An old couple, Mohan Joshi (Bhisham Sahni) and his wife (Dina Pathak), decide to sue their landlord, Kundan Kapadia (Amjad Khan), for not maintaining their collapsing chawl. For this, they hire two lawyers (Naseeruddin Shah and Satish Shah). The landlord is least bothered as he wants to drive the tenants out and tear down the chawl. The court case drags on for years and the lawyers in cahoots with the opposition lawyer (Rohini Hattangadi) milk the old couple dry, while they become rich. Meanwhile in the housing society, the old couple is ridiculed for fighting the landlord, but they fight on nevertheless. In the end when the judge comes to check the condition of the chawl, Kapadia’s men prop up the place thus convincing the judge that all is well with the chawl. Finally, Joshi gathers all his strength and pulls down the temporary supports put up by the men causing the building to collapse on himself…
Mohan Joshi Hazir Ho! is one of the best satires ever made on the Indian screen and one of Saeed Akhtar Mirza’s best though unfairly underrated films, always spoken about only after Salim Langde Pe Mat Ro (1989) or Albert Pinto ko Gussa Kyon Aata Hai (1980). The film is a brilliant take off on the housing problems faced by lower middle-class chawl living tenants in Bombay, while at the same time making a dig at the archaic Indian judicial system where judges get changed and cases drag on and on and on and on…
The film, a part of the Indian New Wave or the Indian Parallel Cinema Movement, is everything a great satire should be. It is perceptive, witty, heart-warming, eye-opening, thought-provoking, ironic (the song in praise of Bombay but actually showing its squalor and underbelly works wonderfully, wonderfully well!) and finally yes, extremely poignant as well. The film creates flesh and blood characters whose lives we follow and deeply care about and thus, Mohan Joshi’s death at the end of the film comes as a rude jolt and packs a solid emotional wallop. In fact, the film beautifully highlights the ineffectuality of the ordinary man faced with an abuse of his very basic rights and stripped of his desire to live his life with dignity.
The ensemble cast, all of whom are outstanding actors, is absolutely spot on. There is not one false note in any of the performances. But special mention still has to made of Bhisham Sahni and Dina Pathak, who play the harried, elderly couple to perfection. And to think that this was Sahni’s screen debut at 69! Naseeruddin Shah, of course, is as brilliant as ever as the slimy lawyer. His ‘vanity’ wig is an absolute scream! Amjad Khan as the couldn’t-care-less landlord makes you admire that there is a totally different side to him as an actor from Gabbar Singh and other villains that he has played in commercial cinema. How you wish he had done more such roles as this and Satyajit Ray’s Shatranj Ke Khiladi (1977) with more non-mainstream filmmakers. Perfect support comes from Deepti Naval, Mohan Gokhale, Arvind Deshpande, Rohini Hattangadi, Pankaj Kapur and Satish Shah.
On the techncial side, one must highlight Virendra Saini’s fine on-location photography and Renu Saluja’s deft editing. The use of actual locations is most effective and consequently, Bombay is as much a character in the story as are the artists. But then Saeed, who has been born and brought up in the maximum, has always set all his films in the city he understands best, exploring the day-to-day problems of its citizens. This is what gives his films that extra humane and empathic edge as well.
All in all, Mohan Joshi Hazir Ho! is a gem of a little film made by one of our most committed filmmakers and remains as pertinent as ever even today.
Hindi, Comedy, Drama, Color
Header photo courtesy Saeed Akhtar Mirza