Considered to be Hrishida’s best movie, Bawarchi (1972) had everything going for it; a superstar at the height of his stardom, some excellent support cast who looked more like main characters in the context of the movie and an excellent script which was copied again in the more recent Govinda-Karishma starrer Hero No. 1. An opening shot of a velvet curtain appears ready to serve as a backdrop for the film’s credits (as was the case in Mukherjee’s early hit Anari), but instead, the voice of Amitabh Bachchan, who was still struggling as an actor despite the success of Anand offers an unusual vocal credit sequence, followed by a prologue introducing all the characters, of the sort spoken by the sutradhara or “director” in classical Sanskrit drama.
Retired postmaster and widower Shivnath Sharma (Harindranath Chattopadhyay) shares his comfortable but unostentatious home (ironically named “Shanti Niwas” or “Abode of Peace”) with three quarrelsome sons and their families. Ramnath (A. K. Hangal) is a struggling head clerk who nightly drowns his sorrows in cheap country liquor; his nagging wife Sita Devi (Durga Khote) suffers from gout and a martyr complex. Their daughter Meeta is an aspiring but self-centered kathak dancer. A second son Kashinath is a schoolteacher and self-important intellectual, whose wife, Shobha Devi (Usha Kiron), doesn’t get along with her sister-in-law. The youngest son Vishwanath, a.k.a. “Babloo” (Asrani) is a would-be music director, presently working as assistant to the composer team “Rajnikant-Nyarelal”; he affects the self-absorbed persona of the Artist—which naturally precludes helping out around the family home. The burden of housekeeping amidst the din of constant petty squabbles among all these denizens of the “Abode of Peace” falls heaviest on Krishna (Jaya Bhaduri), the orphaned daughter of another Sharma son who died with his wife in a car accident—especially when servants quit abruptly because they cannot bear the stormy domestic atmosphere.
This happens regularly, until one day when an amiable young man named Raghu (Rajesh Khanna) turns up, announcing that he is their new bawarchi or cook—though, as soon becomes clear, making excellent cuisine is only one of his many talents. A smooth talker who claims to have worked for a whole galaxy of eminent personalities, including the West Bengal Governor and many more, acquiring knowledge and skills from each, Raghu is initially distrusted by the Sharma sons, who fear that he might be a conman (one is rumored to be working the area), but they are soon won over by his effusive attentions to their needs, his magical skills in the kitchen, and his overall take-charge attitude—represented by his habit of exuberantly concluding pronouncements with a mock trumpet-fanfare: “Taa-ta-raah!”
With peace, happiness, and timely meals restored to the household, it is only a matter of time until the hapless Ramnath gets a promotion at work, the feuding wives become as close as sisters, and shy daughter Krishna wins a dance competition (beating out the arrogant Meeta by performing a piece taught her, of course, by cook Raghu). Then, just when the household seems to be living up to its name, tragedy strikes: the sleeping family is robbed of a wooden chest, which the eccentric patriarch had insisted on keeping under his bed, that contains their major assets in the form of old wedding jewellery. Worse still, the chief suspect is none other than the saintly—but now apparently absconded—bawarchi. The climax disappointed me a bit and I was expecting something more dramatic and would have expected one last confrontation between the Sharma brothers and Raghu, which never happened.
Talking about starcast, the role of Raghu was tailor made for Rajesh Khanna after the huge success of Anand, and both the characters Raghu and Anand had a lot in common in terms of spreading happiness wherever they go. Jaya Bhaduri was excellent and continued in the same vein in which she did lot of similar movies in that period, Guddi, Parichay, Koshish etc. This is the only time in Bollywood when we see Hrishida’s two favorite stars together on screen though they are not paired opposite each other. When A K Hangal was offered the role of the elder brother, he expected a very small role from Mukherjee considering his stature as a supporting actor, but was really surprised with the length of his role and it eventually turned out to be a lifetime role for him. Asrani was good with his arrogance. Both Durga Khote and Usha Kiron were perfectly casted as the two bahus. Harindranath Chattopadhyay as the ailing patriarch of the family is also very perfectly casted in his role.
The music by Madan Mohan (two songs) was not a hit but did gel well with the movie. Some of the dialogues of the movie are still remembered to this date:
1) It is so simple to be happy, but it is so difficult to be simple.
2) Apna kaam to sab karte hain, lekin dushare ka kaam karne mein jo aanand aata hai uski to baat hi alag hai.
This is a superb movie for those looking for some light-hearted family comedy, highly recommended!