Why not begin, I thought, where I left off in my last post? The last song I listed in my post on my ten favourite Waheeda Rehman songs was Jaane kya tune kahi, from Pyaasa. Interestingly, this was also the first song in the film. It’s a film I’ve seen a few times – always with increasing appreciation, as I begin to see more nuances, more things to admire about it. But do I really have anything new to say about Pyaasa that hasn’t been said before?
So, no review of this film – but some random thoughts that came to mind as I rewatched Pyaasa, especially its songs, all over again. I’d initially thought I’d call this post ‘Some thoughts on the music of Pyaasa’, but that isn’t what it is, actually. Because though S D Burman’s music is sublime, it is the songs in their entirety – Sahir’s earth-shattering lyrics, the voices of Rafi and Hemant and Geeta Dutt – and, very importantly, the picturisation of those songs – that make them memorable.
In chronological order, as they appear in the film, with a little bit of background in each case:
1. Jaane kya tune kahi: The poet Vijay – scorned and rejected (outright by his brothers, less so by his friend, who nevertheless makes fun of Vijay’s ‘innocence’ at not having a whore to bed) – goes searching for some of his lost poems (sold off by his brothers), and ends up on a park bench. He disturbs a woman who’s been sitting there, and she gets up – her face hidden by her sari pallu – and recites a line from his poem. This is (though Vijay still doesn’t know it), the prostitute Gulabo, the woman who has bought his poems.
She doesn’t know him either; all she sees is a prospective client, a man attracted by her beauty and her song. So she lures him on, through the tall-pillared, ‘respectable’ locales of the smart part of town, away into her area, small, squalid and narrow-laned.
Her voice and her words beckon him on, as does her worldly-wise gaze, her eyelids heavy with a calculated seduction. And Vijay follows. But why? Is he – as she imagines – intoxicated by her beauty and her song? Or is he merely trying to track down his lost poems?
A beautiful song, sung as a practised tool to charm and seduce. The close-ups of Waheeda Rehman’s face, heavy-lidded eyes and all, add to that effect.
2. Ho laakh musibat raste mein par saath na apna chhoote: The chorus – “peechhe-peechhe duniya hai, aage-aage hum” (“the world is behind us, we’re far ahead”) – is the literal essence of this song: of flying high and leaving the world behind; of being so happy together in one’s newfound mutual love, that nothing else matters.
Where Jaane kya tune kahi or the more bitter songs of Pyaasa have connotations that go far beyond the obvious, this less-popular song is probably more obscure because it’s a pretty much run-of-the-mill romantic song. It’s also, at just over 2 minutes long, quite short, and brought on as a flashback, caused by Vijay’s fleeting glimpse of Meena, the girl he once loved.
3. Sar jo tera chakraaye: What can a Guru Dutt film be without Johnny Walker? And here too, Johnny Walker makes his almost mandatory appearance, as our downtrodden hero’s friend, the always-cheerful, always-supportive maalish-wallah (masseur), Abdul Sattar. The way he’s introduced is very appropriate too: in the midst (literally, and figuratively) of gloom, Sattar bhai makes a joyful entry.
In a dreary, deserted eatery, Gulabo has been telling Vijay how she’s always known only ridicule.
Vijay, she has already discovered, is as badly off as her, without even the money to buy himself a meal. From this despair and unhappiness, the scene shifts to one of an uncrowded, misty lane – equally dark? Equally dim and dreary? But no; Abdul Sattar shines through – a ray of light in an otherwise dark world, tripping along happily as he sings of relieving those whose woes are dragging them down.
4. Hum aapki aankhon mein: This song comes about in a roundabout way. On his way out of the publisher Mr Ghosh’s office, Vijay accidentally runs into Meena, Mr Ghosh’s wife and once Vijay’s sweetheart. As they descend in the lift, the reflection of her face in the glass takes Vijay back in time to a college party, where he and Meena wandered off by themselves while their classmates waltzed and twirled – and the two lovers ended up dreaming of what it would be like to be forever in love, forever carefree and without anything to keep them apart. This is a waltz too, but in dreamland – with balloons, lamps, clouds of billowing mist, floating wisps of curtain – and the two lovers, all by themselves. Cocooned from the harsh reality of real life, in a world that is so obviously make-believe.
Prophetically, the song ends with Meena going, rushing back through the hanging curtains, up the staircase down which she had first come… leaving Vijay puzzled and bereft. A woman who knows she belongs in the heights, and had descended only for those few moments to fill his life with joy, before she goes back to those heights.
5. Jaane woh kaise log thhe jinke: In a party hosted by Meena’s jealous husband, Mr Ghosh, Vijay is told, as Mr Ghosh’s ‘servant’, to help serve. The mediocre poets at the party – talking only of love, beauty and other ‘popular things’ – are overheard by Vijay, who recites a line of his own bitter, cynical poetry, and is immediately egged on by the guests to sing the entire song.
