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Article Hindi

45 years of Mili (1975): Celebrating the childlike exuberance of Jaya Bhaduri

Hrishikesh Mukherjee returned to the theme of his own Anand (1971) but ended Mili on a note of hope rather than tragedy.

Sukhpreet Kahlon

Hrishikesh Mukherjee along with Basu Chatterji and Gulzar marked a significant shift from the glamorous and formulaic commercial cinema with their 'middle-of-the-road' movies which were rooted in the middle class and its regular life.

Mukherjee had worked with Amitabh Bachchan on the classic Anand (1971) and he had cast Jaya Bhaduri in Guddi (1971), a film about a star-struck schoolgirl infatuated with a matinee idol. In Mili (1975), he returned to the theme he had explored in Anand, that of an extrovert person with a sparkling personality who is diagnosed with a terminal illness. Unlike in Anand, however, which gave us a definitive ending, Mili ends on a note of hope.

Mili (Bhaduri) is an effervescent young woman who is the life of her family and neighbourhood. Generous, fun-loving and cheerful, she wins the hearts of everyone, including the joyless and stern Shekhar (Bachchan), who has recently moved into the building and is haunted by ghosts of his past. But Mili has a terminal illness and everyone around is rendered helpless given their inability to do anything for her.

The entire film takes place inside a building where we meet the people of the neighbourhood and see their relationships with one another and the community life in general. The banter in the family and with the neighbours creates a warm, homely, realistic setting. One example is the scene when too many people arrive for a party at Mili’s home and her father and aunt worry that they may run out of food. Mili suggests adding lots of chillies to the potatoes so that people find their mouths burning, drink lots of water and, well, eat less!

What shines brightest in the film is Jaya Bhaduri in the titular role. The actress lit up the screen with her childlike exuberance. Speaking about working with her in the film, veteran actor Ashok Kumar was quoted as saying, “We have a very fine artiste in Jaya Bhaduri. She is equal to any of the great actresses of any time... In our very first scene together in Mili, I could discern what a volcano of talent she is. What others took months to learn Jaya was able to master in minutes. Some are born artistes, Jaya is one of them.”

Amitabh Bachchan played an intense Shekhar, who is struggling with his own demons and needs to find a ray of hope to find some joy in life. Bachchan held his own even though Bhaduri was clearly the life of the film. He was at the cusp of superstardom and unprecedented fame when this film was released as 1975 was also the year when his career-defining films, Deewaar and Sholay, were released. Ashok Kumar, Aruna Irani, Asrani in a bit role, Shubha Khote, all conjured up the milieu with their inspired performances.

The songs of the film, especially 'Maine Kaha Phoolon Se' sung by Lata Mangeshkar, remains popular. The film's album was the last of the great music director Sachin Dev Burman. Bhaduri was nominated for a Filmfare award for her performance. She lost out to South actress Lakshmi, who won for her role in Julie (1975).

Mili was released on 20 June 1975, just five days before the Emergency was declared by then prime minister Indira Gandhi.