Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Navketan Series : Part 1 : Germination

 Art can be a curious thing. Within its many folds and many layers it conceals a strange paradox. While on one side it is said, for any creation to be truthful it has to transcend time and space and straddle the timeless horse on the other side nothing chronicles that same time, space and era as does the art of the time. Popular art for centuries has provided a window to the aspirations, motivations and concerns of a time. Cinema by that yardstick is the most powerful chronicler of them because live medium of expression. In this series we will trace the story of one of the most enduring cinema houses of Hindi cinema and with it the story of us.


This story begins over three quarters a century ago when two brothers from a small town in Punjab began to secretly nurture a dream. It was a dream that was almost taboo given the time, characters and social milieu it germinated in. The first one to pursue this dream was the shy younger brother. After completing his graduation from Lahore, the diffident young man announced to his astonished father that he did not wish to take the sedate bank-job that was arranged for him. Instead he wanted to become an actor. It was an audacious dream for a middle-class boy, whose lawyer father was struggling to get a good education for his nine off-springs. The father was naturally skeptical at what seemed an ill-suited career-option for his introvert son, but seeing the boy’s determination, knew it was useless stopping him. Destiny is inevitable. And thus one morning in 1943, a twenty year old Dharamdev Pishorimal Anand boarded the Frontier Mail at Lahore to head for the city of dreams.

In those days, Bombay was a haven for all those whose eyes sparkled with stardust. Its allure was magnetic and thousands flocked to it in the hope of making their destiny. The pace and sophistication of the city intoxicated this boy from a small town and it was love and first sight. But reaching the city of dreams was only the beginning. Bombay was the high-ledge from where a dreamer could reach out and grab the stars, but it also was the deep crevice where millions of hopes crashed into nothingness. The young Dharamdev realized soon enough that he had miles to go before he even spotted a high-ledge to climb on, the stars were miles away. And therein started a period of struggle, a period, in which, the young Dev found a confidante and friend in his elder brother.

The elder brother, Chetan, ten years senior in age belonged to what was the budding artistic intelligentsia of pre-partition India. Educated in England, he returned to marry the daughter of an eminent Bengali educationist and teach history at the prestigious Doon School in the Himalayan foothills. At a core level he too was inclined towards creativity like his younger brother but the middle-class upbringing and marital status made him hold on to the cushy security that his job offered. He would nevertheless find his release by writing plays and dabbling with IPTA in his spare time.

IPTA or Indian People’s Theatre Association was formed during the Quit India Movement in 1942 with the goal of building awareness through art. The organization had a strong leaning towards progressive and socialist ideologies and boasted of luminaries like KA Abbas, Homi Bhabha, Ali Sardar Jafri, Ismat Chugtai, Uday Shankar, Pt Ravi Shankar, Salil Chowdhury, Balraj Sahni and many more intellectuals. Under the aegis of IPTA these artists produced many memorable plays, dramas, ballets and films all underlining their leftist ideology. IPTA was a vibrant and thriving organization in the 40s and 50s and enticed many a progressive artist to its fold. IPTA also was a landmark organization because it was instrumental in helping performing arts break from the shackles of disrepute that was traditionally associated them and transform into a respected art form.

In the early days both the brothers dabbled with IPTA, the older one full time and the younger one part time. Even though the veterans there liked his affable presence they never did take him seriously as an actor. It is said that after he had miffed his lines multiple times Balraj Sahni is said to have slapped his forehead and said to Dev– ‘Yaar tu actor kabhi nahin ban sakta’ (I don’t think you can become an actor). But perseverance in the face of criticism was in his genes. Dev did persist.

The big break finally came with Prabhat’s ‘Hum Ek Hain’ in 1945. Around the same time big brother too chucked his teaching job to direct a highly acclaimed ‘Neecha Nagar’. ‘Neecha Nagar’, made with a team primarily culled from his IPTA associations, was a commercial disaster but went onto win accolades at the Cannes film festival.

