When it comes to Hindi film music, most people—even the committed aficionados—tend to focus on the music directors and the singers. Lyricists are often relegated to the back seat. People can recognize a singer’s voice; they can often remember who composed the song: but who, really, pays a lot of attention to who wrote the song in the first place? Who created the words which make the song what it is?
It has been a while since I did a post on a lyricist (I’ve done song lists for Sahir Ludhianvi and Shailendra on this blog), so before this year ends, one post to honour a lyricist. Bharat Vyas, often credited as Pandit Bharat Vyas, who was born in Churu, Rajasthan, sometime in 1918. Conflicting reports about his birth date appear online: several versions point to December 18th, others cite January 6th. Since I discovered only last month (thanks to fellow blogger Anup, who found out from old Hindi cinema’s walking encyclopedia, Arun Kumar Deshmukh) that the correct date is actually January 6th, this tribute is belated by almost a year. But I figured that at least I got the year right, so while today may not be the birth centenary of Bharat Vyas, 2018 is the year of his birth.
While younger brother BM Vyas would go on to become an actor, Bharat Vyas came to Bombay after doing his graduation in Calcutta, and became a lyricist (along the way, also directing a film—Rangeela Rajasthan, for which he also composed songs). The first film for which he wrote songs (according to the sadly scanty information I’ve been able to gather) was Duhaai (1943). Over the next three decades, he continued to write songs for a range of films, many of them produced and directed by V Shantaram. In fact, some of the most popular songs—as you’ll see in this post—associated with the films of V Shantaram were written by Vyas.
So, without further ado, my ten favourite Bharat Vyas songs. As always, these are all from pre-1970s films that I’ve seen (and there are no two songs from one film). This PDF contains transcriptions and corresponding translations in English for each of the songs that follow.
1. Yeh kaun chitrakaar hai (Boond Jo Ban Gayi Moti, 1967): For many years now, I have held the opinion that when it came to descriptions of nature (and not merely as a pretty backdrop to a love song), there was no beating Sahir Ludhianvi. But Bharat Vyas, with Yeh kaun chitrakaar hai, proves that he is as good as Sahir. Written primarily in a somewhat Sanskritized Hindi (but with the occasional, extremely apt, Urdu word like galeecha or qudrat), this song is a wonderfully descriptive paean to nature. What I especially admire are the similes Vyas uses to describe nature: the deodars, standing tall as pennants; the mountains, as immovable as an ascetic deep in penance; palanquins of clouds pushed along the blue of the sky by the wind… brilliantly evocative.
2. Ae maalik tere bande hum (Do Aankhen Baarah Haath, 1957): If there is one song that perhaps seals Bharat Vyas’s claim to fame, it is this immortal bhajan from Do Aankhen Baarah Haath. I must admit to having toyed with choosing Umad-ghumadkar aayi re ghata from this film, because it’s such a fine depiction of the monsoon, but I finally settled on Ae maalik tere bande hum. The unusual thing about this hymn is that it does not address a specific divinity: it just addresses a higher being, one who is capable of making us better people, one who is there to light the way for us, to bear our sorrows with us and help us go from evil to righteousness.
A singularly apt song, given the theme of the film (about a jailor who tries to reform a bunch of hardened criminals by taking them out of the jail, treating them as humans, and making them do useful work). Ae maalik tere bande hum occurs in two versions, male and female: the female version, sung by Lata, omits the verse beginning ‘Yeh andhera ghana chha raha’.
3. Na na na barso baadal (Samrat Prithviraj Chauhan, 1959): Unfortunately, much of Bharat Vyas’s career was spent writing songs for B-grade mythologicals and ‘historicals’ (‘ahistoricals’ may be a more appropriate way of describing them). Often teamed with Vasant Desai (and with younger brother BM Vyas invariably part of the cast), Bharat Vyas worked in lots of films that sank without a trace—except for the songs. Samrat Prithviraj Chauhan is a case in point; it meandered, it had a thread of a plot, and was generally forgettable. The songs ranged from average to good, but my favourite is this one, not just because of the music and rendition, but because of the lyrics.
In Na na na barso baadal, Bharat Vyas uses the imagery of a thunderstorm as a fine way to convey the turmoil of a woman who has been spurned, even if kindly and with dignity, by the man she loves. Vyas uses motifs of nature—the keening peacock, the weeping doe, the looming clouds darkening the Earth, the lightning: everything is a thunderstorm, and also the storm raging within the anguished singer.
4. Keh do koi na kare yahaan pyaar (Goonj Uthi Shehnai, 1959): The songs of Goonj Uthi Shehnai in some ways are a disservice to its lyricist. Vasant Desai’s music for the film—with gems like Jeevan mein piya tera saath rahe, Tere sur aur mere geet and Akhiyaan bhool gayi hain sona—tended to put Vyas’s lyrics somewhat in the shadow.
But Keh do koi na kare yahaan pyaar, while also set to a beautiful tune (and, moreover, rendered brilliantly by Rafi), does bring the lyrics to the forefront. A broken-hearted lover, his sweetheart marrying another, sings of his despair. There are many songs along this theme in Hindi cinema, but this one, with its recurring images of something that starts out seeming lovely but shows itself to be painful—flowers and thorns, the moth and the lamp—is one of the best.
5. Saranga teri yaad mein (Saranga, 1961): Saranga teri yaad mein is a little bit in the same vein as Keh do koi na kare yahaan pyaar: a lover, separated from the woman he loves, remembers her. With one difference: this man does not blame the world, does not regret his love, and does not spew bitterness. Instead, there’s a sweetly gentle remembering of those days gone past. Their trysts in the shade of a mango tree, the sight of her henna-tinted feet… Bharat Vyas was very good at creating word-pictures, and that talent shines forth in this song.
