Birthday Special: Amol Palekar and His Legacy in Hindi, Marathi, and Bengali Cinema

Birthday Special: Amol Palekar and His Legacy in Hindi, Marathi, and Bengali Cinema

In a Bollywood era dominated by the rambunctious, ferocious, masculine heroes, Amol Palekar carved out a name for himself with his odd, charming appearance of the everyday middle-class man. His performances were much more gentler and often dealt with the everyday life experiences of the ordinary man. He didn’t need to fight villains and shout angry slogans. He had his own superpowers.   

But did you know that our very own Ram Prasad Dashrath Prasad Sharma’s expertise extends way beyond his acting prowess? Unlike his character from Golmaal (1979), we are not lying. The man has cemented his reputation as a director and producer in Hindi, Marathi as well as Bengali cinema. On one occasion, he even led India all the way to the Oscars ceremony, contesting for The Best Foreign Film. 

Today, on the occasion of his 77th birthday on 24th November, we take a moment to appreciate the legacy of this beautiful artist and his dedication to the craft. 

Amol Palekar started as an actor, from theatre to films, and in the later part of his career shifted his focus on directing. His all-time hit and appreciated films are Golmaal, Baaton Baaton Main, and Choti Si Baat. He is known to be a versatile performer, and he is the recipient of three Filmfare Awards, Six State Awards for Best Actor. 

 Amol Palekar has been an ardent participant in the Hindi and Marathi theatre in the late 60s and is often referred to as the ‘Champion of Modern Indian-Theatre’. He established himself as the ‘common man’ with Golmal (1979). He preferred real-life, simple, relatable roles, with a hint of overdramatic life, full of struggles.

Amol Palekar was born on the 24th of November, 1944 in Mumbai, in a lower-middle-class family. His father, Kamlakar, was an employee at the General Post Office, and his mother was employed in a private firm. He was the only brother to three sisters, Neelam, Rekha, and Unnati. 

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He earned a degree in Fine Arts from Sir JJ School of Arts, Mumbai. Thereafter, he started his career as a paint artist. 

Soon after, he started working at the Bank of India. And then finally he turned towards acting, which became his full-time career then.

Palekar entered the industry with  Satyadev Dubey’s references. He began his career in Marathi theatre and worked in many plays; Shantata! Court Chalu Aahe, Hayavadana, and Adhe Adhure to name a few.

He made a solid start in the cinema world in 1971 with Shantata! Court Chalu Aahe (same as the play mentioned earlier). It was directed by Satyadev Dubey, who, at that time, was credited for bringing about a ‘revolution’ in Marathi Cinema. 3 years later, Basu Chatterjee offered him a role in Chhoti Si Baat. It was made on a low budget and still turned out to be a big hit. After Chhoti Si Baat, Basu Chatterjee and Hrishikesh Mukharjee began casting him in other low-budget classics, which did a good business at the box office.

Birthday Special: Amol Palekar and His Legacy in Hindi, Marathi, and Bengali Cinema

Amol Palekar completed three consecutive hits with Chitchor(1976), which was a romantic classic, famous for its mesmerising soundtrack. Critics often reviewed his movies as “real, middle-class comedies, which the majority relates to”.

Birthday Special: Amol Palekar and His Legacy in Hindi, Marathi, and Bengali Cinema

He played some of the most courageous roles, showing his versatility in acting.

After a series of hit films, he became everyone’s favourite. His versatile roles include films like Gharonda (1976), where he played a man who scuffles to get back his own flat, then the role of a man who tries to win over the love of his girlfriend (later his wife), in 1979 classic Baaton Baaton Mein. Also, an interesting fact is that in a comedy-drama, he played a character with his actual name.

Birthday Special: Amol Palekar and His Legacy in Hindi, Marathi, and Bengali Cinema

Golmal (1979), directed by Hrishikesh Mukharjee was the greatest cult hit of all times, and a highlight of Amol Palekar’s career.

He won the  Filmfare Award for the Best Actor for Gol Maal.  The movie revolves around the shenanigans of Ram Prasad who deceives his boss Bhavani about his true self (because Bhavani has some strict standards and Ram Prasad barely meets them) in order to get a job. Ram Prasad spends the rest of the movie coming up with new stories and lies to support that first, initial lie he told Bhavani. In the cat-and-mouse chase that ensures, the movie becomes a memorable light-hearted comedy. If you haven’t watched it yet, well, you are missing out on a masterpiece. Your loss. 

Solva Sawan (1979) was another memorable movie in which Amol Palekar played an intellectually disabled boy. This movie marked the Bollywood debut of Sridevi, at the tender age of sixteen years.  

