Well-known editor cum director Hrishikesh Mukherjee is known for comedies and family dramas in Bollywood. His experience as an editor polished his directorial skills. His acumen and eye for detail won him many fans. His movies have repeat value – something that cannot be said about today’s movies. His movies were clean, devoid of vulgarity and violence.
Buddha Mil Gaya was one of Mukherjee’s earliest movies in the beginning of the 70’s that met with modest success at the box office. Mukherjee had the guts to use the word “Buddha” (old man) in the title – a word that is often perceived as derogatory. The movie was acclaimed as a thriller with comic sub-elements added to engage the viewer’s attention. Om Prakash, who is infamous for his hamming (check out Padosan, 1968) played the eponymous role in this movie. Perhaps Om Prakash knew that he would not get such roles in the future and so he predictably grabbed the offer and did complete justice to his character. Besides Buddha Mil Gaya, there are only two other movies that did justice to his talent (Charandas – 1976 and Annadata – 1974) in a manner similar to Buddha Mil Gaya.
Let us come to the plot.
Two out-of-work men Bhola (Deven Varma) and Ajay (Navin Nischol) struggle to make ends meet and are barely able to eke out an existence with the camera that they have. Though, why two people have to depend only on photography as a profession remains a relevant question and can be considered a serious glitch. But such flaws can be forgiven as cinematic liberties that directors often take. The duo lives in a rented place and have earned the ire of the landlady (Lalita Pawar) for having failed to pay the rent for the last three months. Pawar has played such roles with aplomb several times before (notably in Anari, the 1959 hit that starred Raj Kapoor, Motilal and Nutan).
The landlady’s adopted granddaughter Deepa (Archana) has a soft spot for Ajay and is kind towards the duo, offering them entry into the house late in the night, unknown to her grandmother. Bhola spots an ad in the newspaper about an old man who is missing. The ad says that if the old man does not present himself within 15 days, his share in the business worth Rs15 lakh would be apportioned among his partners. Mukherjee doesn’t care to clarify this angle much and if the ad has been placed by the villains to placate the old man, then this is not explained at all.
The old man’s name is Girdharilal. The duo’s favourite haunt is Hanging Gardens where they take photographs of visitors and charge them a fee for delivering them the photographs. One day, while Bhola is developing a print, he spots Girdharilal seated in the gardens. The duo feels that this is a good opportunity to find out his whereabouts so that the old man can claim the wealth that is legitimately due to him. They aspire to earn a few easy bucks in the process.
There is a comic subplot involving a “Nari Sena” (woman’s army) headed by Parvati (Aruna Irani) and a bevy of junior artistes who practice judo for self-defence against mischief mongers and roadside Romeos. Bhola falls for Parvati's charms and influences her to pose as a model so that he can earn some money.
The next day they manage to spot the old man in the garden and quickly motivate him to accompany them to their house. The landlady is impressed when she knows the worth of Girdharilal and bestows her hospitality on him. Meanwhile, Bhola hatches a plot (all with a good intention) to extract information from those who have placed the ad. The plot goes awry landing the duo into one trouble after another. Soon a series of events unfold that leads to the partners being killed in turns (except one Mr Bhagat). The needle of suspicion points towards Girdharilal who regales Deepa with the thumri “Ayo Kahan Se Ghansham” every time a homicide is committed.
Towards the end, Girdharilal reveals the demons of his past to Bhola and team. He explains how he was swindled by his business partners and was falsely implicated in a case of forgery and other illegal acts. He had wanted to run the business on sound ethical principles. But this had not gone down well with Bhagat (Brahm Bharadwaj). Bhagat ensures that Girdhari is jailed. Girdhari's wife (Dulari) and daughter Deepa (Sonia Sahni) are left to fend for themselves.
Deepa is grown up now and works as Bhagat’s secretary. She pretends that she is a Christian and calls herself Mona (Oh, another stereotype). She also doubles up as a dancer in the hotel cum hideout that is owned by Bhagat. Girdhari wants to have his revenge but he doesn’t believe in deploying violence. One thing leads to another and Bhagat kidnaps Deepa (Archana) through his henchman (Shetty). Does Girdhari reunite with his family? How Girdharilal manages to nab Bhagat and rescue Deepa is what the rest of the story is all about.
Among his oeuvre, this is certainly not one of Mukherjee’s best films. There are lots of amateurish scenes in the movie including a weird dance number featured towards the end. The provocation for this dance remains a mystery. The narrative does get a bit jaded in the second half with predictable twists and turns. The only justification for the dance could have been to make Aruna Irani dance. Archana clearly cannot dance though she is pretty and talented – a rare combination indeed.
Archana was the daughter of Hemen Gupta (who directed Kabuliwallah). Hemen was closely associated with Bimal Roy. He passed away in 1967 and his daughter made her debut with Umang in 1970 that was produced and directed by Atmaram Dutt (Guru Dutt’s brother). Buddha Mil Gaya was Archana’s second film. Her third and last movie was Anokha Dan (1972) [recall the memorable number by Gulzar (“Madbhari Yeh Hawayein”)] that sank without a trace at the box office.
Archana had graduated from St Xavier’s college, Mumbai. Despite being a bundle of talent (without the need to flaunt any designer wear in the movies unlike today’s overdressed actresses), Archana chose matrimony to a career in the movies. She married Yogesh Motwani, her college mate and as per reports launched an apparel business with a few friends. To her credit, she has managed to shun the limelight despite renewed interest in her whereabouts in the era of Google, Twitter and Facebook.
In Buddha Mil Gaya, Archana is seen wearing simple sarees and fits the character of the dumb girl-next-door. Mercifully, Archana doesn’t have a Bengali accent – probably because she grew up in Mumbai.
Navin Nischol just about manages to pass muster despite his good looks and flamboyance. One wonders why he needed a wig in the movie. Deven Varma is at his ebullient best and steals the show. His comic timing remains unparalleled. Om Prakash delivers a stellar performance in the titular role. Lalita Pawar, Aruna Irani and Sonia Sahni are predictable but lend good support to the movie. Brahm Bharadwaj is not so menacing as a villain but still holds his own.
Buddha Mil Gaya manages to capture the beauty of quintessential Mumbai (Bombay) of the 70s – whether it is Bandra Bandstand or Hanging Gardens or the by lanes of Bandra. Music by RD Burman is superb with hugely popular numbers like “Raat Kali Ek Khwab Mein Aayi”, “Bhali Bhali Si Ek Surat” and of course “Ayo Kahan Se Ghansham” sung by the inimitable Manna Dey.
Despite flaws in the screenplay and narrative, one can forgive Mukherjee for keeping the viewers on tenterhooks regarding the suspense in the plot.
Buddha Mil Gaya is a delectable watch.
(After working in the corporate world for close to two decades, Bhagyalakshmi started her second career innings as a head-hunter. She is passionate about Hindi movies and loves retro music. When her family shifted to Chennai in the 80’s, Bhagya had a taste of Tamil cinema too. In the long term, she plans a book on two of her favourite directors – Guru Dutt and K Balachander. She travels across the country on work and is based in Mysore.)