Monday, December 22, 2008

Concert Review : In Pursuit of Manna Dey (Part 3)

Continued from

Concluding Part

Manna da walked off  stage for his cuppa and people started flocking out. Swimming through the crowd in the foyer we tried to spot a tea kiosk. But no luck. Seems the tea was only for the performers.

Meanwhile, we spotted Mr Shimmering Kurta, the MC chappie letting the dams burst on his sympathizer of the moment, a pretty radio presenter. "Everything is going wrong, didn't you hear all the things Manna da said on stage?". The pathos in his voice had the power to turn the bright pink of his ensemble into a Devdas grey. 'Oh no! you are doing a great job', his companion consoled. "Manna Da did say that we are trying our best on the stage." (dil behlaane ke liye ghalib....). 

In retrospect, after having ventured into the quagmire of organising a show, I recommened a large BJ size pack of Kleenex tissues as a handy accessory for all those braving to go there. Murphy's myriad laws are certain to give a dazzling display of their solidity on these occasions. But this is now, back in 2004, I was a face of the thankless audience. Sympathetic chuckles were all I could muster for our poor Mr Shimmering Kurta. 

With no luck on the tea-front we headed back discussing the songs we hoped that Dada would sing in the second round. The SJ onslaught really needed to be reduced, we both agreed on that one. What is it with SJ? 70% of the songs that evening were by them. And not a single song by SD Burman?. Blasphemy. I hope he sings atleast one song, I said. "Yes, and 'Tere naina talash karen' should be the song", ventured Madhura. "Ow come one. 'Tere naina talash karen' is too mechanically monkeyish", (the armchair critic in me at it's flowery best). "If it is SD Burman  'Poocho na kaise' is what it should be". On the topic of SD Burman, Madhura has learnt that the 'patli gali' is the best exit route. "You are snob paaji", she said, dropping but not conceeding the point. How could she 'Tere Naina Talash' is her favourite Manna Dey song.

We went back to our seats and almost immediately the second part of the show started. After some cursory thank yous and mandatory performances by the kith and kin of the whos-who of New Jersey,  Zafreen was back again. She started with 'Dil cheez kya hai'. Again a mesmerizing rendition and now she was confident too. 

"Are there any Bengalis in the audience?" she asked, after she finished with the song. 
Ofcourse there were. 
"Would you like to hear a Bengali song?" 
Ofcourse they did!

The bongs close to us shouted 'Sadher lau' (literal translation: 'The quest of the Gourd(Lauki/Ghiya)’. A chartbuster Bengali song, that is a soulful ode to the modest lauki(you got it right!). For all those who are followers of Swami Ramdev’s lauki detoxification routine, this is your anthem! I must digress to say, that it is not for nothing that most Bongs have such perfect roshogulla cheeks. There is a lot of lowbh(love) and passion for food that goes in cultivating them. The evolved epicurean that I am, and the frequency with which I am mistaken for a bong(It has got to be the roshogulla cheeks) I simply had to lend my voice to the voice of their soul. 'Saadher Lau' I shouted in unison. . But Lauki it seems does not count in Zafreen's favourite vegetables(or she doesn’t have the hots for Swami Ramdev). So she made some excuse in Bengali ('hoibe na'  was what I caught) and proceeded to sing a 'Lota' song. I had not heard the song before. Madhura did not like it, but I, the honorary Bong, had to love it ofcourse.

Song finished, it was time for Zafreen to exit and Manna Da to make a re-entry. He came back and flipped a few pages of his book and proceeded to sing a few more songs. Prominent amongst those were 'Zindagi kaisi hai paheli hai', a song that was very well-received though he could not do as much justice to it. He did  far justice to his classical based songs. Amongst the qwaalis he sang 'Kisne chilman se maara' (SD Burman at last!) and the predictable 'O meri zohra jabeen'. The heady rhythms of the qwaalis pulsed up the audience and in the josh the orchestra invariably became raucous. Immediately there was a stern reprimand.  "Not so loud, not so loud, is this music or noise?!" . The players toned down at once with a huge smile on their face. Manna da continued to mutter to himself. 

Somewhere down the line, one realises that the music-director within this singer, thrives. As Madhura pointed out, he wanted to be in complete control. He would give sargams to the keyboard player and bols to the tabla player. He would fine-tune their pace and volume. He was not merely singing. He was orchestrating. This is what made his performance so top-class. The primary purpose of the whole effort was not self-focused showman ship(as was with most other bollywoood music related concerts) but music. And Mannada was doing what he could do ensure we got quality music.