Jaane woh kaise log thhe jinke is a harsh commentary on the faithlessness of Meena, who – like his own shadow that has deserted Vijay – has also left him so that she can have an easy life with a wealthy man as her husband. The images are interesting. Ghosh, seething and simmering, not knowing fully but suspecting – realises that Meena has a shared past with Vijay.
Meena, who has given in to her selfishness but has not forgiven herself for it, battles with her conscience while servants in the background carry on with their work of laying out dinner.
And, tellingly, the people in the room divide themselves into two: Vijay is on one side, bitter and disillusioned as he sings; the others sit or stand, wealthy and lolling on sofas, smoking and drinking as they half- listen to his song, which for them is mere entertainment.
This is one of my favourite songs from Pyaasa. The camera work is superb, and the combination of the lyrics (I always think Sahir’s cynicism was his forte), Burman’s music and Hemant’s voice is haunting.
6. Aaj sajan mohe ang lagaa lo: This is a lovely bhajan which acts as an unvoiced hymn for Gulabo’s own feelings towards Vijay. She has not met him in person very often yet; but he has bared his heart and his feelings, his joys and his sorrows to her through his poems which she unwittingly bought. And now, after being chased by a police constable who would have arrested her for streetwalking, she’s been saved by Vijay, who has told the cop that she’s his wife. Even as the cop retreats and Vijay goes his way, Gulabo – the ‘fallen woman’ – suddenly sees salvation. You see her drape her sari pallu over her head, in the traditional way of a wife covering her head in the presence of her husband. And then a jogan nearby begins singing a hymn of praise – a hymn that we can hear Gulabo sing in her heart to her saviour, Vijay.
There is something particularly lovely about the fact that this tawdry whore, with her hair artfully curled to fall about her face, her earrings and necklace cheap and shiny, her eyelids so heavily painted – is so affected by this song. Deeply enough to stumble, teary-eyed and with her heart brimming with love, up to the roof where Vijay, smoking and looking out over the railing at the jogan below, seems completely unmoved by the song. And Gulabo backs away, still silent.
7. Jinhe naaz hai Hind par: This song is brought on by the sudden realisation of the cruelty that surrounds Vijay. It’s fuelled by a bottle of liquor and a scene that’s disgusting and heartrending, all at once: a whore at a brothel to which Vijay’s ‘friends’ have dragged him is forced to dance, even though her ill baby is wailing in a cradle and the distraught mother is begging to be allowed to look after the baby… the laughing men pull at her, telling her “they need looking after too.”
The main bulwark of this song is its lyrics – Sahir is brilliant here, brutally honest and pulling no punches in his condemnation of the exploitation of women. And S D Burman lets the words shine, by providing music that is barely there. Of course, Rafi’s brilliant rendition of this song – the slurring voice of the drunk, the bitterness and the angst – come pouring forth.
Otherwise, as far as picturisation goes, this is not one of my favourite songs from Pyaasa. It’s too blatantly obvious, I think. A little inept, when you compare it to the brilliance of a song like the next (and the last) one in Pyaasa:
8. Yeh mahalon ye takhton yeh taajon ki duniya: How many times have I listed this song on this blog? It is one of S D Burman’s most stupendous compositions, the music swirling and whirling and burgeoning up into a desperately angry crescendo. It is one of Sahir’s best ever poems, in its rejection of all that a materialistic world holds dear – and it flings, in its grand finale, that same very world back in the teeth of the world: “Jalaa do ise, phoonk daalo yeh duniya! Mere saamne se hata lo yeh duniya! Tumhaari hai tum hi sambhaalo yeh duniya!” And Rafi? Rafi is sublime.
The song itself comprises, for me, one of the most unforgettable scenes in classic Hindi cinema. The pompous speechifying of Mr Ghosh; the sudden disbelief – followed by overwhelming joy and peace, for Gulabo; the disbelief – and guilt – of Meena; and the changing emotions of a fickle crowd… all make this a song in a million. If I had to pick one song out of all of Pyaasa’s to list as my favourite, this would be it. I can never fail to be awestruck by its sheer power.
(Incidentally, it took over a hundred takes to shoot Yeh mahalon yeh takhton yeh taajon ki duniya. It shows, doesn’t it?)
And lastly: what I admire the most about the songs of Pyaasa: the sheer versatility that S D Burman, Sahir Ludhianvi, Rafi, Hemant and Geeta Dutt bring to the songs.
It is the work of actors to act, to portray the despairing poet as well as the romantic college-goer, the hardened whore as well as the woman who considers herself purified by the love of a man. That’s what acting is all about.
But a singer who sings Yeh mahalon yeh takhton yeh taajon ki duniya with as much brooding intensity as he brings joie de vivre to Sar jo tera chakraaye? Or a poet who writes fun stuff like Jiske sar par haath phiraa doon chamke kismet uski as seemingly effortlessly as he writes about the heartlessness of the money-grubbing millions of this world? Or a music director who composes a bhajan as beautifully as he writes a tune so intensely powerful that it can sweep you away by the anger it embodies? Geniuses, all.