Sitting down to deconstruct a work of art, such as a painting or film is sometimes not easy. The idea of art appeals more to the heart than to the head, and is neither easily quantifiable nor comfortably describable. Thus it was that French philosopher Blaise Pascal said it so well: “The heart has reasons that reason cannot know”. Such analysis is particularly difficult for magnum opus films, plays or musical scores since these usually have huge contributions from multiple sources. Consequently, while a film such as Mughal-e-Azam (1960) may be almost universally loved, it will certainly elicit divergent takes from different critics, each intellectually celebrating or running down the special elements of the movie as he sees it. I say ‘almost universally loved’, because even such a film can have detractors; the Filmfare magazine review all but trashed this film, most particularly the music of Naushad Ali! The landmark feature film Sholay (1975) is another case. One critic called it a cheap Indian cowboy movie. You live and you learn.
It is this vast divergence of views on the works of masters that makes for enjoyable reading, even if that enjoyment happens synchronously with a raised eyebrow. After all, if the colours of paint used by Van Gogh appeal to your sensibilities, or the nude goddesses of Hussain revolt you aesthetically, no amount of curating them this way or that will mean anything at all. Interpretations are cerebral—or pseudo-cerebral, depending upon your point of view—even if they address aesthetic elements in them. That is not so true of art forms such as poetry—literary criticism has a more useful place in society—but it is somewhat valid for complex arts like cinema and even musical works, especially if they have multiple elements coming together.
But critics and historians need to make a living, and we must do what we do, often with no idea how many people agree with us. With that as a backdrop, consider this. Like many millions, I marvel at the extraordinary and undying appeal of thousands of Hindi film songs, made decades before, melodies that in some way are a social glue to bind a nation as heterogeneous as ours. A key reason these songs have merit is that of the obsession our music-makers had with creating something of worth. They were perhaps driven by the words of John Ruskin: “Quality is never an accident. It is always the result of intelligent efforts. There must be the will to make a superior thing”. Looking at the scene through a ‘retrospectoscope’, it becomes clear that everyone just wanted to excel in every department of film-making, particularly in music. This last observation explains why many ventures fared disastrously, even if their music was wonderful. The reverse of that is very rare, where the film was good, but the music hopeless.
The surrogacy of transferred emotions
In last week’s essay entitled “They’re Singing My Feelings”, published right here, we considered film songs that were lip-synched by some actors who seemed to be singing not so much their own feelings, but rather the sentiments of other actors who did not move their lips to the lyrics. Perhaps the latter were too choked to actually sing, but not too choked to feel. Such songs which carried a surrogacy of emotions were a clever directorial ploy which often brought about attractive results. As noted in that story, a surrogate is a person who substitutes for another in a specific assignment. Examples of such surrogate singing songs would be Dil ka na karna aitbaar koi (Lata/Halaku, 1956), where Helen articulates the feelings of a pensive Ajit, and Jaane kahaan gayi (Rafi/Dil Apna Aur Preet Parai, 1960), in which Raj Kishore sings the feelings of a grieving Raj Kumar.
But what if no actor is seen moving his lips to express the feelings of another? What if a song runs only in the background, representing the emotional condition of an actor who doesn’t lip-synch? Since no human being is shown singing, can we assume it’s not a surrogate song, but more like a case of Immaculate Conception? Perhaps it’s a situation where divinity is in empathy with the actor.
It is in just such a situation that we notice a song finding an entry in Aakhri Dao (1958), where Nutan and Shekhar become star-crossed lovers. Humsafar saath apna chhod chale, rishte-naate wo saare tod chale was duetted by Asha and Rafi, for Majrooh and Madan Mohan in the studio, without anyone miming the words on the screen.
Ashok Kumar, the fine actor but reluctant singer, always preferred that someone should playback for him, so that he could just lip-synch the song on the screen. But it looks like he preferred to sit out even that lip-synch role in several songs that had extraordinariness oozing from them. Instances of him emoting without moving his lips to such divine songs are Apna hai phir bhi apna, badh kar gale laga le (Rafi/Rajinder Krishan/Madan Mohan/Bhai Bhai, 1956), Ya meri manzil bata ya zindagi ko chheen le (Rafi/Rajinder Krishan/Ravi/Raakhi, 1962) and Chhupa lo yoon dil mein pyaar mera ke jaise mandir mein lau diye ki (Hemant Kumar and Lata Mangeshkar/Majrooh/Roshan/Mamta, 1966).
Wahaan kaun hai tera musafir, jaayega kahaan, sang SD Burman in Guide (1966), his own tune setting Shailendra’s poetry to divine music, but on the screen, these were the feelings of a confused Dev Anand, wondering if The Almighty was asking him a rhetorical question.
Sometimes though, it is not just the actor the Omniscient Power may be singing for, He may be singing for all of us. That is because some feelings are common to the human race, regardless of where and how we live. This is one such song, for when a loving companion departs:
Na jaane kyoon hota hai ye zindagi ke saath
Achaanak ye man kisi ke jaane ke baad
Kare phir uski yaad chhoti-chhoti si baat
Na jaane kyoon…
Wohi hai dagar, wohi hai safar
Hai naheen saath mere magar
Ab mera humsafar
Idhar-udhar dhoondhe nazar
Wohi hai dagar
Kahaan gayi shaamen madbhari
Wo mere, mere wo din gaye kidhar
This last song was penned by Yogesh Gaud and rendered by Lata Mangeshkar for Salil Chowdhury in Chhoti Si Baat (1976). The actors were Amol Palekar, Vidya Sinha and once again, Ashok Kumar! This background song was as if immaculately conceived and despatched to the earth from the heavens.
Featured image on top: From Na jaane kyoon
Originally published in DNA Jaipur page 13 on 10 December 2017 http://epaper2.dnaindia.com/index.php?mod=1&pgnum=1&edcode=131002&pagedate=2017-12-10