O re maanjhi, by Antara Nanda Mondal

O re maajhi…

Bimal Roy uses a folk song sung by a tea-seller in the climax of Bandini to make two estranged lovers meet in a wonderfully sensitive depiction of unrequited love finally finding fulfillment.

The unassuming tea-seller making tea in his “Good Luck Tea House” by the harbour is blissfully unaware of how his ‘Bhatiali’ song (sung with immense pathos by S D Burman) that talks of how a woman is pleading to a majhi (boatman) to help her cross the river to meet her beloved, is crumbling the last shreds of grievances and doubts in Kalyani (Nutan) as she finds her lost love Bikash (Ashok Kumar) after many years, now broken and plagued with TB.

It is a love song in its purest, selfless form. Sung full-throated, it unwittingly expressing Kalyani’s own inner voice, her turmoil of being torn between the bright future with a young doctor and a bleak one with her ailing love.

As the song reaches its crescendo, Kalyani is unable to stop herself from rushing to be with the true love of her life, turning her back on a promising future with a young doctor. Her companion desperately tries to call her back but Kalyani is unstoppable, barely managing to jump across onto the steamer as it lifts anchor.

This classic ending could have been very different had the distributors of the film won their way. Two different endings had been shot for Bandini.

As Ratnottama Sengupta, the daughter of script and screenplay writer Nabendu Ghosh told this writer, “Well, lots of people were against the Bandini ending. In fact, some of the exhibitors and distributors said, ‘Kya Bimal Da, Nutan heroine hai aur usko aise khadi ke kapde pehnaaye.’ They didn’t understand that she is a Bandini, a prisoner who would have to wear coarse clothes. Another thing was that Dharmendra was young, Ashok Kumar was aged, ailing, suffering from TB and about to die and he had he left her and all that. So they wanted her to be sent off with Dharmendra. My father and Sachin Karta supported Bimal Roy saying that how can someone who has poisoned a woman because of her love go away with another person just because he is young? ‘Main Bandini piya ki’ – she is a Bandini of her love. She is not a prisoner behind the bars. She has not come out of that love. In those days, village girls were not allowed to mix so freely and freedom fighters were idolized. Bikash (Ashok Kumar) is portrayed as an internee, a nazarbandi who has to report to the police station twice daily and cannot go into every house. People could not understand that revolutionary flavour. How could she leave him?”

The lyrics aptly capture the inner turmoil tearing Kalyani apart from within. One on hand Kalyani knows she is “playing with fire” by choosing the ailing Bikash over the young and promising doctor who is waiting for her. But she has no choice.

Mat khel mat khel jal jaayegi, kahati hai aag mere man ki
Main bandini piyaa ki main sangini hoon saajan ki
Mera kheenchati hai aanchal, man meet teri har pukaar

The closing shot of the film is of the steamer chugging off into the horizon, bellowing its whistle, leaving behind a long trail of smoke as the lines “Mera kheenchti hai aanchal, man meet teri har pukaar, O re maajhi…” linger in the background. Can you think of a better symbol?

With Bimal Roy, Sachin Dev Burman and Nabendu Ghosh together putting their foot down on the ending, the distributors had to relent and the ending that made the film a classic stayed. Kalyani returned to her true love Bikash, and the rest is history.

(This essay was shared on 31st March 2017).

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Gifted writer Antara Nanda Mondal lives in Delhi, and is a Consulting Editor at Silhouette magazine, and also Creative Director at Wisitech InfoSolutions Pvt, Ltd.

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