It’s strange that Bawarchi, directed by Hrishikesh Mukherjee, always strikes us first whenever films revolving around food or foodie movies are discussed in Hindi cinema. The fact is quoted as strange because though the film is titled Bawarchi (Cook), it isn’t exactly related to food or cooking as a foodie-film. Fondly remembered for its light-comical and life-enriching moments, Bawarchi is all about a mysterious cook who transforms every member of a dysfunctional family through his enlightening talks and acts. It is one of the most famous and loved films of Mukherjee and superstar Rajesh Khanna together post Anand (1971).
However, a rare feature associated with the film is its two-way links of inspiration. While Bawarchi itself was an adaptation, it later became a source of inspiration for many writers and directors, as a memorable milestone in Hindi cinema. Widely quoted as inspired by My Man Godfrey (1936) in various online portals and blogs, Bawarchi in reality, just had its basic plot similar to the English classic focusing on the butler. The English film didn’t have any mystery associated with its central character and also had a love story angle between the butler and his young lady employer. What’s even more interesting is that William Powell playing the lead, also did another film titled The Baroness and The Butler in 1938, in which a butler gets elected to the Parliament.
Bawarchi was an official and faithful adaptation of a Bengali social comedy Galpo Holeo Satti (1966), written and directed by Tapan Sinha, in which Rabi Ghosh played the protagonist. The opening titles of the Hindi version duly gave the credit of its story to Sinha, with the voiceover of Amitabh Bachchan introducing various characters of the film in an innovative style. Starring Rajesh Khanna as a bawarchi, this was yet another film from the director-actor duo, in which the superstar had an unusual role with no romantic angle in the script.
Remembered and valued for its outstanding dialogues and one-liner gems penned by Gulzar, Bawarchi had some remarkable classical music-based songs like Bhor Aayi Gaya Andhiyara, Tum Bin Jeevan, and more. Madan Mohan composed the soundtrack with lyrics by Kaifi Azmi. Recalling its music, Hrishikesh Mukherjee once gave a very decisive statement about the soundtracks of his films in the mid-90s. In his words, “If all the music directors were still alive today, and I was allowed to make a film with one of them. I would opt for my Bawarchi composer, Madan Mohan. What a talent! I feel Bawarchi has the best music score among all my films.”
Creating a world of many likeable characters, the simplistic venture became a cult film in the later decades of its release. Post getting adapted in various languages in Indian regional cinema, it inspired David Dhawan-Govinda’s Hero No.1 with a love-angle insertion in 1997. A few years later, Satish Kaushik made Badhaai Ho Badhaai in 2002 on his own story that had glimpses of the key plot of Bawarchi.
Later, the cinema of the new millennium witnessed two clever adaptations of the theme in both Hindi and Punjabi movies. As a self-confessed fan of Hrishikesh Mukherjee cinema, director Raj Kumar Hirani came up with PK in 2014 featuring Aamir Khan in the lead, smartly devised on the one-line plot of Bawarchi. A mysterious man appearing from nowhere and then disappearing one day after transforming the lives of everyone he meets and lives within a short period of time was intelligently portrayed through the character of an alien.
Two years post PK, actor-director Gippy Grewal successfully incorporated the same premise in his directorial debut Ardaas (2016) in Punjabi cinema. Gippy presented the central character of his film as a teacher (Gurpreet Ghuggi), who visits a village for a short time and brings significant changes in the lives of many before moving on to his next destination. Gippy’s fascination for Hrishikesh Mukherjee cinema was proven when he made his next film Ardaas Karaan (2019), on a theme similar to the director’s famous classic, Anand.
Coming back to the genre of foodie-films, Hindi cinema witnessed many projects revolving around food in a much more elaborate manner in the last two decades like Ramji London Wale, Cheeni Kum, Stanley Ka Dabba, Luv Shuv Tey Chicken Khurana, Daawat-e-Ishq, English Vinglish, The Lunchbox, and the most recent Chef and Mitron. These were decent to fine films, but such is the impact of Bawarchi that it remains the first name we remember while talking about foodie-films in Hindi cinema even after half a century.
(The writer is a critic-columnist, an explorer of cinema and author of ‘Did You Know’ series on Hindi films also active at bobbytalkscinema.com)
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