Getting back to the concert, there was no escape from the SJ onslaught, so we had a couple of more SJ songs like 'Tu pyaar ka sagar hai' followed by a Bangla song as some people requested for it. After that Manna da took an alaap which seemed faintly familiar and then suddenly as it plumetted to the throes of komal re of Ahir Bhairav, I gave out a whopee!. It was 'Poocho na kaise'!!  I closed my eyes and shut out all the lights and dazzle to establish a one to one with the voice. It was a soulful rendition. The voice was not the same anymore but the expression..richer, more nuanced and full of pathos. Age and it's accompanying experience has added many new dimensions to Manna Da's voice that one did not find in his original rendition of this song. The voice, however has lost the suppleness of yore. An artist had once very poignantly remarked  'Jab kala jawaan hoti hai to kalakaar budha ho jaata hai' [By the time his art blossoms, the artist has withered away] .It is truly ironical. Perfection is a fleeting image. Isn't it? The last strains of the song died out, I opened my eyes and focussed on my surroundings. A feeling of peace and tranqulity washed over me. 

I was satiated. 

The concert could have ended here for all I cared, but there were a couple of more songs in line like 'Nadiya chale chale re dhaara' and 'yaari hai imaan'. The latter song from 'Zanzeer'  inspired a lot of clapping from the audience along with the customary sardarjis in the aisles with the handkerchiefs. The ensuing hungama and boisterousness got old man ranckled again. As soon as the song ended he muttered 'So much noise, aajkal toh wohi reh gaya hai, music jaaye bhaad mein'. He had obviously snapped out of his singing mood. He looked at his watch and said something like "Last". Predictably the last song was a pathos laden 'Aie mere pyaare watan' (why does this impression persist, that all NRIs weep into dripping handkerchiefs at the slightest hint of a desh-bhakti song?). 

After he finished there was a huge protest from the audience asking for more. Someone shouted "Bangla", someone else shouted "Laaga chunri mein daag" and Madsji feebly mumbled "Tere naina talaash karen". But Manna da, back to grandpa mode admonished "It's past 12:30 AM now. Very late in the night.You should go home and sleep". But then he did go back to his harmonium and sing 'Kasme waade pyaar wafa sab'. In the midst he realised that his notebook was put away. Without sweat he told the musicians (and the audience) "Wait, wait", got up, picked up the notebook, opened it to the right page and completed the song! He had brought the intimacy and comfort of a drawing room mehfil to his show. He was the whimsical, indulgent grandpa and the audience his adoring grandchildren.

The final song brought about a standing ovation. The evening ended with a crisp goodbye from the legend  "Agar bhagwan ne saath diya toh phir milenge"[If God continues to be graceful we shall meet again].  I got a lump in my throat. 

This concert, turned out to be a significant experience for me. As we drove back Madsji and I chatted about it. She has always been a Manna Dey fan  This concert just reaffirmed her faith. But I, the born critic, have always been a Manna Dey basher. I've called him mechanical, mawkish, insipid and God knows what all. As Shiela Dhar alludes in her seminal 'Raga 'N' Josh' , the modern listener is irreverent and demanding. Bringing down legends, is passed off for being objective and discerning. It is accepted to belabour over Lata Mangeshkar's shrieky tone in the higher octaves, however, the exceptional talent, hard work and dedication that it takes to become Lata Mangeshkar is taken for granted. Everything is reduced to a dry academic evaluation. And yours truly, let me admit, is the greatest culprit in that respect. Coming face to face with a  legend, that day showed me my place. It made me realise the worthlessness of being a critic (ofcourse for the effect to be long lasting you need to keep going back and attending such concerts ). 

The show was badly organised, a lot of things went wrong, Manna Dey himself  threw many tantrums but through all this one thing did shine through. His commitment to music and quality. He did not compromise on either. I have come across many music lovers who criticise Mannada and other musicians for throwing tantrums during concerts. But what escapes most of them is the deeper reason behind these trantrums. I have attended so many concerts, where is orchestra and acoustics are so bad that one has to sit through the concert with the fingers protecting the ear-drums. Thanks to Mannada's control, in this concert the accompanying music was pleasant and harmonious. I conceed, sometimes the tantrums are for reasons that seem unreasonable to us normal folks. But then, again we have to understand, artists are not normal folks. Art needs to be pampered, indulged and coaxed out. Eventually an audience gets only as much as it deserves. And mind you, this quantification is not based on price of the ticket!

That evening with Manna Dey was a truly memorable experience and I fervently hope that I do get to see this dear old man again!

Footnote : Manna Dey is now 89 years old and still going strong.  In 2006 while organizing an SD Burman Centenary Show I got a chance to interact with him. It was an unmitigated pleasure to do so. I wish this legend many many more years of music.

