The French have a lovely expression for when you get a thought which should have come at the right time, instead of later. L’esprit de l’escalier (literally meaning staircase wit) refers to when you are leaving the premises of an important person, only to realise too late you forgot to say or ask something important. We have all had such thoughts after the moment has gone, and I have had my share of them.
In the ‘70s, I was a student leader in my college, where we invited filmmaker-storywriter-actor IS Johar as a Chief Guest at a function. He arrived too early, so my Professor advised me to handle the sudden hospitality. In the 20 minutes we were alone, I praised his cameos in Hollywood films, his satire in a column he wrote for a magazine, and much more. But I forgot to ask him about what I thought was a key issue in the film Nastik (1954), which he had directed. In the film there was a bhajan, written by Kavi Pradeep, composed by C Ramchandra, and rendered by Lata Mangeshkar for the lead actress Nalini Jaywant, Jai jai Ram raghurai. This was sung in a temple. So, in a song in which the opening line refers to Lord Rama, shouldn’t there have been a picture or statue of that Lord? But no image of Lord Rama was shown; instead, there was only a statue of Lord Krishna, whose reference happened in the second line of the song (Jai jai Krishan Kanhai). Now we know that Lord Krishna is an avatar of Lord Rama. But yet, they look different, dress differently, and have different attributes as deities.
As we know, songs are recorded first and filmed later. So we cannot hold the writer responsible for the cinematic oddity in this song. Maestro C Ramchandra was known to need lyrics first. Without lyrics, he just wouldn’t make a song. Lyrics received, he could make the essential music very quickly. So a question enters at this point. Why did Ramchandra position a flute—always associated with Krishna—so prominently in the song, again bearing in mind the first line part mentioned above? If he badly wanted to do so, why didn’t he ask the poet to interchange the first two lines? They still sit in the meter. Further, recording okayed, why didn’t the filmmaker at least put a statue of Rama also in the sets? It’s a small thing, but there’s perhaps a mismatch here between the essential lyrics and the way both the composer and cinematographer took the idea forward. The buck stops at the director, of course, which is why I could have asked IS Johar. Who knows, he may have shared interesting trivia, like that statue broke that morning, and the shoots couldn’t be delayed. Strange things like that have happened.
The great filmmaker BR Chopra had made his debut in Afsana (1951), which was written by the same IS Johar. Chopra went on to make many meaningful and enjoyable films in his career. But he too performed such an oddity in his film Sadhana (1958). There was a bhajan, sung by Geeta Dutt this time, which went thus: Tora manwa kyoon ghabraaye re, laakhon deen dukhiyaare praani jag mein mukti paayen re Ramji ke dwaar se. In the film, Sunil Dutt’s mother Leela Chitnis sings for the distraught Vyjayanthimala, who is facing a statue of Krishna, which gets a lot of screen space in the song, even as others gods are panned cursorily, sitting as they are in frames in a peripheral fashion. This poem was written by Sahir Ludhianvi (lyrics first, always), to be tuned by N Datta only after that. Amazingly, here too, the flute sits centre-stage in the audio scheme of things. As such, here too, questions arise about the mismatch.
There is no question of course that both these were remarkable songs, becoming residents in our hearts for ever so many decades. Lord Krishna too is loved by people of all ages and hues. Here’s why: Children love the little Balkrishna, the cute child loves butter and keeps stealing it from a pot. They find him mischievous, a quality not unknown to them, and they love how he protects all his friends. They love his dancing on the serpent Kaaliya. For the young at heart, he is a romantic. The relationship between Radha and Krishna is at once passionate as it is devotional, and the two become an embodiment of love. In temples across the globe, the two are worshipped together. In politics, wisdom and strategy, there is no better: the Bhagavad Gita tells us all what he advises about how to win a war against heavy odds, but also how to lead a path of righteousness. Pivoted on Krishna, the Bhagavad Gita goes further, by helping us to understand the concepts of Karma (the sum of our deeds) and Dharma (destiny), ethics and philosophy.