After this film there followed a period of lull. The younger brother got bit roles and acting offers but nothing significant. The handsome, good-looking elder brother who wanted to direct got more offers as an actor than as a director. In spite of ‘Neecha Nagar’ no one was ready to hand him the directorial reins. Things were not going the way they had wanted them to go. Both the brothers realized that the only way for them to create the kind of cinema that was close to their hearts was do to it themselves.

And thus germinated the idea of Navketan…

In 1949 Chetan and Dev Anand got together and established a new film company. It was called ‘Nav’ because it was new and ‘Ketan’ stands for banner. It also was the name of Chetan Anand’s newborn son.

With Navketan a new branch of cinema came to life. The cinema that was meaningful, progressive, urbane and in retrospect, timeless.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Dev Saab: Lena hoga janam hamein kai kai baar

The vast majority of emotions that a human experiences are such that they cannot be articulated, they cannot be expressed they are only meant to be felt. Well, atleast by the mere mortals. But then God created artists. The messiahs who can not only articulate the unspoken but they also have magical powers to invoke them again and again by the sheer dint of their art. Different artists work for different people. Dev Anand was the artist who worked for me.

On the occasion of his anniversary, here is my little note to the man who made my heart turn cartwheels year after year. With his passing, I lost a part of my giddy girlhood.

Dear Dev Saab,

You and your films have mesmerized me ever since I discovered you one misty morning during the final year of high school. It was a matinee show of CID. The image is frozen in my mind - the stark hues of black and white, the wide boulevard of Worli Seaface, a hep looking heroine and a handsome man lazily ambling along to the strains of 'Leke pehla pehla pyar'.  The music, the situation and then you. It was difficult to remain unaffected. I was firmly in love. (Well, it really does not take much to fall in love when you are 16, does it?). It was the 'pehla pehla pyar' for the charming magician who had  suddenly descended from celluloid magicland and captured my otherwise capricious attention forever. After so many years even now I affirm, it truly was a magical afternoon.

That was it. It started it all - the journey to Dev Anand Land and with it the time travel to the cinema of the 1950s. Song by song , film by film I discovered you a little more and a little more. It was an exhilarating phase of discovery. Every fresh vintage song that I uncovered, I imagined was picturized on you. How disappointed I was to learn that 'Shyam dhale khidki tale' was picturized on Bhagwan. And how excited I was to know the old favourite 'dekhne mein bhole ho par ho bade chanchal' was you.

In the pre-internet era discovery was a laborious, painfully slow, but extremely rewarding journey. The generation that has everything on their fingertips will probably never know the pleasure of finding something after hunting for it for months or even years. You cherish it so much more. It would takes months before a certain song would play on the radio for me to record. If I did not have a blank cassette ready it was gone for another couple of months. Getting videos of your movies was even more difficult. One had to sit through Chitrahaars and a slew of Abhi Bhattacharya's songs before I got one of yours. My class 12 birthday present from mom was a video cassette with your songs found after scouting the dungeons of Palika Bazaar for months. I had unearthed a dusty black and white collection after doggedly refusing to let the salesman sell me a shiny new collection of your later songs. My mother and aunt doubled in laughter as I exasperatedly told the salesman 'Bhaiyya mujhe buddha wala Dev Anand nahin chahiye' (Sir, I  do not want the aged Dev Anand). He told me revealingly 'Lekin baby wo toh buddha hi hai' (but ma'am he *is* old).  No, I never did like your 70s films, they did not exist for me. It was the enigma of the black and white medium that made you irresistible.

The admiration I felt for you spawned so many other passions. As time went by, I was a little embarrassed to admit to the hero worship part and I tried to intellectualize my desire to watch your films. With it evolved an interest in film appreciation. Truly, I unearthed the beauty of the black and white cinema quite incidentally - while searching doggedly for your footprints! Hearing those wonderful melodies from your films set me off on another journey of discovering music that look me to the equally enchanting Burmanland. To look back, all the passions that have defined who I am today started because a 16 year old completely was besotted by this handsome movie star from her grandfather's generation.