My Pick of Manna Dey songs


1. Upar Gagan Vishal - (Film: Mashaal, Lyrics: Kavi Pradeep, Music: SD Burman)
2. Laaga Chunri Mein Daag(Film: Dil Hi To Hai, Lyrics: Sahir Ludhianvi, Music: Roshan)
3. Chundariya Katati Jaaye Re - (Film: Mother India, Lyrics: Shakeel Badayuni, Music: Naushad)
4. Dil Ka Haal Sune Dilwala - (Film: Shri 420  Lyrics: Shailendra, Music: Shankar-Jaikishen)
5. Aayo Kahan Se Ghanshyam - (Film: Buddha Mil Gaya, Lyrics: Majrooh Sultanpuri, Music: RD Burman)
6. Chale Ja Rahe Hain - (Film: Kinare Kinare, Lyrics: Nyay Sharma, Music: Jaidev)
7. Poocho Na Kaise Maine - (Film: Meri Soorat Teri Aakhen, Lyrics: Shailendra, Music: SD Burman)
8. Zindagi Kaisi Hai Paheli - (Film: Anand, Lyrics: Yogesh , Music: Salil Chowdhury)
9. Suraj Zara Aa Paas Aa. - (Film: Ujala,  Lyrics: Shailendra, Music: Shankar Jaikishen)
10. Kaun Aaya Mere Man Ke Dwaare - (Film: Dekh Kabeera Roya, Lyrics: Rajinder Krishan, Music: Madan Mohan)

1. Ritu Aaye Ritu Jaaye - (With: LataFilm: Hamdard, Lyrics: Prem Dhawan, Music: Anil Biswas)
2. Aye Kaash Chalte Milke (With: Asha, Film: Manzil, Lyrics: Majrooh Sultanpuri, Music: SD Burman)
3. Mere Jeevan Mein Kiran Banke - (With: Asha, Film: Talaq, Lyrics: Pradeep, Music: C. Ramachandra)
4. Aan Milo Shyam Sanware -(With: Geeta DuttFilm: Devdas, Lyrics: Sahir Ludhianvi, Music: SD Burman)
5. Bheegi Chandani Chhaayi Bekhudi (With: LataFilm: Suhagan, Lyrics: Hasrat Jaipuri, Music: Madan Mohan )
6. Sochke Yeh Gagan Jhoome - (With: LataFilm: Jyoti, Lyrics: Anand Bakshi, Music: SD Burman)
7. Hariyala Sawan Dhol Bajata(With: LataFilm: Do Bigha Zameen,  Lyrics: Shailendra,  Music: Salil Chowdhury)
8. Chhad Gayo Paapi Bichua(With: Lata, Film: Madhumati, Lyrics: Shailendra, Music: Salil Chowdhury)
9. Tum Gagan Ke Chandrama Ho  - (With: Lata, Film: Sati Savitri, Lyrics: Bharat Vyas, Music: Laxmikant-Pyarelal)
10. Tum Jo Aao To Pyar - (With: Suman KalyanpurFilm: Sakhi Robin, Lyrics: Yogesh,  Music:
 Robin Bannerjee)

 Complete Article


Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Is Baar Nahin - By Prasoon Joshi

A beautiful poem reflecting the sentiment of the day. It is time for India to awaken.

इस बार नहीं>
इस बार जब वोह छोटी सी बच्ची मेरे पास अपनी खरोंच ले कर आएगी
मैं उसे फू फू कर नहीं बहलाऊँगा
पनपने दूँगा उसकी टीस को
इस बार नहीं
इस बार जब मैं चेहरों पर दर्द लिखा देखूँगा
नहीं गाऊँगा गीत पीड़ा भुला देने वाले
दर्द को रिसने दूँगा,उतरने दूँगा अन्दर गहरे
इस बार नहीं
इस बार मैं न मरहम लगाऊँगा
न ही उठाऊँगा रुई के फाहे
और न ही कहूँगा कि तुम आंखें बंद करलो, गर्दन उधर कर लो मैं दवा लगाता हूँ
देखने दूँगा सबको हम सबको खुले नंगे घाव
इस बार नहीं> इस बार जब उलझने देखूँगा, छटपटाहट देखूँगा
नहीं दौडूंगा उलझी डोर लपेटने> उलझने दूँगा जब तक उलझ सके
इस बार नहीं> इस बार कर्म का हवाला दे कर नहीं उठाऊँगा औजार
नहीं करूंगा फिर से एक नयी शुरुआत> नहीं बनूँगा मिसाल एक कर्मयोगी की
नहीं आने दूँगा ज़िन्दगी को आसानी से पटरी पर
उतरने दूँगा उसे कीचड मैं, टेढे मेढे रास्तों पे
नहीं सूखने दूँगा दीवारों पर लगा खून
हल्का नहीं पड़ने दूँगा उसका रंग
इस बार नहीं बनने दूँगा उसे इतना लाचार
कि पान की पीक और खून का फर्क ही ख़त्म हो जाए
इस बार नहीं
इस बार घावों को देखना है
गौर से थोड़ा लंबे वक्त तक
कुछ फैसले और उसके बाद हौसले
कहीं तो शुरुआत करनी ही होगी
इस बार यही तय किया है

Acknowledgements : Thanks to Pavan Jha for introducing me to this poem.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Guru Dutt : Genius?(Songs & Cinematography) - 3

Continuing from

Song Picturisations

Indian cinema has long been accused of looking westward for inspiration, both in subject matter and in technique, a charge that is not completely baseless.

