Most of the people who gave us wonderful cinema and its unforgettable music in the golden age have gone away. Decades after such art was created, not only film and music historians but even plain aficionados sit down sometimes to repeatedly enjoy classic films and hear remarkable songs, as also to appreciate the situations they were filmed in. Music buffs apply their minds to identify the different instruments used in songs, the charming lyrics brought to the table by our poets, and so many large and small facets of those wonderful melodies. This is not very different from the way archaeologists go about curating human culture from the past.
Recently, on Suchitra Sen’s birth anniversary a couple of weeks ago, a delightful discovery entered my thoughts while revisiting a song filmed on her in Musafir (1957). The song was Man re Hari ke gun ga, a Krishna bhajan that was so gracefully captured on celluloid. The lady was found watering a Tulsi plant.
Before going further, let’s pause and reflect on this plant for just a bit.
The Tulsi (Holy Basil) is famous for its medicinal properties but is also worshipped by many people in our part of the world. According to Hindu mythology, there was a Goddess named Brinda who was a great devotee of Lord Vishnu. When she died, it was ordained that she would marry Vishnu in her next birth. They transferred her soul to a plant, which became the holy Tulsi. That is why lots of believers offer a Tulsi puja and circumambulate the herb, in what is called parikrama. Every year, millions of people also celebrate her marriage to Vishnu. This happens after Diwali has gone, and it is only after this wedding of the gods that the auspicious months start for us mortals to get married.
It is for these reasons that the Tulsi is given the place of honour in people’s homes. It is positioned well on the verandah or the parapet, and usually no ordinary pots are assigned to this sacred herb. Most Tulsis are planted in square-shaped and decorative pots, sometimes on a chest-high pillar too, for they must ideally be distanced from and above the other plants. But now about that discovery.
In that devotional, Suchitra Sen was seen watering a Tulsi plant while singing a Lata Mangeshkar song. By filmic association, memories of another Lata Mangeshkar song rushed in now, a song where a heroine was also seen watering plants, including a Tulsi. That song was Jaago Mohan pyaare in Jaagte Raho (1956), and the leading lady was Nargis. That situation was just a year before the Suchitra Sen one. So, I switched to watching the Jaagte Raho song and was fascinated to find more dots waiting to connect, one after another. Not only was the heroine watering a plant in both songs, and not only was the singer common, but the lyricist was the same for both songs (Shailendra), and so was the composer (Salil Chowdhury). The maestro even had the same assistants in both the albums: Kanu Ghosh and Sebastian. My serendipity didn’t stop there. Both the songs were even inspired by the same raag, Bhairav!
There was hardly any time gap between the two films and there was too much in common here for this to be a pure coincidence. So then, who from the crew could be the pollinating agent in this case, taking the idea from Jaagte Raho, and offering it in a new avatar in Musafir? And if it was not them, could it be Suchitra Sen herself? Needless to say, the filming of the Jaagte Raho song was extraordinary and it remains one of the high points of Indian cinema to this day. Perhaps you will have thoughts on this.
Meantime, there have also been a few songs that have featured the heroine watering plants—if not just a Tulsi—as she sang. A film was even dedicated to the idea in Main Tulsi Tere Aangan Ki (1978), where we found Asha Parekh watering the plant while she sang the title song, Main Tulsi tere aangan ki. Here are a few more actresses with the songs they were singing. Singers, lyricists and composers also find mention: Meena Kumari in Jap jap jap jap jap re (Mukesh/Rajinder Krishan/C Ramchandra/Sharda, 1957), Shyama in Naihar ke geet main gaoon, babul ka baag sajaoon (Lata/Pt Indra/BS Kalla/Do Dulhe, 1959), Meena Kumari in Jyoti kalash chhalke (Lata/Pt Narendra Sharma/Sudhir Phadke/Bhabhi Ki Chudiyan, 1961), Sowcar Janaki, Kanchana and Jayanthi in Humre aangan bagiya (Lata, Asha, Usha/Anand Bakshi/Kalyanji-Anandji/Teen Bahuraniyan, 1968), Jaya Bhaduri in Nadiya kinaare heraaye aayi kangna (Lata/Majrooh/SD Burman/Abhimaan, 1973), Nutan in Tera mera saath rahe (Lata/Ravindra Jain/Ravindra Jain/Saudagar, 1973), Raakhee in Bhor bhaye panchhi (Lata/Majrooh/RD Burman/Aanchal, 1980), and Jaya Prada in De Tulsi maiya vardaan itna (Anupama Deshpande/Anjaan/Bappi Lahiri/Ghar Ghar Ki Kahaani, 1988).
In the above songs lies hidden a fascinating point that too awaits our thoughts. In Saudagar, Nutan was a Muslim from a poor background, as was Amitabh, for whom she sang Tera mera saath rahe. It’s interesting that she was seen planting the Tulsi in her little compound outside her hut. Later on, they put a tikka on her forehead as she watered the Tulsi during that song. Now while such things are perfectly possible, they do seem somewhat unlikely for Hindi cinema. The mind goes to the film Main Tulsi Tere Aangan Ki released a few years earlier, in which not only was Nutan the main female lead, but for which she also received the Best Actress Trophy from Filmfare. However, the most popular song in that feature was filmed on the supporting actress Asha Parekh, the title song mentioned above. But even in that song, Nutan was given a lot of screen time. Perhaps she wanted more than that. A song in which she was watering a Tulsi, an act that helps sustain life in that most venerated of plants. That’s a charming visual experience for filmgoers. Yes, that would be nice.
About the plant itself, we know that some people pluck Tulsi leaves to eat them for the preventive and positive care of health and diseases. But it is believed that while the holy plant can be plucked on most days, it’s a no-no on Sundays. If you do so, you may invite a curse upon yourself. That does bring to mind a very popular English song rendered by lots of famous singers like Petula Clark, Andy Williams, and Connie Francis. Here’s how the lyrics of the song “Never on a Sunday” go:
Oh you can kiss me on a Monday, a Monday, a Monday is very very good
Or you can kiss me on a Tuesday a Tuesday a Tuesday in fact I wish you would
Or you can kiss me on a Wednesday a Thursday a Friday and Saturday is best
But never never on a Sunday a Sunday a Sunday coz that’s my day of rest
Fair enough, if a holy plant needs a break on Sunday, we humans too can do with a day of rest.
Featured image on top: Nadiya kinaare heraaye aayi kangna.
Originally published in DNA Jaipur on 22 April 2018, page 13 http://epaper2.dnaindia.com/index.php?mod=1&pgnum=1&edcode=131002&pagedate=2018-04-22