Goswami), Ram enters a no-stepping-back rigmarole of living a dual life because interestingly, Lakshman does not have a moustache (or character, as per Bhawani's definition). Soon, Ram is compelled to rope in Mrs Shrivastava (Dina Pathak), a rich socialite and aspiring actress, to play his widowed mother (his actual mother is dead) once Bhawani insists on visiting Ram's ailing mother.
This orchestrated chaos ends up in hilarious moments, like Palekar falling short of glue while applying his fake moustache and the then-57-year-old Dina Pathak jumping into a house through the kitchen window in order to save Palekar from getting caught red-handed.
The twin trope was not new even then as Hindi film aficionados had already witnessed Ram Aur Shyam and Seeta Aur Geeta. What ended up being fresh in the film was what Mukherjee was trying to establish through the twin deception plot point: how a common man attempts to put forth his best cards, particularly in the desperate state of seeking a job.
While Mukherjee's idea continues to resonate, it was all the more necessary to hammer home in 1979. Then, Bollywood was on the verge of the 1980s, which saw the explosion of the Disco era, a trend clearly imported from the West. Post that,Indian culture has only been more inclusive of Western elements, particularly post the '90s.
In what was a rather quick resolution in the climax of Gol Maal, Shankar's close friend tries to convince him to go beyond his obsession with Indian roots and embrace at least some part of Western culture. "Iss moochh mei kya sharafat ne koi ghosla banaya hai?," he quips, trying his best to convey to Shankar that not every clean-shaven guy is uncultured, just like how not every film needs an Angry Young Man to rage against the times.
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