However, despite all the inspiration the truth is that our stamp is uniquely ours. If one dwells for moment on what distinguishes Indian main-stream cinema from that of the rest of the world the answer flashes in bold letters. Songs!. The use of music as a part of the narrative is unique to our cinema. The west has it’s musicals but they are nothing like our musicals. For the west music is a form of recreation and a tool for intellectual expression. For us, music is all that and much more. It is a form of expressing the innermost stirrings of the soul, of a pathos that is deep and unfathomable and of a joy that is unmitigated. Basically music in our cinema expresses all that words and outward expressions cannot. Film-maker Chetan Anand very telling summarized this feeling saying ‘Dialogues are like the outer-covering, the clothes a person wears. Music is the like the inner-core, the soul of a person. It is an indispensable tool for cinema’.

Great film-makers over the times have recognized this tool and used it to enhance the emotional content of their films. There are many such moments in Indian cinema that would not have been possible without songs. Can you imagine the climax of ‘Bandini’ without the soul-searing ‘Mere saajan hain us paar’ or a depiction of Radha’s struggles in Mother India without ‘Duniya mein hum aaye hain’? Guru Dutt holds a place of pride in this elite club of great musical moments.

In an era where an entire 4 minute song could be shot with the lead actors sitting in one place and staring in the same direction(and that is infinity!), Dutt infused his picturisations with innovation and imagination. The talent was apparent early on. From the first film 'Baazi' where Geeta Bali's dances were shot with elaborate camera movements and evolved choreography way down to SBAG Guru Dutt was always on top of things. In ‘Jaal’ the variety is out for all to see. There is the mellowness of dusk in ‘Pighala hai sona’ where the camera rocks gently with the boats and capturing the hues of twilight in black and white, the inspiring ‘Zor lagake haiyya’ where the mundane act of pulling a fishnet out water is used as a focal point to weave an entire song around, the choral folk dance of ‘Door kahin ek taara - Maria’ and the innovative picturisation of ‘De bhi chuke hum dil nazrana dilka’ using tight-closeups with the lead characters swinging on the branches of a tree (drives home the point that our ancestors were apes!).

It was also common to see songs picturised on characters other than the lead players. Passers-by, vendors, halkers, construction site workers, anyone could pitch. In that sense the song picturisation was very natural. It is more likely a street singer would burst into a song at the most opportune moment (e.g Ab to ji hone laga) rather than a character who is pre-occupied with important thoughts and emotion. Background songs have always been a very powerful tool for taking the narrative forward.

Like Raj Kapoor, the symbolism in Guru Dutt’s songs is deep. The Christ like resurrection of the poet in ‘Pyaasa’ is symbolized by the iconic shot in of Guru Dutt framed by backlight in ‘Yeh duniya agar mil bhi jaaye'. The indifference of the world to the inner beauty of the poet is tellingly captured by oblivious boot trampling the metaphorical bee in it's uncaring stride ahead, in ‘Yeh hanste hue phool’.

In Guru Dutt’s songs, it was not only the concept but the execution that was innovative as well. Dutt had spent his earlier years in Uday Shankar’s troupes and rhythm was inbuilt in his system. In his cinema the shot compositions, the trolley movements, the lighting and the characters all seem to be move to a sub-aural symphony. This observation was confirmed by his cinematographer, VK Murthy, who admitted in an interview that they would try to cut their shots in rhythm with the beat-cycle of the song! That subtle ode to the rhythm runs through all Guru Dutt films.


The topic of song picturisation leads us to it's natural ally - cinematography, for which Dutt is widely celebrated. The cinematography in Guru Dutt’s films was undoubtedly the high point of his art. Dutt’s treatment of his subjects has an Oscar Wildesque irony to it. Like the 17th century writer, Dutt was extremely lyrical, deeply romantic and intensely poignant. His frames are rich and expressive and extensive use of tight close-up shots (a pioneering technique) helped his actors get intimate with the audience.

The tonal quality of Dutt's frames is rich, intense and is so replete with details of light and shade that one has no choice but to invoke the hackneyed 'poetry on celluloid' phrase. It truly is just that. I go further to say that it is a moving collection of paintings. A good litmus test to verify the truth in my observations would be to pause any frame in any of his films and observe the framing. You can print it out and hang it up on the wall. This greatness, ofcourse could not have been achieved without the genius of VK Murthy, his comrade in arms.