His songs too are so pleasing to the ear. Consider just a few:
- Maiyya mori main naheen maakhan khaayo (Saigal/Bhakt Surdas, 1942)
- Shyam dil leke rootth gaye (Shamshad/Nishaani, 1942)
- More to Girdhar Gopal (MS Subbulakshmi/Meera, 1947)
- Aeri main to prem deewaani (Lata/Naubahar, 1952)
- Radha ke pyaare Krishan Kanhai (Asha/Amar, 1954)
- Jhoom jhoom Manmohan re (Hemant Kumar/Biraj Bahu, 1954)
- Tere phoolon se bhi pyaar (Lata/Nastik, 1954)
- Jaago Mohan pyaare (Lata/Jagte Raho, 1956)
- O Krishna bigdi bana le (Lata/Krishna Sudama, 1957)
- Man re Hari ke gun ga (Lata/Musafir, 1957)
- Darshan do Ghanshyam nath (Hemant, Sudha, Manna/Narsi Bhagat, 1957)
- Saanwariya re apni Meera ko bhool na jaana (Suman/Aanchal, 1960)
- Ghanshyam Ghanshyam Shyam Shyam re (Asha/Apna Haath Jagannath, 1960)
- Banwaari re (Lata/Ek Phool Chaar Kaante, 1960)
- Na main dhan chaahoon (Geeta, Sudha/Kaala Bazaar, 1960)
- Prabhu tero naam (Lata/Hum Dono, 1961)
- Aayi hoon badi aas liye sharan tumhaari (Geeta/Kaanch Ki Gudiya, 1961)
- Sab ko naach nachaata (Manna Dey/Kan Kan Mein Bhagwan, 1963)
- Kaanha Kaanha aan padi main tere dwaar (Lata/Shagird, 1967)
- Tere naina kyoon bhar aaye (Lata/Geet, 1970)
- Mose mora Shyam roottha (Lata/Johnny Mera Naam, 1970)
- Jai Radheshyam (Mukesh/Subhashchandra, 1978)
- O paalanhaare (Lata, Udit/Lagaan, 2001)
- Kaanha soja zara (Anushka Shetty, Keeravani, Prabhas, Satyaraj/Bahubali 2—The Conclusion, 2017)
Off-cinema too, there have been so many Krishna bhajans. A sampling:
- Jamuna ke teer Kaanha aao (Geeta)
- Kab aoge Krishna Murari (Juthika Roy)
- Rang de chunariya (Anup Jalota)
- Shyam se neha lagaaye (Rafi)
- Tere mandir ka hoon deepak jal raha (Pankaj Mullick)
That said, one’s thoughts go to Meena Kumari whose birthday it is a few days from now, on 1st August. She was excessively fond of Krishna and featured in many devotionals in which we saw Him, none of which were in the list above. Here are some:
- Brindaban ki kunj gali mein (Lata/Bandhan, 1956)
- Mere devta mujhko dena sahaara (Lata/Bandhan, 1956)
- Bade bhole ho, haste ho sun ke duhaayi (Lata/Ardhangini, 1959)
- Meri laaj rakho Girdhaari (Lata/Bhabhi Ki Chudiyan, 1961)
- Krishna o kaale Krishna (Lata/Main Bhi Ladki Hoon, 1964)
- Manmohan Krishna Murari (Lata/Saanjh Aur Savera, 1964)
- Tora man darpan kehlaaye (Asha/Kaajal, 1965)
- Sun le pukaar (Asha/Phool Aur Patthar, 1966)
- Paar laga de mere sapnon ki naiyya (Lata/Chandan Ka Palna, 1967)
Meena Kumari was a tragedienne who many said was born to suffer, because both her film roles and real life offered her plenty of suffering. She lies buried at the Khoja Shia cemetery at Mazagon in South Mumbai. Hope she has finally found her peace.
Originally published on 29 July 2018 in DNA Jaipur page 13 http://epaper2.dnaindia.com/index.php?mod=1&pgnum=1&edcode=131002&pagedate=2018-07-29