PG Wodehouse and Hrishikesh Mukherjee

A tribute to these great story tellers.

The twist and turns, the coincidences, the most extraordinary characters, the muddled up anti-climax and finally a happy ending, that is what characterizes a Wodehouse novel or a Mukherjee movie. Any given Sunday, start with any one of these and you will surely end up refreshed, far away from the week load of woes and worries.

Their plots usually have these ingredients (e.g. of Golmaal taken here): a love story to be saved (Amol Palekar and Bindiya Goswami), a narrator or story writer (Deven Verma, very explicitly in Rang Birangi), the gullible characters (Shubha Khote, the buaji), the lies and disguise (Dina Pathak), the tough quirky people (Utpal Dutt), the supporting members (David, mamaji; Manju Singh, sister) to bring in the complexities, the anticlimax mix up (Utpal Dutt in jail) and finally a happy ending.

In the latest Wodehouse I read ‘Uncle Fred in Springtime’, we could see exactly the same script. Love story of Polly & Ricky, Uncle Fred as chief narrator, plenty of gullible characters (almost everyone at Blanding’s Castle is gullible, especially those following Lord Emsworth’s bloodline!), lies and disguise at its best (honesty is the best policy only in the world which has no place for good humour), quirky people (Duke of Dunstable) and loads of supporting secretaries and butlers (Baxter, Beach et al). There is enough of disguise, imposers, pinching (British for stealing), gambling, hitting, detectives to weave a hilarious combination of events. However, what I like the best about Wodehouse is his language. These are the words from the book I read to my lanky husband the other night: Nature, stretching Horace Davenport out, had forgotten to stretch him sideways, and one could have pictured Euclid, had they met, nudging a friend and saying. ‘Don’t look now, but this chap coming along illustrates exactly what I was telling you about a straight line having length without breadth.’ 

There is some sort of message these incredible story tellers add in their stories. “World is full of snobs”, “lying is necessary evil” (a beautiful movie ‘Jhooti’ has a lead female character lying all the time!), men love to do manly stuff comprising of betting, losing money, cheating, beating up people, drinking, acting foolishly, on the other hand, women love to over-react and break-off marriages and need to be begged for pardon. There are also some deep lying messages. Khoobsoorat was all about understanding discipline in a different light. In words of Wodehouse “Marriage is a battlefield, not a bed of roses…. the only way of ensuring a happy married life is to get it thoroughly clear at the outset who is going to skipper the team.” These are pure words of wisdom.

Of course, one doesn’t read Wodehouse or watch Mukherjee to gain wisdom. The (lost) art created by these personalities was based around a kind of humour which is otherwise not seen anywhere else. Gulzar’s ‘khafiyas’ or poetry snippets in common man’s speech (Khubsoorat, 1980) can’t be found in any other motion picture. Only a few movies came after that era which could be considered to belong in the same league. Khosla ka Ghosla was one of them. I do wonder if we will see more writers like Wodehouse and more film makers like Mukherjee in years to come. I dearly wish, we do.

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