The examples are numerous, esp. in the song picturisations. 'Aaj sajan mohe ang lagalo' is an oft quoted, yet stunning example of Dutt's use of cinematography for mood creation. The brightness in 'Chori Chori Meri Gali', depicts the light and joyous mood of the characters. The dark and despondant hues of 'Jinhe naaz hai hind par'. 'Sakiya aaj mujhe' is another example of clever lighting where the lead dancer Minoo Mumtaz is bathed in bright light and the chorus remains swathed in the shadows.

Observing the fim-maker's repertoire down the ages, an interesting trait comes to light - The influence of noir in his cinematography. The enigmatic play of light and shade typified by the noir genre shows a strong presence in Guru Dutt's lighting choices. Even in situations and films that were far placed from noir, he showed a propensity to employ this technique of light and shade . An interesting example to demonstrate this trait would be the college reunion scene in 'Pyaasa'. The setting is a large auditorium with a gathering of students. A setting like this expects bright lighting esp. on the stage. Yet, in the song 'Tang aa gaye hain kashmakashe zindagi se hum' we see a lot of shadows. Shadows on the face of the poet reciting his poem on stage, on that of his ex-lover and her husband. It is as if through the use of lighting in this setting Dutt is trying to convey that the events of the past continue to cast a shadow on the present. Every person in the auditorium has a past lurking in the shadows. Even though the mood of such a setting is exuberant, through his lighting he has infused a sense of sombreness. This trait repeats in many other places, where there seems to be conscious choice to use shadows in settings that are typically brightly lit.

On the flip side, it is interesting to note that Dutt faced flak for the same visual lushness that we celebrate today. Like Sanjay Leela Bhansali is criticised for his opulent sets, in his times Dutt faced the same criticism. Critics of the era were of the opinion that the richness in his frames distracted the user from the main storyline!

The fact that Guru Dutt was under-appreciated in his life-time has no disputers. But did we over-c0mpensate in the later years by giving him a crown too big for his head? As we wind off, one is tempted to ask again ‘Was Guru Dutt truly a genius?’. The answer to this question be can be summed up in Oscar Wilde’s extremely insightful self-evaluation

‘I put all my genius into my life; I put only my talent into my works.’


Note :

* - The film 'Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam' is officially credited to Abrar Alvi, yet we work with the assumption that Guru Dutt as the producer would have had some kind of input into the character development. That he worked on the song picturisations in the films not directed by him is a documented fact.

Poll Results


Appendix - Videos

The videos in this section demonstrate some of the points discussed in the main article

Video : Influence of Noir in lighting - Pyaasa college reunion scene

Video : Pioneering use of tight-closeups - De Bhi Chuke (Jaal)

Video : Lyricsm in camera movements and outdoor photography - Pighala Hai Sona (Jaal)

Video : User of central motif to weave song picturisation (sarees)

Chal Diya Banda Nawaaz (Mrs and Mrs 55)

Video : User of central motif to weave song picturisation (Pulling out a fishing net)

Zor Lagaake Haiyya (Jaal)

Video : Mood creation through use of light and shade
Aaj Sajan Mohe Ang Lagalo (Pyaasa)

Video : Clever use of lighting in Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam - Saakiya Aaj Mujhe

Video : Dark Despondant mood and beautiful framing - Jinhe Naaz Hai Hind Par(Pyaasa)

Video : Imginative shots of Waheeda amongst the the pillars - Jaane Kya Tune Kahi (Pyaasa)

Video : Desi Noir in Babuji Dheere Chalna (Aar Paar) (note the sense of mystery created by keeping the dancer in shadows)

Video : Songs picturised on extras and bit role players - Mohabbat Kar Lo(Aar Paar)

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Guru Dutt : Genius? (Subjects) - 2

Subjects and Characterizations

The grays in Guru Dutt’s cinema deliciously mellowed the starkness of the black and white era

The main subjects that Indian cinema explored in the 50s and early 60s were strongly social in nature. Idealism was in the air and despite the low rumblings of discontent; films were essentially bright in the eyes. All significant film makers of the time - V Shantaram, Bimal Roy, Raj Kapoor, Navketan, Mehboob Khan etc. were wedded to social causes. In this context it is interesting to explore Guru Dutt's choice of subjects. We notice that he did little sermonizing. The only film where he takes a strong moral stance is surprisingly a regressive one. The satire of Mr and Mrs 55 was a comment on the new divorce law passed that year. The film albeit delightful, endorses the view that the ultimate place of the woman, however ‘modern’ is at the feet of her husband. For a man whose wife and mother were both were career women, this comes as a mild surprise. But then seeing the ultimate state of his marriage... maybe not!

