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Classics Revisited: Gol Maal(1979)



 Lies, damned lies! How Hrishikesh Mukherjee loved telling the truth about people who lied. In Anand Rajesh Khana makes up a friendship with strangers on the road pretending to have met them in fictitious encounters. In Khubsoorat Rekha  circumvents Dina Pathak’s authority by sneaking fun sessions on the terrace with the oppressed family members. Hrishida later made a whole film on the art of lying Jhoothi with his favourite Rekha in the lead.

 Gol Maal is a very popular portrait of deception.Lately in the news for being arbitrarily lifted by Rohit Shetty in Bol Bachchan, it still has a certain tongue-in-cheek recency to its humour. The remake released a couple of months ago borrows chunks of Hrishida’s narration including Dina Pathak’s characters as Mrs Shrivastava, the socialite and part-time actress who masquerades as the hero’s mother. In Rohit Shetty’s Bol Bachchan she is the tartish Mujra wali played by Archana Puransingh who’s hired to pretend to be Ram and Laxman Prasad’s mother. But in spirit the two characters remain the same.Also, the character  of the actor Deven Varma (as Deven Varma)who helps  Ramprasad prepare to play his twin Laxmanprasad, alias Lucky, is far more fleshed out in Bol Bachchan and turned into the neo-Amol Abhishek Bachchan’s sidekick(layed by Abhishek Krushna).

 I guess it’s the need of the hour. Gol Maal came in the year of  Raj Kumar Kohli’s  intensely commercial  Jaani Dushman and the acutely realistic marital drama Grihapravesh. It came at the peak of the Bachchan wave. 1979 was the year when the Big B’s Mr Natwarlal , Kala Patthar and Suhaag swept the boxoffice. And yet Gol Maal held its own. To this day it invites spinoffs.And we aren’t speaking only of Bol Bachchan.

 David Dhawan recently admitted to me that two of his Govinda hits Hero No 1 and Coolie No 1 were inspired by Hrishida’s Gol Maal. “Whenever I ran out of ideas I’d look towards Hrishida’s cinema, “ David confessed.

Hrishida’s Gol Maal is a study of  an imagined double identity. Amol Palekar handles the complexities of the comedy of errors with an élan eschewing over-statement. He is  Ramprasad a closet- musician struggling to find a 9-5 job in the tumultuous post-Emergency Mumbai of the 1970s. Enter the disciplinarian Bhawani Shankar(Utpal Dutt) who has a job, but also an autocratic attitude to anything that’s frivolous or fun-filled.To Bhawani Shankar any young man who has shaved off his moustache is not serious about life.

In a  fit of desperation Ram pastes a mouche on his upperlip, puts on a Kurta borrowed from Asrani’s wardrobe(that’s a long story)  and poses as the sedate god-fearing regimented office junkie.

Bhawani Shankar loves the boy.If you’ve seen Bol Bachchan you would know what follows. What really puts Hrishida’s Gol Maal leagues ahead of the humour extended into Bol Bachchan is the aura of innocence that pervades the comedy of errors . No one means any real harm. Not even Ramprasad’s fictitious twin Laxman /Lucky who  shows up as Bhawani Shankar’s daughrer Urmila(Bindiya Goswami)’s music teacher.

In Bol Bachchan, the music teacher from Gol Maal is converted into an effeminate dance teacher. Every character in the remake screamed for attention.In Gol Maal the humour was generated from a sense of smothered outrage rather than its loud and overt manifestation. Hrishida shot the whole comedy as one stretch of humour emanating from the invention of a double to appease a boss who is almost tyrannical in his beliefs.

 The spoilsport disciplinarian was a  favourite Hrishida character.Tarun Bose in Anupama,Veena in Aashirwad, Dharmendra in Satayam, Dina Pathak in Khubsoorat, Om Prakash in Chupke Chupke …they all tried to play the party-pooper. But did that stop the other characters from having fun!

 The thing about inventing one’s own imaginary twin is  that it provides endless comic possibilities. Even if Hrishida’s characters pulled out all stops, he never got carried away. In Gol Maal Amol Palekar’s relationships are  defined purely by his interaction with Utpal Dutt. The two are inseparable in their interactive energy. And it’s hard to imagine the film without Utpal bossing over the timid Amol in a  way that would in today’s work space by defined as harassment.

Both Utpal and Amol shared a very special rapport with Hrishida. They both did 5 films each with the director. But none was as successful as Gol Maal.

To what do we attribute the enduring appeal of this comedy of mistaken identity?

It’s partly to do with the idea of wish-fulfilment through a doppelganger. As a child we often invent an imaginary ‘other’ for ourselves who does all the things that we are forbidden from doing so. Hrishida  played on that childhood fantasy . There was a child within him waiting to have fun as soon as  the churlish disciplinarian stopped looking. Amol Palekar played that child.

   R D Burman’s music and Gulzar’s lyrics also played a big hand  in the film’s success. Kishore Kumar’s Aane wala pal jaane wala hai and RD and Sapan Chakraborty’s title song were chartbusters.

Gol Maal Trivia

  • Amitabh Bachchan makes a guest appearance as himself  in a sequence where Amol Palekar visits his actor friend Deven Varma(playing Deven Varma) in studio. They spot the Big B shooting for Hrishida’s Jurmana . In fact the super-prolific director shot Gol Maal and Jurmana simultaneously.
  • In a song Sapne mein dekha ek sapna Gulzar wrote in a mention of two of Hrishida’s favourite artistes Lata Mangeshkar and the Big B.
  • Lataji whom Hrishida called Mata Saraswati and who didn’t charge any money for the songs she sang in his films sang just one solo Ek baat kahun gar mano tum in Gol Maal. However it was later discovered that the song was recorded with a glitch. Hrishida nevertheless retained the number in the film. “Even a flawed Lata Mangeshkar song is worth a million times more than songs by other singers,” he said fondly.
  • Character actor David who played the kindly Doctor Uncle who suggests to Amol that he invent a suitable doppelganger to get a job, did the maximum number of films with Hrishida, from Anupama in 1966 to Khubsoorat in 1980.His role in Gol Maal was played by Asrani in Bol Bachchan.
  • Asrani who was also a regular in Hrishida’s films was just a Kurta in Gol Maal. In a scene at a film studio Amol Paelkar is offered Asrani’s kurta for his twin role.
  • Another Hrishida favourite Om Prakash made a  guest appearance at the climax of Gol Maal
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