Looking at Hrishida’s timeless 'Mili', through the eyes of its characters

·Columnist
·6-min read

Director: Hrishikesh Mukherjee

Music: SD Burman

Lyrics: Yogesh

Cast: Jaya Bhaduri, Amitabh Bachchan, Ashok Kumar, Usha Kiron, Suresh Chatwal, Shubha Khote

Written by: Bimal Dutta, Dr. Rahi Masoom Reza and Mohini N. Sippy

STORY:

The film revolves around the effervescent Mili (Jaya Bhaduri), doted upon by father (Ashok Kumar), aunt Sharda (Usha Kiron) and army-man brother Ranjeet (Suresh Chatwal). She’s as adored by the children in her high-rise apartment for her ability to engage with them.

Her happy world is ruffled when a new tenant, the stand-offish Shekhar Dayal (Amitabh Bachchan) moves in the flat adjoining the terrace with caretaker Gopi. The backstory is that he’s tormented by the demons of his past. While he was a child, his mother was shot dead by his father Shankar Dayal, who suspected her fidelity. Shankar Dayal had later shot himself. His past constantly spills into his present thanks to insensitive remarks by prying neighbours.

Mili
Mili

One day, hurt by such an encounter, in an inebriated state, he smashes the glassware and cuts his wrist. Mili and her father rush to help him. Then on sets the thaw between Mili and Shekhar. He begins to embrace life when fate hurls another shocker. Mili is suffering from pernicious anaemia, a terminal disease. How Shekhar deals with this let-down forms the emotional denouement.

We revisit the film and through its layered characters…

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MILI (JAYA BHADURI)

Jaya Bhaduri settles comfortably in her peppy avatar in the first half of the film. Child-like, she gets along famously with the children and trains them for a dance show. Maine kaha phoolon se… embodies her blossoming spirit.

She gets a rude shock when she’s literally shown the door by an impudent Shekhar, who doesn’t take kindly to her trespassing his privacy. The turning point comes when she chides him for throwing a tantrum, even as she’s trying hard to hold tight his slashed wrist – after a drunken accident.

Jaya and Amitabh Bachchan
Jaya and Amitabh Bachchan

In Mili's admonishment, “Baithe rahiye chup chaap! Aap koi laadsaab nahin hai jo jab chahe shor machaayenge…” he finds an echo of concern. He tells his loyal help, “Gopi, bahut dinon baat baad daanth khayee re…mazaa aagaya!” dropping his head near her lap, leaving her moist-eyed as well.

From then on, the equation hits a new note. Of trust, friendship and togetherness. Noteworthy are the scenes, which trace their tender romance as they watch stars through Shekhar’s telescope. Her analogy comparing the celestial bodies to lost loved ones adds to the poetics of the film. Love is in their stars too as Mili rehabilitates Shekhar with compassion.

Their romance continues through flowers and little notes he sends across when Mili is ill. The highpoint of Jaya’s performance is the scene when Shekhar tells her that he’s getting married. Her eyes well up first with disappointment and then with happiness for him, knowing that she won’t be around for long.

Jaya Bhaduri and Amitabh Bachchan
Jaya Bhaduri and Amitabh Bachchan

Her candour when she says, “Main bhi jeena chahti hoon!” is heart-breaking coming from a woman, who doesn’t wish to quit right on the threshold of her dreams.

SHEKHAR DAYAL (AMITABH BACHCHAN)

The desolateness of Shekhar’s life is first introduced with the shadowy number Badi sooni sooni hai. Amitabh played the angry-young-man here too, albeit melancholic and kurta-clad. Though Jaya played the titular role, the film had Amitabh as Shekhar Dayal step into several realms as a character and as an actor.

His eyes carrying the angst of humiliation, his dismissive behaviour is just a defence to ward off fake sympathy and voyeuristic relish about his grisly childhood.

A perceptive Shekhar, begins to appreciate Mili’s no-filter friendship. Her purity appeals to him as does her gentle presence. Like moonshine, she sheds light on his dark horizon. He feels close enough to her to exorcise his demons. Someone, who held his pain close to his heart saying, “Dukh dard toh sarkar bhi nationalize nahin kar sakti mere,” easily bares his anguish to her. He reads out his dead mother’s letter to Mili and spells out her innocence. 

And when he’s just about mended, comes the news that Mili is on the brink of death. The lines…

Har pal mann mera mujh se kehta hai

Jiski dhun mein tu, khoya rehta hai

Bhar de phoolon se, usska daaman…

… from Aaye tum yaad mujhe resonates yearning as also a resolve to flood Mili with happiness in her numbered days.

Tumhein acchi hona hoga. Nahin toh main kaise jeeunga Mili!” he tells his ailing beloved as he proposes to her. He plans to fly her to Switzerland in the hope of sophisticated medical treatment and also to steal moments lived in love… in the twilight of her life.

MR KHANNA (ASHOK KUMAR)

The relationship between Mili and her father Mr Khanna is unique. He’s indulgent and caring towards a daughter, who lost her mother early in life. She, on her part, adores him. 

Jaya Bhaduri and Ashok Kumar
Jaya Bhaduri and Ashok Kumar

Unforgettable is the scene, when Mili, who’s overheard the doctor reveal her fatal condition to her father on the intercom, pretends she hasn’t. Frightened by the looming fatality, she snuggles close to him while he’s sleeping. “Mujhe yahan sone do. Pata nahin main kyon badi hogayi!” are lines that come from a child yearning the sanctuary of a parent.

Her father’s love for her is selfless just as his desire for her happiness – he allows her to get married and fly away… aware that perhaps he will never see her again.

DIRECTOR’S TAKE

Hrishida’s forte was not as much about drawing the audience into his world, as it was about creating a world that the audience identified as theirs. In the ordinary, he applauded the extraordinary.

Hrishida with Jaya Bhaduri and Ashok Kumar
Hrishida with Jaya Bhaduri and Ashok Kumar

The world he creates in Mili is discernible – a warm housing society, where everyone knows everyone, where gossip and generosity co-exist, where joys are collective and so is grief. In the flock of birds competing with whizzing aircrafts, in the cling of the milkman’s cycle, in the clang of lift doors and buzzing door bells… he creates a vibrant urban neighbourhood.

The farewell
The farewell

The most moving image remains of the aeroplane, with which the film begins. A father runs up to the terrace to catch the sight of the plane, carrying his terminally ill daughter, far away from him… and perhaps from life itself. The flashback it unfolds comes to an end with the same fading image… a send-off, a goodbye…

Jostling with hope and despair, life and death… Hrishida’s film is emotional realism at its simplest best.

FOOTNOTE:

Mili was the last film composed by S.D. Burman, before he slipped into a year-long coma preceding his death. His last composed song was Badi sooni sooni hai, sung by Kishore Kumar. It was arranged and recorded by R. D. Burman later.

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