In the midst of dark times, we seek reprieve in movies or books. The past two years, however, have produced little improvement in mood, as the film industry and OTT platforms seem to have a soft spot for dark thrillers, murder mysteries, social dramas or biopics. Where are the days when Bollywood movies can cheer you up with their content? I guess all of that is a thing of the past. Therefore, I chose to watch Angoor, a 1982 comedy that has been labeled a cult classic and arguably one of Bollywood’s finest and cleanest comedies.
Inspired by William Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors, Angoor was directed by Gulzar, who shone so brilliantly as a poet and lyricist that many forgot he was the driving force behind some of Bollywood’s greatest films (Ijaazat, Maachis , Aandhi, Mausam). If you haven’t watched Angoor, the film’s plot line is quite simple and a popular trope in Hindi cinema now: twins are separated at birth, leading to hilarious consequences later on. Only, in the case of Angoor, it is two pairs of twins who separate during a sea voyage. They grow up with different parents, and one fine day, find themselves together in the same city, leading to confusion over their identity not only for onlookers but also for their spouses.
Watching it in 2022, you might expect the film to have hysterical one-liners and punchlines that can be turned into memes. But, Angoor, released four decades ago, finds most of its laughs in the unsaid of its main character, Ashok, played by a talented Sanjeev Kumar. He cracks you up with a straight face, and you wonder, ‘how could anyone say that without flexing a muscle?’ He is completed by actor Deven Verma, who plays his servant Bahadur. The moment he’s on screen, you smile at his innocence. In the scenes where Kumar and Verma meet, the screen glows with their camaraderie. The film is further bolstered by a supporting cast that includes bona fide scene stealers like Deepti Naval, Aruna Irani, and Moushumi Chatterjee.
In the book “Three Classic Films by Gulzar”, author Sathya Saran had mentioned how very particular Gulzar was about the cast of the film. He wrote the film with Sanjeev Kumar in his head. According to the filmmaker, “He was a natural; perfect for a comedic role. Of Deven Verma, Gulzar had noted, “He was a comedian who excelled in comedy.” Explaining why he was sure to cast Moushami as Sudha, Ashok’s whiny wife, the filmmaker told Saran, “She’s so bubbly even in real life. I liked her spontaneity and thought it would work wonderfully for the role of Sudha in Angoor.
For millennials, like me, who may only know Moushami Chatterjee as Deepika Padukone’s “mashi” in Piku, the actor comes across as a revelation with his perfect comedic timing. In the world of Angoor, which mostly focuses on the two dual leads, she holds her own. She plays the tenacious yet innocent wife of Ashok with such conviction that you want her to get what she wants and things to go well for her.
With Angoor, Gulzar had reworked one of his own screenplays, which was turned into a film, Do Dooni Char, by director Debu Sen in 1968. The film left no mark and it left Gulzar determined to do it again, although his belief was questioned by many film producers who wondered “who’s doing a flop again”. But, we’re glad Gulzar trusted his intuition, otherwise we would have missed the peals of laughter that followed Angoor.
I still can’t get over the scene where Sudha (Chatterjee) is in her bedroom with her husband’s lookalike, but not realizing he’s not her spouse but another man, tries to catch up an argument she had with him earlier, flirtatiously. Also, the scene where Bahadur haggles over the price of a rope to commit suicide or when Ashok 1 asks Ashok 2 about a birthmark, “Tumhare daaye kandhe pe til hai? Nahin toh… Mere bhi nahin hai! Phir toh hum dono bhai huye..” leaves you wide apart.
Today, while Bollywood’s idea of comedies involves a good degree of sexism, Angoor comes across as a simple, clean, and crisp comedy-drama. It provides much-needed relief from reality, and I guess that’s the power of good Bollywood comedy – it lightens and uplifts moods.