As I grew older my mind started searching for patterns. It tried to rationalize the feelings and actions. What attracted me to you and not say Raj Kapoor?. Hero worship is a strange thing, most people experience it and it sort of forms a mechanism to escape the dreariness of existence. But what is the root behind hero worship. After all the connection is based on basically nothing. You haven't met the person, people just fall in love with an image. Most of the time, this love for the image coexists with other interests in the real life. It seems to sit of flimsy grounds yet it is such a widespread phenomenon that is has to have a strong foundation in the human psyche.

So what on the surface seemed to be a long standing infatuation, was it actually fueled by more deep-rooted reasons? It was only when I read your autobiography I figured out it actually was. There was a thread of common sensibility - a meeting point. It is incredible but true. Two people set five decades apart in age, era, time and space still had a common core. Through the magical medium of cinema that connection flowed - transcending space and time!  Like me you loved the mountains, like me you loved long walks, beautiful ruins and like me you loved Burmanda! The people who were your best friends and compatriots in the game of the cinema were the same artists that I cherished and admired  - Guru Dutt, Geeta Dutt, Raj Khosla, Sahir Ludhianvi, Balraj Sahni are all in my roll of honour. The commonality in the choices in matter of art is striking.

And then there is the core person. Something of that person invariably shines through their art. For you, it was always said, your screen persona extended from your real one. And one important thing that did shine through in your screen persona was that you were educated, erudite and above all decent. After you died, the most valuable thing your heroines recalled about you was that you were a very decent man, respected women and made them feel very safe.  Maybe you made the women in your audience feel the same way that sealed your iconic status.

So what did we say earlier? It does not take much to fall in love when you are 16? Very true. But what I did not say earlier is that is that it takes a lot of charisma and depth from the subject of interest to keep the flame alive as you pass further and further away from your wonder years. After all, the parameters change, people grow and the person needs a lot of depth to sustain that growth of the fan. To be honest I did outgrow you at some point and you became softer and softer in focus almost fading away from my horizon. But then you died and everything was sharp focus again. The incessant tears that flowed told me that I really never had outgrown you or maybe I was mourning the final passing of my girlhood? I don't know. My mind goes back to the beautiful lines by poet Neeraj from the classic 'phoolon ke rang se'  from Prem Pujari.

....yaad tu aaye
man ho jaaye
bheed ke beech akela

Dev Saab, for years, you and your films have transported me to a world that was beautiful, intimate and only mine. You kindled and rekindled a feeling that I could continue to cherish deep in my heart. I was naive to think I could write away such a magical portion of my life. You will persist.... forever!

This is your first anniversary after you left for the other abode. The world is poorer with the loss, but then you really haven't gone have you? All I need to do is switch on my computer, navigate to YouTube,  flick the mouse and there you are back again. Smiling the same devastating smile, walking the same loose walk and singing the same song...

The catch line of the song resonates deep and clear

badal bijli chandan paani jaisa apna pyaar
lena hoga janam hamein kai kai baar,
kai kai baar....

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The King of Prussia : Serendipity is Not Mere Chance

One abiding sin that I must confess to is a hyperactive imagination. Dangle a wisp of a thought and my mind would soon have conjured up a story. Poke a little more, it will add sounds & smells, another nudge and lo behold, you have alternate reality! This habit has led to many a comic, annoying and sometimes even tragic let-downs. Reality, after all, seldom lives up to fantasy….

However, once in a while life has a way of throwing a delightful little twist in your direction that indulges this quirk and reaffirms the grand theory that serendipity is not mere chance. This is the story of one such moment of serendipity.

