It was sometime in the late sixties and early seventies. Director Hrishikesh Mukherjee was at the high noon of his career. He had several hits to his credit during that time, like Majhli Didi (1967), Satyakam (1969), Anand (1971), Bawarchi (1972) and others. Popularly known as Hrishida in the Mumbai film industry, there were hardly any actors who could resist an offer from the Bengali bhadralok director. He used to write roles for the actors and actresses he had in mind. Abhimaan (1973), starring Amitabh Bachchan and Jaya Bhaduri in the lead, is one of the best examples in this regard.
It is widely believed that Dharmendra, who was not much open to doing comedy, never said a word when Hrishikesh Mukherjee asked him to step into Uttam Kumar’s shoes in Chupke Chupke (1975), a Hindi remake of the Bengali superstar’s Chhadmabeshi (1971).
Mukherjee was known as a hard taskmaster in Bollywood. But not many are aware that he had a heart of gold and was often the first to step ahead whenever there was any need. It’s nothing unusual for celebrities to involve in social services. Some do it with the media in tow, others are more clandestine with their social commitments. Hrishida fell in the latter category.
Circa 1975. Hrishikesh Mukherjee was one of the busiest directors in Mumbai. We was working on a number of films simultaneously. One day he received a letter by post. The sender was a girl called Anuradha. The director frowned at the name because he had never heard it before. But his heart melted once he read the letter entirely.
The 16-year old Anuradha was a resident from Kolkata. She was suffering from blood cancer and required a bone marrow transplant. It was a hugely expensive treatment back then, as it is now. Kolkata doctors had referred her to Mumbai for advanced treatment but her family was not in a position to afford the medical expenses and the cost of stay. A hapless Anuradha, since she knew none in the city, wrote to Mukherjee in desperation.
The letter from Anuradha moved Hrishida. He called over the girl and her family and arranged for their stay at his Bandra home. He was there at the hospital for the entire duration of the operation and returned home only after the girl was transferred to her bed. Mukherjee personally took care of the entire nine-month long post-operative care of the girl at his home. She sent Anuradha back to Kolkata only when she fully recovered.
That’s how Hrishikesh Mukherjee was. He took the spirit of Kolkata in his heart when he left for Mumbai in the late 1940s. He was a rare director who could visualise how the final cut of a film would be, which in turn brought down production costs and the shooting time. Even a director like Manmohan Desai, could safely ask Hrishida to edit the blockbuster Coolie (1983).
Hrishikesh Mukherjee had written about the Anuradha incident in his autobiography.