B’day Special: Amol Palekar - Definitive Everyman of Hindi Cinema

We’re missing the innocence of the common man, that Amol Palekar embodied.

4 min read
B’day Special: Amol Palekar - Definitive Everyman of Hindi Cinema

The 70s were a significant era for Hindi cinema. This was the decade that gave birth to the angry young man and made a mammoth star out of Amitabh Bachchan. With Nehruvian socialism gasping for breath, increasing unemployment and a generation disillusioned, the anger of a young man became the outlet for millions of cine-goers.

While the rage against the dying light reigned supreme, there was also the contrarian view that dealt with the idealist common man. This common man, stood apart from the stark portrayal of characters of parallel cinema and no one embodied him better than Amol Palekar.

Everyday Struggles Have Vanished From Our Narrative

Amol Palekar and Utpal Dutt in a scene from Golmal (1979)

This was a common man who was mostly stuck in his day to day struggles, making ends meet, looking for a suitable job, retaining his job, finding the right match to settle down, finding a house, so on and so forth. This ordinary man represented the larger diaspora of middle class, who was not going through the pathos of Shambhu Mahato, nor the affluence of the upper class.

This everyman could also afford musical numbers in their films, thus paving a welcome balance between the accessible musical narrative of commercial entertainment and the realism of parallel cinema. Amol Palekar, with his approachable persona was the definitive everyman of middle-of-the-road Hindi cinema.

Almost up to 2015, in the new millennium, the everyman seemed to have vanished from the narrative. We have a lot going on in our films, but somehow not the struggles of a regular man who faces the most common issues. This has a lot to do with how our country has evolved post the economic liberalisation that was initiated during the reign of PV Narasimha Rao. The economic reforms changed the behaviour of India’s socio-economic structure, in turn changing the very way Indians viewed entertainment.

As cable TV slowly got introduced and grew its tentacles, Indians have countless options to choose from the bouquet of entertainment. Now even the lower end of the economic ladder could afford a TV set, if not a loo. For the larger mass, the trials and tribulations of daily life, with dramatic overtures are already visible on TV. At such a juncture, why would they pay and watch the same thing in theatres? Add to that, the mobile revolution and the internet boom that has condensed our world into a mini device. This mobile, damnably dominant and endlessly useful, is taking us to a world of illusion where all is on our fingertips.

A Fading Sense Of Idealism

Amol Palekar and Ashok Kumar in a scene from Chhoti Si Baat (1975)
But the biggest blow this nice everyman of Amol Palekar has suffered, is the fading sense of idealism. With a declining proximity to the struggle of independence and the idea of making a new nation that defines you, the new generation wants to secure a comfortable future for themselves.

Mobility, both national and international, has increased, giving everyone a chance to fly to greener pastures. No longer, do we understand the word ‘we’. It has become more and more about ‘I, me and myself’.

Though idealism still sounds like a nice utopian idea which we lap up when it shows up on the big screen with a big star addressing it, on a larger than life canvas. In real life, Anna Hazare with his anti-corruption idea catches our fancy for some time but dies a quick death.

Amol Palekar in a scene from Golmal (1979)

Thus our cinema, reflecting the realities and aspirations of our times loves a superhuman bhai or a looking-for-liberation queen. The good-hearted everyman of Amol Palekar is part of a time capsule, reminder of an era gone by.

The characters he inhabited in his films still make us smile, because they bring to mind a time when we used to be innocent, we knew how to make an honest living and we lived a life of ‘happily ever after’. For now, let us be intolerant towards anybody who stops us from dreaming big.

(This article first appeared on 24 November 2015 and is being republished to mark Amol Palekars birthday.)

(The writer is a journalist, screenwriter and content developer who believes in the insanity of words, in print or otherwise. Follow him on Twitter: @RanjibMazumder)

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