Popularly known as Hrishi-da, he directed 42 films during his career spanning over four decades, and is named the pioneer of the 'middle cinema' of India. Renowned for his social films that reflected the changing middle-class ethos, Mukherjee "carved a middle path between the extravagance of mainstream cinema and the stark realism of art cinema".
Mukherjee chose to begin working, initially as a cameraman, and then film editor, in B. N. Sircar's New Theatres in Calcutta in the late 1940s, where he learned his skills from Subodh Mitter ('Kenchida'), a well known editor of his times. He then worked with Bimal Roy in Mumbai as film editor and assistant director from 1951, participating in the landmark Roy films Do Bigha Zamin and Devdas.
His debut directorial venture, Musafir (1957), was not a success, but he persisted and received acclaim for his second film Anari in 1959. The film, crew and cast won five Filmfare Awards, with Mukherjee only losing the Best Director Award to his mentor, Bimal Roy.
Hrishikesh Mukherjee was honoured with the Dadasaheb Phalke Award by the Government of India, in 1999. Mukherjee was chairman of the Central Board of Film Certification and of the National Film Development Corporation. He was also awarded the Padma Vibhushan, the second highest civilian award for his contribution to Indian cinema by government of India in 2001 . The International Film Festival of India honoured him with a retrospective of his films in November 2005. He holds the distinction of working with almost all the top Indian stars since independence of India in 1947.
Hrishikesh Mukherjee was suffering from chronic renal failure and would go to Lilavati Hospital for dialysis. He was admitted to Leelavati Hospital in Mumbai early on Tuesday, 6 June 2006 after he complained of uneasiness. Mukherjee died ten weeks later on 27 August 2006.
Hrishikesh Mukherjee was married and has three daughters and two sons. His wife died more than three decades before him. He was an animal lover and had many dogs and sometimes an odd cat at his residence in Bandra, Mumbai. He used to stay alone with servants and pets in his last phase of life. Family members and friends would visit him regularly.
Great Masters of Indian Cinema: The Dadasaheb Phalke Award Winners, by D. P. Mishra, Publications Division, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Govt. of India, 2006. ISBN 81-230-1361-2. page 122.