Celebrating Basu Chatterjee’s Khatta Meetha — birthday special

On the filmmaker’s 88th birthday (10 January), we revisit his 1978 family film which turns 40 this year.

Acclaimed writer-director Basu Chatterjee, whose films defined the middle-of-the-road films of the 1970s and early 1980s, was born on 10 January 1930. After assisting director Basu Bhattacharya on Teesri Kasam (1966), he made his directorial debut with Sara Akash (1969), adapted from Rajendra’s novel.

Chatterjee quickly established himself a director of note with films like Piya Ka Ghar (1972), Rajnigandha (1974) and Chhoti Si Baat (1975). In 1978, he made a feel-good family film, Khatta Meetha, with a large ensemble cast of Ashok Kumar, Rakesh Roshan and Bindiya Goswami.

Writing the dialogues and screenplay, Chatterjee chose to base his story about the merging of two families. Khatta Meetha begins with an introduction that states, “The Parsi community has made its presence felt through its valuable contributions to the social, economic, cultural and artistic scene in India for several generations. Many Parsi names are etched in the history of the Indian people as great sons of India. To commemorate their achievement, the producers of ‘Khatta Meetha’ humbly dedicate this film to the Parsi community.”


The title song opens the film, showing two distinct families, the Mistrys and the Sethnas. Homi Mistry (Ashok Kumar), age 60, is the head of family with four sons — Fali (Ravi Raaj), Jal (Devendar), Rusi (Ranjit Chowdhary) and little Peelu (Master Raju). The widowed father does what he can with his unruly brood of boys.

Meanwhile, Nargis Sethna (Pearl Padamsee) tries to be both father and mother to her three children, Feroze (Rakesh Roshan), Fardun (Vimal Sahu) and Freny (Preeti Ganguly). Both Homi and Nargis are trying to do their best, but clearly they are fighting a losing battle.

Homi is a foreman in a factory where Soli (David) and Dara Dubash (Deven Varma) also work. Marriage, or rather remarriage, is a constant topic for Soli, the eternal matchmaker. He and his wife, Perrin, played by the silent era actress Sulochana (also known as Ruby Myers), want to fix up Homi with their neighbour Nargis.

After much meddling, the two finally meet and decide to marry to join their two families together. With each other’s support, both will be able to tackle their problems head-on. Both, the Mistrys and Sethnas, have been spoilt rotten by their respective parents and when it comes time for the two families to merge, there are tears (mostly from Freny) and fists are raised (by two sets of boys).

However, slowly but surely, the two families begin to appreciate and rely on one another. Nargis makes sure that Peelu actually attends school, while Homi handles the managing of the household.

The Mistry-Sethna family’s happiness is disrupted by one Mr Kerawala (Pradeep Kumar in a guest appearance) who disapproves of his daughter Zarine’s (Bindiya Goswami) relationship with Feroze. He does his best, but at the end of the day, he can’t stop true love.

Chatterjee has infused Khatta Meetha with affection and love, and it shows in the chemistry between the cast. When all the characters fight and act selfish, they eventually reconcile because love is what binds them together. The characters, while enacting members of the Parsi community are all unique, the Mistry and Sethna children are all individual, while Zarine Kerawala is a refreshing young woman who openly rebels against her father.

Piloo Wadia who plays Dara’s mother, Mrs Dubash, helped Chatterjee as a consultant on the film and the director has used Keshto Mukherjee in a special appearance in a song as a milkman. Actor Amitabh Bachchan also shows up as a prospective Parsi groom for Preeti Ganguly’s Freny in a song sequence.

The music of the film, composed by Rakesh Roshan’s younger brother, Rajesh Roshan, is a highlight. The lyrics of the film were written by Gulzar. Kishore Kumar, younger brother of Ashok Kumar, sings a number of the film’s memorable songs, including the now classic, ‘Mummy O Mummy, Tu Kab Saas Banegi’.

Chatterjee has involved familial connections cleverly in the film. Padamsee, who was introduced in Khatta Meetha, plays mother to Preeti Ganguly, the real-life daughter of Ashok Kumar, while Ashok Kumar plays father to Ranjit Chowdhury, the real-life son of Padamsee. Varma who joins the Mistry-Sethna clan as Homi’s son-in-law, married Ashok Kumar’s other daughter Rupa in real life.

Khatta Meetha, which released this week 40 years ago, was one of the few first to showcase the small Parsi community. The film was loosely inspired by the Hollywood film Yours, Mine And Ours (1968) and transported into an urban Indian setting.

Chatterjee was known for giving all of his characters their due, and did the same in Khatta Meetha. After revisiting this sweet old classic, you’ll want Homi and Nargis to adopt you too.

Published on Cinestaan