However beyond Mr and Mrs 55 Guru Dutt's subjects were mostly non-judgmental. He seemed to have been magnetically drawn towards exploring flawed characters, the ones that floated between the black and white ends of the spectrum. In an era that celebrated human infallibility in the face of extreme adversity, that was certainly a trailblazing trait (albeit on a trail less tramped). Kagaz Ke Phool, as a serious self-portrait, remains a pioneer and the true flag-bearer of its genre. Years later Raj Kapoor attempted something similar with ‘Mera Naam Joker’, (another film accused of being self-indulgent), but his subject area was sufficiently far-placed from the world of cinema ensuring Kagaz Ke Phool kept it’s unique position in the history of mainstream cinema.

Dutt’s lead characters usually had their internal demons to fight and more often than not, they succumbed to them. The line drawn between the hero and the villain, the heroine and the vamp was porous. Characters flitted from one side to the other. The grays in Guru Dutt’s cinema deliciously mellowed the starkness of the black and white era. Dev Anand’s ‘Tony’ in “Jaal’, Geeta Bali in ‘Baazi’, Mala Sinha in ‘Pyaasa’, Vijay in ‘Pyaasa’, Suresh in ‘Kagaz Ke Phool’ and the most memorable of them all ‘Chhoti Bahu’ in Sahib Bibi aur Ghulam. Here was central character that was stubborn, uncompromising and rebellious yet vulnerable, passionate and devoted. She battled her fate using all the wrong moves, yet battled with valor. By killing her before she could be consumed by her own demons, Dutt put a halo around her head and it can be argued succumbed to the pressure to deify the character. Despite that it would not be hyperbole to say that Chhoti Bahu is a high water-mark in the art of character shading for mainstream cinema. **(see note)

In addition to the lead characters is can be noted that he created many memorable roles for supporting artists as well, notably Johnny Walker. On the flip side, his films and their stories are often accused of being juvenile and under-developed. Kagaz Ke Phool, despite the brilliant treatment is good only in parts. Even though the lead characters or the 'inner world' of the protagonist are well fleshed out, Guru Dutt's view of the 'outer' world was often replete with clichés. His films would have been far more interesting, if these characters had sympathetic undertones as well.

Take for example his brothers in ‘Pyaasa’. They are single dimensionally black. If the director had explored the conflict of the outer world which wants to help but cannot work with the waywardness of the poet it would have put the entire effort a couple of notches above it's current perch. Similarly in KKP, he gives no voice to the wife. There is no exploration of the internal battles that the spouse of an intensely creative person may have had to fight. It is common wisdom that it is not easy to be wedded to an achiever, esp. if he is an artist. The film industry has many such suffering spouses to espouse as an example (Krishna Raj Kapoor being most legendary of those). Yet Dutt chose to take the safe path of coloring the wife in unrelenting black.

To sum up it can be said that characterization was an area in which Guru Dutt attempted to break the mould, displayed sparks of genius and created many memorable characters in the wake. But at the end of the day, he could not carry it to a depth that could truly bracket his work as path-breaking.

To be concluded in part 3

Originally published at the Passion for Cinema blog at this link

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Friday, October 31, 2008

Bandhu Rangila Re - Inimitable!

A character sketch of SD Burman. (This was written in 2006 for the souvenier released to commemorate his birth centenary )

Reconstructing a personality behind a name is always a challenging task. More so if the person concerned left the world thirty one years back. Those early decades when SD Burman was most active as a musician, have only scattered footprints remaining today. No one recorded interviews those days. If they did then they are lost in the dungeons of AIR.  That is the hurdle we face when we try to discover Dada Burman, the person. A few magazine interviews, an odd radio program, scattered writings and his songs are the channels through which Sachinda speaks to us from his youth. 

What are we left with then? A small number of photographs, first hand accounts from Manna Dey, Meena Kapoor, Gulzar and Manohari Singh that we took especially for this feature. And then there is the richest road map - Ameen Sayani's rich library of recorded interviews. It is with these motley pointers that we will embark on our journey to meet the man behind such mesmerizing music. 

Let us first sift through the pictures. What do we see? A tall, stately figure dressed in an immaculate white dhoti and kurta with shining gold buttons. An unsmiling face looking into the camera. 

Cut to another image. A balding plate, an old wrinkled face with a kindly visage looking heavenwards. An indulgent patriarch? A Buddhist lama? [he was often mistaken for one we discover

And then another image. A suave young man in a smart buttoned up waistcoat worn over his starched dhoti kurta.. The young prince of Tripura.  A handsome royal but with an unsmiling countenance even back then! 

The basic impression one draws from this sketchy montage is of a serious person. Burman Dada comes across as a traditional, straight jacketed and austere person regal in stature. We always see him dressed in a simple dhoti kurta even in the most dazzling functions. 