He thereafter tried his hands in Malayalam movies with Olangal. He, at that time, had established himself in the mainstream Hindi cinema, but he still remained connected with regional Marathi cinema, from where he started off his journey. He directed the Marathi film Aakriet. In Bollywood, he directed Thodasa Roomani Ho Jaayen and Paheli. Paheli made its way to the 2006 Oscars, representing India at the global level for the award Best Foreign Film. However, it was not able to win the award. The film was a big hit due to a flurry of superstars, Shah Rukh Khan, Juhi Chawla and Rani Mukharjee, and the Director, our very own Mr. Palekar.

Birthday Special: Amol Palekar and His Legacy in Hindi, Marathi, and Bengali Cinema

Thodasa Roomani Ho Jaayein was chosen to be a part of the curriculum of the “Human Behaviour Paper” for courses such as Human Resource Management.

The king of regional cinemas entered Bengali cinema too, giving some classics like Kalankini (1981), Chena Achena (1983), and Abashehe (1985). The hit-duo of Amol Palekar and Hrishikesh delivered a few more comedy-dramas, out of which the two most famous are Rang Birangi (1983) and Jhoothi (1985). Raj Babbar and Rekha were too a part of Jhoothi.

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The mid-80s were the years when everything he touched turned to gold. He proved this in the Kannada Film Sringara Masa(1984). In 1986, he became part of a star-studded Bollywood comedy Baat Ban Jaaye, which featured a flurry of renowned faces from the cinema world: Sanjeev Kumar, Utpal Dutt, Raj Babbar, Zeenat Aman being the most prominent.

Proceeding to the 90s, Palekar reduced his film work. He starred in very few films, including Teesra Kaun (1994), directed by Partho Ghosh. After a gap of 7 years, he collaborated with Amitabh Bachhan and Manoj Bajpayee for Aks, which was a mystic-thriller. After that, again after 8 long years, he directed a Marathi film, Samantha, where he was the lead, alongside a veteran female actress, Sharmila Tagore. It was her first-ever Marathi film.

As a Director
 Bollywood movie Ankahee (1985), marks his directorial debut. He himself acted as the lead, alongside Deepti Naval and Dr. Shriram Laagoo. In 1997, he directed Daayra, starring Sonali Kulkarni and Nirmal Pandey. It got the honour to be displayed at the International Film Festival in Toronto, Canada.

Apart from the silver screens, his directorial works were appreciated in television soaps, like Mrignayanee (1991), Kachchi Dhoop (1987), Naquab (1988), Aa Bail Mujhe Maar (1987), and Paool Khuna (1993).

While on a break from acting, Palekar continued his directorial works for Marathi films. Anahat(2003), directed by him made its way to the International Film Festival “Indian Panorama”.

In 2006, he came up with a bold and courageous idea, to bring about awareness about the sensitive topic of homosexuality. He executed the idea by directing an English and Marathi film ‘Quest’. The film was widely applauded by the critics, and won the National Film Award for Best Feature Film in English.

In 2015, he was elected as the new Chairman of India's Oscar jury. Film Federation of India bestowed him with this title. He headed the team responsible for the selection of movies that would be sent as a nomination for the Best Foreign Film Category of the 88th Academy Awards (Los Angeles). 

Birthday Special: Amol Palekar and His Legacy in Hindi, Marathi, and Bengali Cinema

Apart from a long career in acting, Palekar is involved in social works too. He first married a lady named Chitra, but they separated. After divorcing Chitra, he tied the knot with Sandhya Gokhale. They are parents to two daughters. The elder daughter, Shyamalee, is an actor, following in her father’s path. Apart from that, she works for the upliftment of homosexuals, helping them get their rights.

Birthday Special: Amol Palekar and His Legacy in Hindi, Marathi, and Bengali Cinema

The younger one, Samiha is a graduate in Sports Law, and also an international Rugby player, representing her homeland.

Palekar lent his powerful voice to Teach Aids, a non-profit, social working organization, which used it for HIV/AIDS awareness software.

There are some actors who play similar roles in films, yet possess the skills to differentiate them from one another. The reason for doing this is that one mainstream role had gotten them so much recognition, that they had to play similar roles in huge public demand. The same was the case with Amol Palekar, who left no stone unturned, and portrayed with his acting, that he was the one who best fit the roles he acted in.

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Recently, in an interview, he said that if he is given a challenging role, with a powerful script, he will accept it with happiness, and provide his services with the best of efforts. 

 Author Biographical Note: The Author is pursuing Bcom (Hons) from Shaheed Bhagat Singh College, University of Delhi, India. He is working for Explore Screen: The Cognitive Dialogue as an intern. 

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