As a new immigrant to this country my first real installation was in a small town in Pennsylvania called Bluebell. My friend CC, had moved in a year earlier to a place close by called ‘King of Prussia’. When I first heard of it, still in India, I was truly enamored. For someone’s who’s sense of geography is, well, challenged, all I knew about Prussia was about its European connection and that there was a brilliant hue of the colour blue called ‘Prussian Blue’. With little fact to my disposal, my imagination was glad to take over. I pictured my dear friend living in a quaint town with an old castle at the center. Reality, as I mentioned earlier, seldom lives up to fantasy and this was an anti-climax of most comic proportions. We all know, what truly, is the center of King of Prussia. For those who don’t, King of Prussia boasts of the largest and swankiest mall this side of the country. Flashing neon lights, streams of cars and crowds of shoppers, that is what sets this otherwise typical, suburban town apart from its neighbours. As is obvious it has little in common with the quaint and romantic image I had conjured. My curiosity however was not doused. ‘King of Prussia” is an unusual name. Why ‘King of Prussia’ and why not ‘King of Transylvania’? Who was the King of Prussia and what was his connection to this place? In the pre-wiki era, there was little information available. All clues drew to a blank and soon I forgot about it and moved on.

A few months ago, as I researched for a holiday in South of England, I stumbled upon a little story that suddenly threw a whole new light onto King of Prussia and brought out a neat little secret…. Here is that fascinating tale.

To start at the very beginning, one has to tread through the mists of time. Let’s start traversing back - fifty years…hundred years…two hundred years…all the way to the 18th century.

The Western World in the 18th Century
The late 18th century was a volatile period in history. It was a time of great upheaval and also of science and discovery. The British ruled the Americas and had started spreading the colonial tentacles across to Asia and India. Europe was emerging as a great colonizer and trading posts were setup almost all over the world. Enterprising men faced the dangers of the sea to travel to remote lands to gather exotic goods that were then sold back home in Europe for a high premium. The governments were fighting many wars in this time. There were the wars of independence being fought in the Americas and France. The French were going through the period that is often called the ‘reign of terror’, the terrible anarchy that followed the French revolution. The Britain establishment was sympathetic to the aristocrats and funded many of the anti-revolutionary activities in France. The British pocket was quite drained with these extra-curricular activities and it turned towards high taxation to fill it. In particular custom duties on the foreign goods were a major source of revenue, given the boom in foreign trade. They enforced these trade duties with the zeal of a missionary. What dear old Newton had said about the third law of motion can snugly retrofit here - for every zealous law-enforcer there is an even more zealous law breaker! So this was also the time in history that was ripe with smugglers, pirates, swashbuckling adventures on high sea and tales of buried treasures.

Cornwall, England
The South coast of England is treacherous. Craggy cliffs dot the coastline and the waves are merciless in their tirade against the dull grey rocks. This area of the country has been wild for centuries, cut off from the rest of the nation culturally and geographically. Small fishing communities dot the isolated coastline. Cornwall is still considered to be its own country in many ways. In the late 18th century to early 19th century this place was a breeding ground for outlaws. London was distant, roads were non-existent, law enforcers were sparse and the French coast was right across the sea. Smuggling flourished in this setup. The otherwise inaccessible and rocky coast is dotted with hidden coves where smuggled goods could land in the dark hours of the night unseen by the mainland police. Concealed caves and secret passages honeycombed the cliff sides, aiding the quiet transportation of the contraband to the mainland.
Secret passages connected these caves to the clifftops
Wrecking ships, was also common in this area in these times. The folks who did this for a living were called 'Wreckers'. Fantastic and grotesque as it sounds, it is true. With lighthouses few and far between, ships were at the mercy of these ruthless men. On dark stormy nights, when visibility was nil, they would flash lights from hidden spots on the coast and direct unsuspecting ships towards the treacherous rocks. The ships would crash against the rocks and shatter. As the vessel would groan and creak in its dying throes, each incoming wave would smash it anew on the rocks bringing it inch by inch closer to its end. Early in the morning the wreckers would make their way to the shore through the secret passages and loot the cargo even as the crew lay dead and injured. Year after year, decade after decade many a hapless ship died a horrific death on the rocks of Cornwall. It was a Godless profession that worked without retribution in this remote and rugged terrain.
Smuggling, by itself was not considered a crime by the locals. The high taxes imposed by the government were regarded unjust and there was certain Robinhood kind of valour attached to the whole profession. The local sympathy ran high. A poem by Rudyard Kipling 'The Smuggler's Song'in way sums up the Cornish way of life that suggests to let the sleeping dogs lie and let the smugglers smuggle!

