Joy Mukherjee – Interview
SOMETIMES a single word can make or mar your life,” said Joy Mukherjee emphatically, recalling the incident that made him a star.
On the sets of ‘Love In Simla,” the director was rehearsing Joy in a difficult scene. But the young actor was not in the mood for it and his performance each time seemed half-hearted. At the end of several attempts, the director shrugged his shoulders in despair. It was then that Joy heard someone mockingly whisper: “Joy is S. Mukherjee’s son. Who can stop him from becoming a star? He can give you six flops and still be a hero.”
The impressionable Joy was stung by the remark. He was miserable. “I could not get a wink of sleep that night,” he recalls. “Next morning, when I picked up ‘The Times of India,’ my eyes came to rest on The Thought for the Day on the editorial page. I read: ‘It is better that men should envy you rather than pity you.’ So direct was the hearing of this quotation on the taunt flung at me the previous day, that I could not help feeling that Providence had meant it for me.
“The fellow on the set pitied me. I made up my mind there and then that I would turn his pity, and of those like him, into envy. I threw up my college studies and worked hard at my role. The result: I was a success in my very first film.”
Joy, second son of veteran showman Sashadhar Mukherjee, was born in Bombay on February 24th, 1939. As a child he was so sensitive, he could not bear a scolding. Giving him a beating was simply out of the question. At the Sacred Heart Boys’ School, he refused to take his “quota” of canings from his masters and a complaint was made to his father. “But there was little that father could do about it,” says Joy. “A hiding was something I wouldn’t take even from him.”
His mother, however, was one person from whom he would take a beating without protest. When angry, she would order him to clear out of the house. Joy would meekly obey her. Returning late in the night, he would find his mother anxiously waiting for him at the gate. These banishments came to an end when Mrs Mukherjee found out that her son generally went to a movie and then enjoyed a good dinner in an expensive restaurant every time she threw him out.
First Picture A Hit
Joy’s schooldays were happy but uneventful. “The even tenor of life was now and again rudely shaken by a car or motor-cycle accident,” he says. His lack of interest in studies was more than balanced by his fondness for games. He enjoyed boxing, wrestling and footoall. At college, he took up tennis, about which he is still crazy.
He was in the final year for his Bachelor of Arts degree, when his cousin Ram Mukherjee offered him a minor role in “Hum Hindustani.” Joy accepted it—without enthusiasm. Till then, he had not considered a film career, though his father had often asked him to give serious thought to it. His acceptance of Ram Mukherjee’s offer might well have been prompted by the realization that his past performances did not promise brilliant results in academic pursuits.
He had not been working long in “Hum Hindustani” when R. K. Nayyar, at the suggestion of S. Mukherjee, asked him whether he would like to play the male lead opposite Sadhana (who was making her debut) in “Love In Simla.” This time Joy accepted the role gladly, but he remained undecided about a film career. Then came the jibe which made up his mind for him and determined his future.
“Love In Simla” was released before “Hum Hindustani,” the latter suffering delay, according to Joy, for having too many top stars in its cast. The picture was an instant hit and Joy made a name for himself overnight. “Ek Musafir Ek Hasina,” Joy’s third film, provided further evidence of his gifts as an actor and soon he was much sought after by producers. Today he has assignments in nearly a dozen films, which include “Aao Pyar Karen,” “Phir Vohi Dil Laya Hun,” “Ziddi,” “Dur Ki Awaaz,” “Umeed,” “Saaz Aur Awaaz” and “Ek Guna Aur Sahi.”
Reasonably modest, Joy gives the credit of his success to his father. “But for my father, I might have never got the break into films,” he says. “The break was the greatest boon in my life. People say disparagingly, ‘His father made him.’ Sure enough he did, and in more ways than one. And he is still making me: he is my harshest and most severe critic.”
Joy is equally at home in both tragic and comic roles. But where the former are concerned he has strong reservations: “I don’t want to be a Devdas,” he says. He disapproves of the tragic hero as depicted on the Indian screen. “There is in him too much of ranting and fuming,” he says. “I cannot help feeling that he inwardly enjoys the misery that has befallen him. This is bad. True grief should be expressed by varying the emotions and not by beating the breast and tearing the hair. Also, tragedy should not be weakening, it should be strength-giving and inspiring.”
Comedy, Joy feels, is more difficult to enact than tragedy. Tragedy depends for its effect chiefly on the play of emotions; comedy, in addition to the emotions, depends on intelligence and sharp wit. “Subtlety and restraint are as essential to comedy as they are to tragedy; over-acting could destroy both,” he concludes.
Though bent on honoring the various contracts he has signed with producers, Joy’s ambition is to make his own movies. He feels that he cannot do justice to himself as an actor, unless he becomes a producer and a director himself. “Many a time I have had to play a role in a manner distasteful to me. But I had to do it because the director wanted it. The only way to escape it is to head your own film unit. I should get mine ready in the next eighteen months or so,” he says.
Tall, broad-shouldered and handsome, Joy receives adoring letters from teenage girls from all over the country. Many propose marriage and enclose their photographs with their letters which also furnish their vital statistics! But what Joy most wants in a girl is that she should be interesting, and an interesting girl according to him is “one who can make many men happy instead of making one man’s life miserable.”
Reminiscing, Joy said that he first fell in love when he was only thirteen years old. Both the girl and he were studying in the same school. The two spent a good deal of time together: playing games, singing and walking through the fields. They spoke of many things, but never of love; it never occurred to them that they could be in love till one fine evening …
The birthday party at a friend’s home was in full swing and everybody seemed to be enjoying themselves. Joy was trying to dance with as many girls as possible. As he paused at the window for a breath of fresh air, he found himself held by the collar of his shirt. Before he could grasp the situation, his shirt was torn to shreds.
The girl who had done it stood before him. “We did not utter a word,” says Joy. “We stood dumb, looking into each other’s face. Then I took her in my arms and, in my torn shirt, I danced with her for the rest of the evening.”
A few years later the girl married another young man.
Today, at the age of 24, Joy has all that a man could wish for: affectionate parents, a large comfortable home, a Ford Thunderbird car, good looks and a career which promises much. But he is still lonely — “the woman of my dreams has still to come,” he says. (This interview was conducted in 1963).