Posted August 03, 2013 under Feature Stories By Sayantani Mukherjee

Keshto Mukherjee - the 'drunkard' who won you over!

Keshto Mukherjee - the 'drunkard' who won you over!
Keshto Mukherjee - the 'drunkard' who won you over!

haracter artists are known to add a dash of colour to films and perhaps no film can be complete without them. The character artist takes a concept to fruition; this person works under the art director and lead character artist to create character assets. But these actors receive very less or almost no recognition. While speaking of character artists, the first name that flashes in mind is that of Keshto Mukherjee.

One does not simply forget the drunkard in Asit Sen’s Maa Aur Mamta. Yes, that was the role that gave him a foothold in Bollywood. Though he acted in a few other films, Maa Aur Mamta established him as a successful character artist. However after this film he got typecast and was mostly seen in roles of mad drunkards which he portrayed to perfection.

Keshto Mukherjee was first seen in Nagarik, - the 1952 film by Ritwik Ghatak is probably the first instance of a Bengali art film. He was next seen in the role of a street dancer in Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s directorial debut Musafir (1953). Though Mukherjee was famous for his drunkard typecast role in Hindi films, he used to share a very good relation with the iconic director Ritwik Ghatak. He was seen many times in Ghatak’s films bagging tiny but very important roles in the maestro's films. In Bari Theke Paliye he played the role of a trickster; in Ajantrik he got the role of a madman. He got yet another character role in Jukti Takko Aar Gappo. These roles though small in length are significant ones but what defines Mukherjee is his portrayal of the role of a man, drunk and out of his senses.

In the 1970s he had a monopoly over such roles and he acted in a number of films like Padosan, Parichay among many more. In Parichay his stint as the private tutor to a group of disobedient pupils is memorable. His sense of comic timing and talent as an actor is evident in the scene where his students startle him by setting a turtle with a lighted candle on its back. His face and actions portrayed perfectly the terror that that the character felt setting the audience in bursts of laughter.  In Mehmood`s Bombay to Goa he played the role of a dozing passenger. Mukherjee was also seen in in Raj Kapoor`s Teesri Kasam and in Sadhu Aur Shaitan, where he acted in the role of one of the many cronies of Kishore Kumar. However he is specially remembered for his performance as a policeman in the cult movie, Sholay.

Mukherjee had so mastered the art of acting, especially that of a drunkard, that his very presence in the screen aroused certain expectation in the minds of the audience. Over the years he created an impression which helped him later on. Whenever Keshto Mukherjee appeared on screen it was taken for granted that it will be a role of a drunkard. Critics might condemn this as a lack of creativity but for a character artist it is a boon in disguise. If we take the case of the 19 film Troyee, where he was seen in the song ‘Ek tane te jemon temon’ alongside Mithun Chakraborty and Soumitra Banerjee, his public image as a drunkard and on screen persona helped him greatly o pull the role off so perfectly.  However apart from such roles, Mukherjee had acted in a horde of films where he played various other comic roles. For instance in Mere Apne, Keshto appears as a political leader misleading the locals for winning in the election; and even his performance in Zanjeer, Aap Ki Kasam received critical appreciation.

Comedy is an art which not many can master barring perhaps a true great artist. Keshto Mukherjee through his exquisite comic timing successfully tickled the funny bones of millions of Indians and breathed his last in 1985 thus putting an end to the era of Mukherjee’s undiluted comic reliefs.

Our Little Birdie salutes the undoubted comedy master!

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