Old Fisherman’s house near Prussia Cove
John Carter
Here, in these times and in this remote corner of England lived the Carter family. They had a small stone house at the mouth of a sheltered Bay by a cove called Portleah. A large brood of children was their pride and these included three sons John, Harry and Charles. The family lived in, what Harry was to describe - ‘decent poverty’. They were poor but god-fearing. Sea-faring was a skill that most children in these parts learnt whilst still in their knickers and the Carter brood became proficient sailors with intimate understanding of the Cornish and French coasts. The next step was inevitable. It is not known when and how. It is likely that the easy money and extreme poverty drove them towards it. Harry, (sometimes John with him) would sail over to the French coast and smuggle fine wines, laces and brandy into the Cornish coast. The house was equipped with lofts and cellars to store this contraband. Through a well-established secret network, the goods would then be distributed across England to adorn the fine homes of the aristocrats. The brothers owned two ships. Harry mainly looked after the travel and John would safely land the goods in the dead of the night and transport them to the far flung destinations inland.

The King of Prussia
The Carter brothers grew in this business and soon became very well-known. The dangerous nature of the business called for an ability to take risk and fight it out - not only the elements but also the forces when time came. Over all there was a natural valour that was needed to succeed. And succeed, they did. In boyhood games, John would emulate Fredrick, the King of Prussia, a man he greatly admired for his bravery. It was said, in the later years he closely resembled the popular German monarch. Soon tales of his own valour spread so far and wide that John Carter himself came to be known as the King of Prussia! The Portleah cove, where his cottage stood came to be known as the Prussia cove and is known till date. The legend of the Carter brothers and their adventures resounds in the folk tales of Cornwall even today.

A large part of John Carter’s image came from the fact that a la Robinhood, even though he was a law-breaker, he was an honest and morally upright one. While modern perspective might sense a dichotomy in the assertion the medieval morals accepted it without conflict. Even though they smuggled contraband, the Carter vessels had a clean and pious environment onboard. Swearing was completely banned and prayers were religiously read. They were smugglers but they were not wreckers. A famous legend is about the time when the customs police raided John’s home and took away a fresh smuggling consignment. Upon discovering the fact John was restless, not because he lost the consignment, but because he had made a commitment and wanted to be known as a reliable trader. On the same night he raided the customs warehouse with a band of followers. Next morning when the officials came in and surveyed the break-in site, they all shook their heads in unison and murmured, ‘The King of Prussia was here’. And just how did they know? Well, he only took what he was considered was rightfully his and did not touch a piece that belonged to anyone else!

The legend of the Carter Brothers 

As the tales of the swashbuckling bravery of the King of Prussia spread, the hotter the officials got on his trail and the more adept the ‘King’ became at dodging them. However, this cat and mouse game had to end one day. Being on the wrong side of law did catch up with him eventually. In one skirmish off Portleah, John was grievously injured and had to go in hiding. He was now hounded as he seeked one safe-house after the other. With time it became more and more apparent that he could not hide any longer in that injured state. One fine day John disappeared. No one in Cornwall quite knew what happened to him. Some presumed he was dead and others speculated a grand comeback, but it was all just that - speculation. No one had a clue of the truth. John never came back.

