Why Gol Maal’s Ram Prasad is toxic for office culture

Updated: Jul 8, 2021

Pray that he’s never part of your workplace (spoilers ahead)

Wish schools had taught us how to prepare for job interviews. Nowadays, we have YouTube, but 10 years ago, our only advisors were parents, siblings and friends who had been through the drill.

There was another medium we would rely on for our preparations: movie scenes. Raju Rastogi’s (Sharman Joshi) blunt exchange with a campus-recruitment panel in Rajkumar Hirani’s 3 Idiots inspired our responses in many a grilling interview, as well as a scene in my own book PiKu & ViRu (buy/download, read, and review here).

In complete contrast was Ram Prasad Sharma (Amol Palekar) being vetted by Bhavani Shankar (Utpal Dutt) in Gol Maal, the 1979 blockbuster by Hrishikesh Mukherjee. Unlike Raju, this dude only provides answers that Bhavani wants to hear. He even clads himself in an uncomfortably short kurta-pyjama, a far cry from his bell-bottoms lifestyle, simply because Bhavani detests Western attires.

Ram Prasad is duly trained and advised for this moment by his uncle (David), who’s Bhavani’s childhood friend, which gives Ram an unfair advantage over other candidates who have no means to finding out about Bhavani’s whims and fancies. The uncle also insists Ram Prasad woo Bhavani’s daughter, Urmila (Bindiya Goswami).

Ram Prasad does everything he can to impress his boss. He reports early and leaves late, despite company rules that nobody would be paid overtime. His work is spot-on, but so is his sycophancy game. It is this game he plays to bail himself out when Bhavani sights him at a hockey match during work hours, by concocting a cock-and-bull story about an evil twin. And the rewards: a job offer for his non-existent twin, apart from a monthly salary and conveyance allowance for his own self, and of course, Urmila as wife (the love story forms another hilarious track altogether—not the focus of this post).

Gol Maal, as a movie, does a clever job at making us feel all the empathy for Ram Prasad, despite the b*****d he is. We want him to win at any cost, without realising that such blokes are responsible for instilling unhealthy workplace competition (as my Dad put it once while we were watching the film for perhaps the 198th time).

The Hrishikesh Mukherjee film completely sidelines the other employees in Bhavani’s office, who most likely are juggling their jobs with other priorities in life and have more on their mind than sucking up to their boss.

One of the few other coworker characters to make it to the screen is Bade Babu (Yunus Parvez), the nasal-hair-pulling clerk, who isn’t wrong in approaching his workload at his own laid-back pace. However, the smartly designed plot makes it easy to perceive him as a slow-walking, lazy dimwit when pitted against the ‘bright and diligent’ Ram Prasad.

I wouldn’t blame Ram Prasad alone for this twisted office environment, though. Bhavani’s unreasonable—and even weird—criteria for his employees (they should be moustached and focused only on accountancy, without being into sports, arts, or other hobbies) make him a soft target for such sycophants, instead of the honest candidates we see at the beginning who were simply being themselves. Given the high unemployment rates in the 1970s, Ram Prasad couldn’t really afford to let go of this job. Which explains why he tries to save his ass by bringing up a fake twin brother when Bhavani confronts him about the hockey match.

Thus, for Ram, the interview isn’t like dating—to find out whether the job is a right fit for him and the other way round. It becomes a do-or-die challenge he has to ace to bag the good life.

Gol Maal turns out to be a comical journey of a movie where one man learns to embrace differences in the end. But in reality, we all deserve a happy, peaceful life, which consists of a stimulating time at work, complete with an inclusive, understanding environment.

So, if you’re rejected for a job just because you were as honest as Raju, not for being the wrong fit, thank your stars. Your potential boss could likely have been a Bhavani, and where there is a Bhavani, there has to be a Ram Prasad, and you don’t want to find yourself in their midst.

You can watch Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s Gol Maal on Amazon Prime Video or YouTube.

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