In film and music making, do let’s consider a key area that was exploited so well by narrators of yore, a useful technique called segue (generally pronounced like seg-way), which our cinema seems to have retired decades ago.
Essentially, to segue is to move seamlessly from one tune, song, or scene to another. When the story or mood has to change direction, this smoothening technique is sometimes brought into play. Clear cases are raagmaalas, where different raags are strung together, offering a cluster of tunes within minutes, which a good composer will take us through without acoustic bumps. Many parodies are like that too, often switching from one tune to another.
The film director or cinematographer does his gliding bit in the flow of the visuals too. When he has to show years go by for instance, he often segues by flipping the calendar, with dissolving images, fade-ins, whirlpools etc aiding our imagination. A small girl may thus become twenty years older in what is essentially a blend of scenes. For instance, do recall in Deedar (1952) where two kids are riding a horse, singing the Shamshad–Lata song of commitment: Bachpan ke din bhula na dena. Towards the end of the song, the kids get thrown off the horse. End of picnic. End of childhood too, because dissolve scenes show a clock advancing and a calendar flipping. We then hear Shamshad and Rafi morphing the song into a slow mood, without a horse trot of course, the actors having become the separated adults Nargis and Dilip Kumar. Let’s go see some more such situations now:
In Barsaat (1949), composing duo Shankar and Jaikishan gave us a song with elements of similar transitions. Patli kamar hai tirchhi nazar hai, went Premnath to Cuckoo, as she danced away. And elsewhere Nimmi pined for him with Aa, aaja mere man chaahe baalam, aaja tera aankhon mein ghar hai.
Consider Tere bina aag ye chaandni and Ghar aaya mera pardesi (Dream scenes exceptionally filmed on Nargis and Raj Kapoor in Awara (1951). The first part is a scary nightmare, with Raj going Mujh ko chaahiye bahaar, as we transit via the mandolin to the happy experience of Ghar aaya mera pardesi.
Tum sang preet lagaayi rasiya and Baari barsi khatan gaya (Vyjayanthimala and friends do two songs, the second a bhangra), in New Delhi (1956). Vyjayanthimala was an exceptional dancer and did choreographers love her! The same film features another segueing situation, with two more back-to-back songs, Nakhre waali and Zindagi bahaar hai (Kishore Kumar and Vyj sing female-chorus backed songs as Vyjayanthimala and friends play statue on an awesome set). What wow songs any which way!
Madan Mohan offered class in a beautiful song of smooth transitions in Dekh Kabira Roya (1957). Meri veena tum bin roye, sang Lata for Ameeta, to be chased by Ashkon se teri humne tasweer banaayi hai, with Asha on Anita Guha. This marvel of melodic and cinematic excellence was then picked up by Lata again, singing for Shubha Khote, Tu pyaar kare ya thukraaye.
In Shama jalti hai jale…Haaye haaye haaye ye nigaahen (Paying Guest, 1957), the western fast paced intro is as if power-braked heavily like planes do immediately after touchdown. A sloshed Dev Anand manages to pilot this mischievous manoeuvre with his Ha ha ha ha in a club, then submits Majrooh’s thoughts!
Ja ja re ja saajna from Adalat (1958) is actually two mujras. The slow one is sung by Lata for a sitting tawaif, Nargis, and the fast one is by Asha on another, dancing courtesan, egged on by the pimp played by Pran.
And let’s look at another mujra, this time from Kala Pani (1958). In this sad-peppy product, two tawaifs offer contrasting ideologies again, but here the singer is the same for both, ie, Asha. Jab naam-e-muhabbat le ke kisi naadaan ne daaman phailaaya and Aji chhodo ye taraana hai puraana weave together to form the warp and weft of this song.
In Megha re bole and Bade hain dil ke kaale from Dil Deke Dekho (1959), the transition is only musical, and is achieved principally by the tambourine, accordion and trumpets.
In Main Nashe Mein Hoon (1959) was filmed a great Lata song: Sajan sang kaahe neha lagaaye. Mala Sinha sings and plays her tanpura, waiting for her prince charming Raj Kapoor, but could he care less? He is delightedly drunk at a western bar, playing the drums, blowing the trumpet, offering a cultural counterpoint to her raag Tilang effort conceived by the genius of the Shankar-Jaikishan combine. The camera too rises up to the occasion every time the scene shuttles!
Tu chhupi hai kahaan and Ye kaun ghunghru chhamka from Navrang, 1959. (A distraught poet, Mahipal, has created a muse, who is none other than his own wife, Sandhya). In the King’s durbar the forlorn poet sings a duet with his muse, filmed on some of the most elaborate sets conceived in the history of Indian cinema. About to give up, he hears the faint jingle of ankle bells approaching. New life enters him now, as the mood and tune change: Ye kaun ghunghru chhamka is punctuated by a rhythm guitar…ye kaun chaand chamka…V. Shantaram saab, we salute you!
Mera yaar bana hai doolha ends and the scene segues into Baalam se milan hoga (Chaudhvin Ka Chand, 1960). The situation: just before the wedding hour of Guru Dutt and Waheeda Rehman, sitting in separate rooms as their friends sing for them.
Then in Barsaat Ki Raat (1960) we had the mother of all qawwalis…or should that be mothers, because here two thought-lines are symbiotically joined? Here it’s a men-versus-women face-off. A brief pause in the middle, the idea of love, and we are ushered from Na to caarvaan ki talaash hai into the next thought, Ye ishq ishq hai ishq ishq.
Oh-ho, see what we have stumbled onto now! Mose chhal kiye jaaye and Kya se kya ho gaya bewafa. In Guide (1965), Waheeda and Dev have just had a serious misunderstanding, so she accuses him of cheating (Chhal), while he immediately follows up about being betrayed (Bewafa).
In Gulaabi raat gulaabi and Ye kaali raat (Upkar, 1967), showing the contrasts between the rich (read evil) and the poor, it’s images of underfed children that introduce the transition, as a voice comes on: Gulaabi raat ke saaye tale, in maasoom bachchon ki raat kitni bhayaanak hai, kitni kaali hai!
As for that divine melody, Megha chhaaye aadhi raat from Sharmilee (1971), we see Rakhee and Shashi Kapoor in the intro music and interludes, the western melody initiated by a guitar, then each time she returns to the here and now, it’s her loneliness, it’s the Indian experience, it’s raag Patdeep, and lots of sitar. The camera handles the straddling beautifully.
Chaand mera dil (Rafi) yields to Aa, dil kya, mehfil hai tere qadmon mein (Kishore), which submits to Ho tum kya jaano, muhabbat kya hai (RD Burman) and finally comes Mil gaya hum ko saathi (Asha and Kishore). This is a competition where the contestants come up with different tunes, all to be rolled into a composite whole, offering multiple segue acts. Here we have Tariq, Rishi Kapoor and Kajal Kiran on a stage in Hum Kisise Kum Nahin (1977).
A cloud hangs over cinema’s son-et-lumiere to tell a seamlessly eloquent story. Are we going to continue showing off just fascinating megapixels and short-duration scenes changing with high frequency, travelling with unimaginative music too, or are we going to learn from the masters and take up from where they left? For the latter we will need a modern-day Nitin Bose, RD Mathur, SD Burman, Mehboob Khan or Dwarka Divecha, somebody who is looking for artistic greatness, and is willing to walk away from a received recipe. Frankly, in the present atmosphere, that possibility is as unlikely as an International Conference on Women’s Rights in Saudi Arabia.
Originally published: March 17, 2013