Speculation on John’s fate gradually fused into bed-time stories, myths became legends and the King of Prussia became folklore.


A century passed with no revelation on what happened to John Carter. At the turn of the last century a manuscript emerged in the home of a certain Mr. G.H Carter. It had been carefully preserved over a hundred years as a family heirloom. And heirloom it was. The manuscript contained the diary of Harry Carter! Harry had been taken prisoner on one of his sojourns to France and languished in prison for long. When he returned he renounced all and took up the job of a preacher. In 1900 a Fleet Street publication published the autobiography as a book. Amongst other things, this booked provided the story on what happened to John Carter.

After his injury John spent some time in Cornwall and then finally escaped to France. But worse was awaiting him there. France was in the grip of the revolution and along with the French aristocrats, the British, who were considered sympathizers were also being thrown into jails. John ended up languishing in French prisons for a long time. On being released he was at cross-roads again, he needed to earn a living, find a new life and new place but going back to Cornwall was not an option. The ships and business were all gone.

Now here is where the story borrows a master move from the book of an accomplished dancer. It does a wide side leap, follows it with a neat twirl and lands bang on the right foot. It is a moment of flourish that connects all the dots in a single sweep and tells us that the universe is truly connected. The job John Carter landed was not in France, not in Cornwall, not in London, it was in Pennsylvania, USA!

Completing the Circle
King of Prussia, PA owes its name to a small tavern by the same name that sat on Route 202. A spy map of the area dated 1777 lists it as Berry’s Inn. By 1800 it was called ‘King of Prussia’ inn. There is no set theory why this name change came through. The commonly held perception is that it was to entice the Prussian soldiers who were camped at the nearby Valley Forge. Legend says that in the very early days the sign-board of the inn carried a picture of Fredrick, the Great.

An old picture of the King of Prussia Inn in Pennsylvania
Now, here is where we can nudge our imagination to take that baby step to connect it all. Imagine the tavern on a particularly busy night. It is full of people - locals from the farms close by, soldiers lodged in Valley Forge and travellers on the way to Ohio stopping at the inn for the night. As the sun sets, ale flows freely and the place abounds in chatter. In a corner sits a stocky man. He is a farm-hand at a nearby settlement. Middle aged, weathered, yet strong, he is scarred with the wounds of many unknown battles. He holds these scars as honours, quite a like a general holds his medals. He is quiet and reserved but on some days with ale down his throat, he speaks. And when he speaks everyone listens in rapt attention for he tells a tale that is out of the leaf of a fable. It is a tale of adventure, of enterprise, of valour and of rising above adversity; it is the stuff legends are made of. And why not, this man is already a legend. He is the King of Prussia, the King of Cornwall. Even in the incongruity of his situation he remains a King.

And so, while the King of Prussia Inn might have had a picture of Fredrick the Great the likelihood of his look-alike, namesake and follower John Carter giving the place its name emerges as a strong alternate reality. After all human quirks are timeless and even three hundred years ago, everyone was a sucker for a good story.

An Indian poet & philosopher has been known to say - “vice and virtue are nothing but the stamp of morality on the rituals of the era, with each epoch morality changes’. Morality has undergone 180 degrees shift since the times of John Carter and the sides are truly switched. The band of smugglers who plied trade in the dead of the night two hundred years ago were pioneers. They were pioneers of the doctrine of free trade! What do you call it but the brilliance of destiny that the town of King of Prussia today is known to be a showcase of the same free trade doctrine that John Carter embodied. It boasts of the largest mall in East Coast.
Yes, serendipity is truly not a matter of chance, it is divine design that you just happened to stumble upon!

The King of Prussia Mall: An Ode to Free Trade
A Smuggler's Song
If you wake at midnight, and hear a horse's feet,
Don't go drawing back the blind, or looking in the street.
Them that ask no questions isn't told a lie.
Watch the wall, my darling, while the Gentlemen go by!
Five and twenty ponies,
Trotting through the dark --
Brandy for the Parson,
'Baccy for the Clerk;
Laces for a lady, letters for a spy,
And watch the wall, my darling, while the Gentlemen go by!

