Wrestler Charandas was twenty-three years, three months, and seventeen days old when he met Chameli, the well-muscled daughter of coal merchant Kallumal and Champa, his wife. And he fell for her like a ton of bricks.
Were these the two lines which prompted Basu to accept Prakash Mehra’s offer to make Chameli Ki Shaadi? Maybe. He also found the theme to be within his comfort zone. It was of little surprise that, after weathering an indifferent patch, Basu Chatterji fell back on his tried and trusted elements of a young girl’s marriage, romance, roadblocks-to-marriage and clean comedy in 1986. The result was the success called Chameli Ki Shaadi (CKS). Here, Chatterji also broke his jinx of ‘failing with the stars’ as CKS starred the box-office-safe-bet of Anil Kapoor. And Amrita Singh, fresh from her Betaab (1983) success.
There was another reason for his acceptance. Basu was an avid reader, and nothing escaped his eyes, from classics to pulp fiction. Dhadkanein, a social satire by Om Prakash Sharma, was written almost like a scenario. The backdrop was a suburb near Delhi. The dialogues were in a dialect Basu had grown up with. And then there was Sharma himself, who was happy when Basu came with the idea of filming his novel.
The idea for the spoof came as part of the bucket list of Satyendra Pal Chaudhari, who was Prakash Mehra’s financier for quite some time. Satyendra was from Meerut, which was Sharma’s place as well. After working in Delhi, he had settled down in Meerut, where his sons founded Janapriya Prakashan Mandir, a publishing house. Basu came down to meet Sharma and shared his screenplay. The deal was signed.
Bharti Achrekar, who did a brilliant job as the uneducated Champa, tells the author:
“This was a Prakash Mehra production. We were surprised that Prakash Mehra produced a film that had a total disconnect with the stuff he would do. He also gave a free hand to the director. He did not want to make an in-your-face commercial film. Maybe because of his respect for Basu-da.
The shooting was great fun. You see, most of us, Annu Kapoor, Pankaj Kapur, Satyen Kappu, me, and some actors, all came from a theatre background. Amrita was also very good. She was a star, but very cooperative. As I said, it was like a family. The entire set was made in Chandivali Studio.
I had a great time working with Amjad Khan. I am a singer as you would know. I did my graduation in music. Amjad ji was very fond of my singing and would ask me to sing every time we met. We used to have music sessions. I recall the time with great nostalgia. Though for Basu-da, I prefer my role in Apne Paraye more.
Chameli Ki Shaadi was a Basu-da film that did well after quite some time. It had a decent run and could be classified as a big hit too. Today people are watching these films many times over. Most have lost count.”
Producer Prakash Mehra’s say in the cast and crew was apparent. Advocate Harish (Amjad Khan), Charandas’s guide and mentor, is the equivalent of Uncle Tom played by David in Baton Baton Mein. One can’t help but ‘see’ David in the role of the friendly advocate – maybe he would have, had he not passed away in 1982. Apart from Amjad Khan who had played key roles in PMP Productions like Muqaddar ka Sikandar (1978) and Lawaaris (1981), Om Prakash, Ram Sethi, and composers Kalyanji-Anandji were three more of Prakash Mehra’s regular team members who were drafted into the CKS team. None of these people had featured in a Basu Chatterji film before. But still, as far as the direction was concerned, Mehra appeared to have given Basu a free hand, as we see.
‘Prakash Mehra was very cool during the film. He did not interfere, neither did he offer suggestions,’ mentioned Basu to the author.
By design, CKS was a parody of the outdated traditions of the north Indian caste Hindus who do not educate their female child and where marriage outside the biradari is taboo. Chameli had at least reached the eighth grade. Her father was a Class Six dropout. Her mother Champa was illiterate and could not even read Hindi. But Champa knows by instinct that erring daughters who aspire to marry outside their caste need to be slapped and locked up in their rooms.
Despite his mouse-like timidity, Kallumal Koylewala (Pankaj Kapur) is the soft rebel, tentatively reasoning out with his wife in support of their daughter. And Chameli is the belligerent rebel – physically aggressive and stubborn in her decision to marry Charandas despite being incarcerated in her bedroom upstairs by her mother. Both the ladies put up an outstanding performance with Amrita Singh clearly showing the untapped acting potential in her – a potential that was realized decades later in films like Two States (2011) and Badla (2019).
Each actor played within his/her boundaries and contributed to the hilarity and wholesomeness, not the least being Annu Kapoor playing the drunk goonda Chaddam Lal.
Basu’s small town in Bombay, in contrast to the small town near Delhi as in the story, was created completely in a studio set. It was a major change from what Basu would have done under normal circumstances. But Mehra, lenient with production costs, was willing to spend. As was Basu, to recreate the small-town kernel with props like the milkman, the bangle seller (something he had used in Sara Aakash), the transistor radio and the use of popular Hindi songs in the background. Rain too made an entry in a Basu film after some time, as one of the ‘wait for it’ moments in the song ‘Tu Jahan Bhi Chalega Chalungi’.
CKS is probably the only Basu comedy that had a few fight sequences. The fight with Chaddamm was shot in a bar near Caesar Palace hotel in Khar. Today, neither the hotel nor the bar exists. The film continues to fascinate viewers.
Excerpted with permission from Basu Chatterji and Middle-of-the-Road Cinema, Anirudha Bhattacharjee, Penguin Random House India.