We cut off from the pictures and fish out the CD of Aradhana. The 1969 anthem 'Roop Tera Mastana' blares out. Sultry, urgent and heart thumping, this song was a rage in it's times. Could the same Buddhist lama-like person have created this compulsively sensuous song? The dichotomy is striking. 

Aradhana comes out... in goes Funtoosh, a 1956 delight from the house of Navektan. Dev Anand, in a rare farcical outing, is reveling singing Dene wala jab bhi deta poora chhappar phaad ke deta. Sahir is whacky and Kishore gets a free run. 

Funtoosh comes sliding out and vintage Bangla songs get the stage. A faint crackle, some hissing and the sound of catchy tabla beats dimmed by the passage of some 70 years set the stage. And then a powerful voice wafts out almost breaking through the wear and tear of time. 'Oi Dushtu Papiha Bole Piya Piya'... Teasing. Mischievous. Who is the singer? Reach out for the CD cover. Singer: Kumar Sachin Dev Burman. Same as SD Burman? 

Contrasting images emerge from this exercise. The dhoti kurta clad patriarch does not tie into the naughty sensuality of  'Raat Akeli Hai'. The arrogant prince does not flow into the simplicity of 'Sun Mere Bandhu Re'. The real Sachin Dev Burman continues to remain an enigma. 
We turn to accounts of people who knew him for direction. Anecdotes start flowing in... A multi-hued, vibrant picture starts emerging from behind the white dhoti kurta-canvas. 

Work first...... 
“Burmanda was a nurturing boss" recalls arranger Manohari Singh. "He would give his team the freedom to nurture their individual styles. His humility was such that he would take a suggestion from even a junior musician if it was good”. Demanding when it came to quality and generous when it came to praise, Dada would often reward his musicians with (what he considered) a princely amount of ten rupees! His ultimate token of appreciation, however was one that he would reserve only for select favourites like Lata, and that was his special Kolkatta paan. A paan offering was the ultimate compliment anyone could get from Sachin Dev Burman.

Shakti Samanta recalls " In the early days Burmanda and I would travel together by train and tanga. He would often use his paan to trade in a ride on the tanga." Dada used his paans as one would use gold asharfis... sometimes to barter and sometimes to reward. 

Dada was quaintly thrifty in his ways. His habits are recalled with much amusement today. Hari Prasad Chaurasia, then a flutist in his orchestra, laughs about the incident when he got Burman Dada annoyed by polishing off a bowlful of rasgullas. This he did just as Dada closed his eyes to think of a tune!  So miffed was Dada that the next day he commented to Lata "See Lota today his (Chaurasias) flute is so sweet, you know why because he ate so many sweets at my place!" 

If Dada was possessive of his rasgullas, his paans were his lifeline. Meena Kapoor, recalled that Dada had once cancelled his recording with her because he forgot his paan dabba in the train. "He was too upset to record", she smiled. Sachinda had admitted to his paan love in an interview once "A good paan goes a long way in building the mood for composing", he opined.  So famous was he for his paan obsession that he inspired poet Shailendra to pen the famous 'Paan Khaye Saiyan Hamaro'!. 

Dada finally paid a tribute to the paan in through a medium he best loved... a bhatiyali song. Penned by his wife Meera, the song 'Ghaate lagaiya dinga paan khaiya jao" was sung with great zest by Dada. The frugality in Sachinda's  ways however did not touch his music. To his music he gave all he had. In fact when it came to a question of his music or football Dada could transform into the most hospitable host. This was discovered by Kishore Kumar one fine afternoon. Over to Kishore 


There was a time when I was very busy with my acting and was not available to music directors. Much to Burmanda's frustration this included him as well. One day Dada called me up and complained 

"Kishore you don't love me any more". 

'What are you saying Burmanda, that's not true" I protested. 

 "OK if you really love me will you come to my place today afternoon? "

"Don't worry I shan't pester you for a rehearsal". 

 "Then why are you calling me?", I inquired suspiciously. 

"Nothing, I just want you to have lunch with me". 

"Lunch?", I was very surprised. [refer to incident with Hari Prasad Chaurasia]. 

In the afternoon when I reached his home I was greeted with a lavish spread. There were the choicest of dishes on the menu and I was pampered silly by Burmanda. After the very scrumptious lunch I said to him, "Dada, what a wonderful lunch. Now I must take leave and proceed home for a siesta". 

But at the very moment Burman Dada caught me in a vice like grip and shouted out to his servant, "Aye, Quickly lock the door from outside" and then he turned to me with a mischievous glint in his eye and said "Now Kishore how are you going to run away? You have no choice but to sit for a rehearsal. What did you think I treated you to lunch for nothing?" !!! 