Running round the woodlump if you chance to find
Little barrels, roped and tarred, all full of brandy-wine,
Don't you shout to come and look, nor use 'em for your play.
Put the brishwood back again -- and they'll be gone next day!

If you see the stable-door setting open wide;
If you see a tired horse lying down inside;
If your mother mends a coat cut about and tore;
If the lining's wet and warm -- don't you ask no more!

If you meet King George's men, dressed in blue and red,
You be carefull what you say, and mindful what is said.
If they call you "pretty maid," and chuck you 'neath the chin,
Don't you tell where no one is, nor yet where no one's been!

Knocks and footsteps round the house -- whistles after dark --
You've no call for running out till the house-dogs bark.
Trusty's here, and Pincher's here, and see how dumb they lie --
They don't fret to follow when the Gentlemen go by!

If you do as you've been told, 'likely there's a chance,
You'll be given a dainty doll, all the way from France,
With a cap of Valenciennes, and a velvet hood --
A present from the Gentlemen, along o' being good!
Five and twenty ponies,
Trotting through the dark --
Brandy for the Parson,
'Baccy for the Clerk;
Them that asks no questions isn't told a lie --
Watch the wall, my darling, while the Gentlemen go by! 
Rudyard Kipling

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Once Again : Piya Tose Naina Laage Re


We had started www.SDBurman.Net as a great labour of love. It was a journey that three kindred souls, diverse in age, background, nationality and geography undertook together. More than anything else SDBurman.Net was a triumph of human bonding and universality of music. I an Indian, Maajid Saab (Maajid Maqbool) a Pakistani and Chowdhury Saab(HQ Chowdhury) a Bangladeshi all met on the internet, bonded over the music of a composer who was well before all our times and created this website in his honour. Later in 2006 we also organized a centenary function in his honour. That evening, to date, remains one of the most exhilarating moments of my life.

While the appreciation and love for SDB's music continues to remain close to all our hearts, the website has somehow fallen to disuse, neglected due to a shift in the phases of our lives. For me, work has grown more and more demanding and these vital pleasures have somehow taken a backseat. SDBurman.Net still stands, but like an old ancestral home, it is decaying due to neglect. There still are areas of SDB.Net that are fully intact, but others have become preys to the vagaries of internet time. One such crumbling 'room' was what we used to called 'Burmanda Ka Pitara'. A section where we regularly picked up a gem from Dada's dazzling array of musical jewels, turned it over, held it high, admired it and then put it on a pedestal. This section has now disappeared. Today as I went looking for an old article I wrote on 'Piya Tose Naina Laage Re', I was dismayed to have found it to be gone. Dismayed, not because of the intrinsic worth of that writing, but more so because it was a loss of a thought at a point in time.

However, the internet is a great preserver, someone, somewhere at sometime had reproduced the article (a fact that used to irk me to no end in the past!) and lo behold! the article stood in front of me like a memory excavated from under a ruin.

Now, when I read the article, I do think it is too dry and academic (I was trying very hard to be taken seriously those days :)), I would have written it very differently today. But I guess we need to stand up for our past actions and so here we are, the charming, the dulcet and the oh! so vulnerable - Piya Tose Naina Laage Re!

Piya Tose Naina Laage Re

'Piya tose naina laage re' stands out for the intrinsic beauty of its 'roopak taal' based tune. This 4 stanza/8 minute piece is a marathon song that traces the rise of Rosy (the film's female protagonist played by Waheeda) from a small time artist to the sensational dancing star Nalini. Today in Burmanda ka Pitara we will re-visit the beauty of this song.