6. Yeh maati sabhi ki kahaani kahegi (Navrang, 1959): Another of those films that had such a good score (C Ramachandra’s) that the lyrics of its songs, more often than not, get sidelined. When it came to choosing a Navrang song for this list, I was torn between this one and the aching yet seductive (and unusually sung by Asha) Aa dil se dil mila le. This one finally won, because it’s such a good example of defiance. Angry, but contained. Contemptuous of the pomposity and sense of entitlement of the colonial rulers, and invoking a (literally) earthy patriotism. Yeh maati sabhi ki kahaani kahegi: This earth will speak. When others cower, too scared to open their mouths and speak up against injustice. Or when torment and tyranny have shut all mouths—the earth will speak.
7. Chaand hai wohi (Parineeta, 1953): Bimal Roy’s adaptation of Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay’s novel of the same name had just a handful of songs (of which two were sad and happy versions of the same song, Chali Radhe rani). Of the songs of Parineeta, one I especially like not just for its music (Arun Kumar Mukherjee’s) or its rendition (Geeta Dutt’s), but for its lyrics, is Chaand hai wohi. Hindi cinema is replete with songs about parting, about a lost love; too many of them are cookie-cutter. This one is memorable in its simplicity. No high-flown words, just simple emotion: everything is the same, the natural beauty of this world remains unchanged; then why is she so sad? The loneliness and confusion of a woman who believes herself abandoned by the man she loves comes through poignantly in Vyas’s words.
8. Ud jaa bhanwar (Rani Rupmati, 1959): This was one film that really focused on its music: Rani Rupmati, otherwise, is pretty much a run-of-the-mill period story. But its songs, written by Bharat Vyas and composed by SN Tripathi, have far outlasted the film itself. There are many popular and very memorable songs here, but most tend to be memorable for the beauty of their rendition and Tripathi’s music: Aa lautke aaja mere meet, Jeevan ke taar ka, and Jhananan jhananan baaje paayaliya impress me, at least, more for their music than their lyrics.
But Ud jaa uda jaa bhanwar is not just a brilliant rendition of a beautiful composition, it’s also a fine piece of poetry. At the superficial level, it’s straightforward: the maestro Tansen, in disguise, comes to Baaz Bahadur’s court, and sets out to illustrate his prowess at song: by coaxing a bumble-bee, a bhanwra, to leave the nectar-rich clasp of the lotus in which it is trapped. Tansen’s song, addressed to the bhanwra, encourages it to look to the rays of the sun: a world awaits it outside the perfumed cage of the lotus; leave the darkness within and go out. And that song applies equally to the human soul: leave this love for maya (the illusion tied to worldliness), go to the light. A metaphor that’s carried through beautifully from beginning to end, this one is somewhat reminiscent of Sahir Ludhianvi’s Laaga chunari mein daag: on the surface the message seems simple enough, even mundane, but the words hide a more profound meaning.
9. Meri aan bhagwaan (Toofaan aur Diya, 1956): Toofaan aur Diya, about a young teenager’s struggles to keep afloat despite an array of difficulties, is perhaps best known for its title song, which played intermittently almost throughout the film. However, instead of that song, about the strength and determination of a tiny lamp burning against the might of a storm, I want to focus on another, far less popular song but one which has fine lyrics.
Meri aan bhagwaan is (as is obvious from the very first line of the song) a song sung to God—not a devotee’s humble cry for help, but a defiant yell, a demand to be heard. Sadanand (Satish Vyas) has seen his parents die; he has worked to the bone to keep his family alive and well; now, exhausted and teetering on the brink of despair—his sister’s sweetheart is close to death—Sadanand can do no more, except appeal to God. And what an appeal that is, more a threat than an appeal. If God doesn’t pay heed, this devotee will cry so much that his tears will wash everything away—the Earth, the sky, the throne of God himself. He demands justice; he demands help. He has borne so much, he has battled so long—now he will battle God himself if he needs to.
10. Khaali-peeli kaahe ko (Tamasha, 1952): And to end, a somewhat unconventional song. Suresh Kohli, reviewing Tamasha for The Hindu, otherwise praised the songs of the film, but called this one ‘mediocre’—a reflection, I think, of the common perception that there’s something rather low about comedy (a perception that’s reinforced by all those who say that the lovely songs of Dekh Kabira Roya were wasted on a comedy).
For me, Khaali-peeli kaahe ko is a good example of Bharat Vyas’s not-often-displayed versatility. This was a man known primarily for writing in chaste, often Sanskritized Hindi, the sort of words that would fit perfectly into the historical dramas and mythologicals he ended up being associated with. But here, Bharat Vyas uses Bambaiyya Hindi, to some extent, and makes this a goofish song that sounds just the sort of thing that would emerge from the lips of a character like the one Kishore Kumar plays in Tamasha—a complete cartoon.
And, because I love this song but haven’t seen the film, a bonus song.
From Do Dost (1960), Yeh sone ki duniya. If Bharat Vyas seemed to echo Sahir’s skill as a nature poet in Yeh kaun chitrakaar hai, here too he brings in some of the pathos and the anger of Sahir, speaking up in favour of the downtrodden and oppressed. Vyas is less furious, less scathing in his criticism of a world which is dominated by wealth and power, but he is no less effective, I think, than Sahir is in a song like Cheen-o-Arab hamaara. His poetry is more touching, more indicative of the sorrow and helplessness of the poor: the eyes that rain twelve months of the year, the travellers whose destination lies nowhere. The hopelessness, the despair. The inhumanity of the wealthy, who see only gold and silver and care only for their wealth.
Happy 100th, Panditji. May your songs live forever.