"Dada's sense of humour was impeccable. He would make us laugh and laugh" revealed Manna Dey when we interviewed him for this commemorative.  Despite his legendary status and royal background, SD Burman was a simple person. He never cared about materialistic things like status etc... He stayed in a modest hotel for very long. He used to say to me 'Come eat with me then we shall go to the studio together'. We would then sit on the bench of the hotel and eat. People would wonder over his behaviour, after all he was a respected and successful music director. But he never bothered.  He was above it all." 
His favourite lyrcist, Shailendra's son Shaili Shailendra recalled another incident about Dada. "There was a time when my father and Salilda (Chowdhury) realised that something needed to be done about the veteran artists who had come into bad times. After toying around with idea for a bit they took it to Sachinda for his opinion and blessings. Dada listened to their plan of setting up a charity and encouraged the noble intentions". "Dada", said Shailendra,  "Since you approve of our plan so much, we would like to make the auspicious beginnings with your blessings. How much will you contribute to the cause?". Sachinda thought for a long time, scratched his chin and then said, "Shailendra, mukhda to bahut achcha tha lekin antare mein aake thodi si gadbad ho gayi..... "

Sachin Dev Burman  could infuse music into almost anything. Legend says he once proposed to give music to accompany a hockey match! 

The talk of hockey brings focus to Dada's other great passion... sports. He was an avid sportsman in his youth. A state tennis champion, he did very well in cricket as well. "At the YMCA in Calcutta, the British players would avoid me initially because I was an Indian", Burmanda wrote recalling his early days, " but then I befriended the marker there and practiced consistently and improved my game so much that soon they all wanted to play with me". Burmanda  carried the same zest for sports to his autumn years as well. He used to root (predictably) for East Bengal and would follow all their matches zealously. The routine was set. Before there was a match, he would invite the team for dinner [a great gesture given his tight-fistedness] and give them tips on the game. 

God forbid if East Bengal lost a match, everything - recording, rehearsal etc. would be cancelled.  "If during a match Mohun Bagan hit a goal against East Bengal then Sachinda would get very upset. I was a Mohun Bagan supporter. So often after a goal, he would order me to get out of his house", laughs Manna Dey.

 Burmanda was also an avid fishing buff, another habit he carried over from his Tripura days. He would often go to Powai lake for fishing with Mukul Bose and Guru Dutt. A regular morning walker, he would be out in the streets early in the morning. It was in these times that most of his tunes would strike him. "Burman Saab was a nature lover; he would always want to incorporate sounds of nature in his songs" said Manohari Singh. The romance of the seasons would never leave him untouched. Kishore Kumar fondly recalled moments when Burmandada would turn up on a beautiful overcast day, hijack him out of a recording and spirit him off to open fields in the outskirts. 

"Dada remained an impulsive child at heart right till his last moment" recalled his favourite 'Lota' (nightingale Lata Mangeshkar). "His music was his toy".  Gulzar Saab reaffirms the observation when we met him in Bombay for this commemorative. "He was a child at heart. Choti choti baton pe rooth jaate the , Majrooh (Sultanpuri) Saab would often say Burman Dada is a big spoilt child!". But he was also very humble. Despite being such an acclaimed composer he would always be anxious that his precious tune would be rejected!  A strong critic of his own work, Burmanda is reported to have called up a reviewer and admonished him for giving a favourable review to one of his own soundtracks that he did not hold in high-esteem. "You praised my work, which according to me is poor. You should have not done that.  It is not good for a critic", he explained.  Such great humility is a thing of the past now.  

"Dada used to make a grand picture", continues Gulzar.  "I vividly remember he would emerge from his evening bath dressed in crisp white. He would then sit on the harmonium, pour himself a small drink, tie a gajra around his wrist and start composing. His one drink would last him all evening." 

Asha Bhosle adds another stroke to this vibrant portrait in an Ameen  Sayani interview.  "He would often ask me to tie the gajra around his wrist. "You are my child aren't you", he would say affectionately. "Dada", I would ask him. "How do you manage to create such youthful, vibrant tunes at such an advanced age?" He would just laugh it off and say "That's a secret". Dada aap bahut rangeen hain I would admonish and he would laugh heartily like a child." 

Dada aap bahut rangeen hain...

Asha's off-hand remark encapsulates SD Burman's personality succinctly. Hermitlike yet passionate, childlike yet introspective, humorous yet temperamental, eccentric yet rooted, stubborn yet humble. Dada's persona had shades and hues that rarely come together in a single person. He truly was as unique  and inimitable as his music. 

Dada would often say to Manna "Music mera bhai bhi hai, beta bhi aur bandhu bhi" Dada Burman dedicated his lifetime to music and nothing probably describes him better than the folk song that first beckoned him into this magical world 

Bandhu Rongila Re..! 

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