The song starts off suddenly without any prelude (a habit that was quite common with Dada) and then moves ahead with rich orchestral interludes. The composition itself has two meters running simultaneously in the antaras. One with a long drawn out alaap as in Aayi holi aayi and the other with a fast 'raat ko jab chaand chamke' both blend back into the mukhda seamlessly with extremely catchy bols, set to the rhythm of 'Dhi na k dhi n dhi n'. These bols have been woven into the overall lyrical theme of the song beautifully by the lyricist Shailendra.The orchestral interludes in this song are rich and varied. Though these music pieces are tailor-made for a dance choreography, unlike most dance pieces they do not remain limited to a frenzy of ghungroos, tabla and sarangi/harmonium. 

The orchestral interludes, here, in typical SD Burman style, are uncluttered and spontaneous. However they still use a wide variety of instruments and are richly layered. Violins, Sitars, ghungroos, tabla, drums (note the lovely use of a north eastern drum in the portion before 'bhor ki bela suhani') and the flute all fit into the overall composition like pieces in a jigsaw puzzle. Strings, as with most of Dada's songs, are used with great felicity. Note the extremely catchy short string pieces strewn all over the song. In particular, the part where the song returns to the mukhda as in.

.Piya tose ..~~~~little string pieces
~~~~Piya tose naina tabla starts laage re ..

The tabla is heard distinctly throughout major portions of the song and there is a gentle swaying rhythm to the tabla tempo. A trait that is faintly reminiscent of Sachinda'a favourite 'bhatiyali' rhythms. There are portions where the tabla takes a backseat and the drums or some other percussion takes over, however it always makes a high profile and arresting entry back into the forefront particularly when the song returns to the mukhda.

The lyrics by Shailendra are sweet and heartfelt in his trademark style. This is one of those songs where Shailendra excels in 'Shringar Ras', which otherwise is considered by many to be a bastion of the likes of Majrooh Sultanpuri. Just like the composition. the lyrics also follow twin tracks. The long meter depicts the Holi and Diwali (major festivals of India) and the fast tracks depict day and night. Shailendra's mastery is apparent in the manner he makes a crisp return to the mukhda.

Lata Mangeshkar's rendition, finally, is the icing on the cake. She gives the song a delicacy and innocence that is very heart-warming. Note the way she stresses on naina each time she sings the mukhda. Very dulcet. Any discussion about 'Piya Tose Naina laage re' would be incomplete without mentioning its unforgettable picturisation. While Waheeda is elegance and grace personified, the choreographer Hiralal like the rest of this team thinks out of the box. The end result is one of the most scintillating dance sequences in the history of Indian Cinema.

Some trivia

  •  The extremely catchy 'Dhinak dhin dhin' that seems to flow so spontaneously was actually put there by design!. Maruti Rao Keer, (a percussionist in SD's team), recalled how Dada worked to include this bit knowing his audience would love it.
  • Special mention must be made of Rahul Dev Burman who along with Basu and Manohari assisted Dada in this film. The orchestra in more ways than one was Pancham's triumph as well.- Santoor maestro Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma who assisted Dada during this period played the tabla in this song.
  • Waheeda Rehman worked very hard on the dances of this film. She would get up at 4:00 in the morning to rehearse. She also drank lots of milk to get the strength to execute those rigorous steps!. After all this hard work when the songs were canned and the film went on the editing table, Waheeda had just one fear... that the long dance sequences could be edited out. Finally she made a request to Dev Anand.Cut my scenes if you like but please don't edit out my dances. Dev Anand promised her he wouldn't and the dances stayed. And thus what we have today a set of dances that have become textbook material for dances in popular cinema.
  • This one is for the collectors. There are stories of the existence of one version of this song in the voice of the master himself. Now wouldn't that be a treat for all connoisseurs of Dada's singing?
Post Script: As per Ritesh Gadhvi, the tabla in this song was not by Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma. He played in Mose Chhal Kiye Jaaye. There is a possibility then, that the tabla is by Pt Samta Prasad.