Glimpses from a Kaleidoscope – Haimanti Banerjee

  1. The century was reaching mid way through the Indian cinema was slightly older than that. Then a little wonder happened.

Text Box:  A honey sweet, girlish voice haunted the sub-continent: Aaye gaa, aaye gaa, aane wala. As the movie opened in the theatres, people rushed and were bewitched! This was the cinema of the year with haunted sounds, eerie mansion – mahal, Madhubala an elusive lass and Ashok Kumar a possessed debonair. A state of the art thriller wrapped into the story of re-incarnation, MAHAL was a wondrous collage of stalwarts. Joseph Wirsching of Bombay Talkies, wielded the camera with ineffable tracks, pans and chiaroscuro light.  Khemchand Prakash, the super fine composer with the baton, guided both Lata Mangeshkar and Rajkumari [ haaye mera dil …] to divine cadences. Lacchu Maharaj choreographed with his legendary nazaaquat. And a new comer donned the mantle of the director: Kamal Amrohi of Pakeezah fame, later. This was his debut.

BT’s staple hero for years, Ashok Kumar shouldered the responsibility of steering the sinking fortunes of BT, and produced it with Savak Vaccha. They all dedicated the film to the memory of their mentor Himanshu Roy, the founder of Bombay Talkies. And Roy as if, in return, blessed them with a runaway hit of all times. The only sad note kept on ringing as Khemchand Prakash of aayega aanewala, bid adieu before all this happened.

Text Box:  Bang on mid century, in the year 1950–the airways now reverberated with a voice full of longing, of yearning, of deep devotion: ghunghat ke pat khol, tohe piya milenge…In the month of April, Liberty cinema in Bombay went full to the brim for months on. A statuesque, elongated, all white clad jogan took the viewers to spiritual heights. A natkhat westernized Nargis stunned one and all with her straight and unbending posture singing in a trance one after another Meerabai bhajans. A mere 19 yrs old girl called Geeta Roy bestowed a vocal body to such a mendicant, the jogan in Chandulal Shah and Kidar Sharma magnum opus: JOGAN. Teenager Geeta rendered not less than 12 songs for Nargis composed by that now forgotten maestro Bulo C. Rani. With a tight knit unit of huge talents, the film was completed within 29 days. The male protagonist, now called thespian Dilip Kumar, presented one of the toughest performances! There was no legendary enactment, it was a mere presence with little walk and hardly any talk! It seems that Prima Donna, Nargis considered JOGAN to be her best film.

From a mendicant and her taciturn devotee, ’51 brought in a street smart con man and a golden hearted cabaret dancer. The so far failed actor with smiling face and dandy gait, surfaced in a new avatar and straightaway hit the bull’s eye. The name? Dev Anand of BAAZI fame. Now they label it as a ‘film noir’ whereby the vamp, Geeta Bali and a semi villain as the hero, were packaged into a wholesome recipe.

Text Box:  And who waved the magic wand? A lanky, tall and unknown entity later legendarised as Guru Dutt! Both prodigies and products of Prabhat Film Co., Dev-Guru literally turned a new leaf in each others lives. Baazi was Guru’s debut and Dev’s Nav Ketan produced it. SD Burman wielded the baton. Sahir Ludhianvi ran the razor sharp quill. Balraj Sahni a Masters in English – a BBC newsreader – a Santiniketan teacher — churned the script. Zohra Sehgal fresh from ballet training from Yugoslavia, dominated the dance floor. No wonder that all hell broke loose. There were many firsts: Guru, Sahir, Zohra, Balraj, Kalpana. The long tested ones were just three: SD, Geeta Roy and Geeta Bali. One more who sneaked in, was by the name of Badruddin Jamaluddin Kazi. Guru christened him: Johnny Walker!  Sahir’s ghazal tuned as a western number, made the nation go crazy tapping: Hey, hey, hey…tadbeer se bigdi hui, taqdeer bana le/ apne pe bharosa hai to daav laga le… Twin Geeta’s stole the show.

The very next year, in 1952, the cinema theatres were hit by something of an entirely different flavour. No shadowy basements, game of roulette or secret murders. Instead, like a fresh whiff of air, the scenario shifted far away in time and space to Akbar’s court and a sylvan village.

From the predominantly dark and dingy of Guru Dutt film, BAIJU BAWRA opened up to the placid flowing rivers, to boats being rowed by unsullied youngsters. A painfully dreamy Bharat Bhushan as Baiju lost in love for music and Gauri and the dew fresh innocence of Meena Kumari, drew millions to the theatres. This exquisite musical romance with the veneer of a historical, was in fact, Naushad Ali’s brain-child. It was also meant to rescue the Bhatt brothers of Gujrat from total financial extinction. Vijay Bhatt assumed the role of the director.

As a hind sight, Baiju Bawra was perhaps Naushad’s theoretical statement in the different genres of Indian music ranging from dry as wood classical renderings to Tansen’s innovative creations removed far away from the people to Bhajans etc. Naushad Ali then   vetoed Baiju’s indigenous talent, rooted and nearest to people’s’ heart. It was light music in semi classical style generously sprinkled with folk motifs. Baiju Bawra foregrounds Naushad Ali’s tremendous musical acumen whereby he dared to rope in the tallest of talents like D.V. Paluskar and Ustad Amir Khan to make this seminal but risky statement.  So much so that Amir Khan had to lose as Tansen in front of DV as Baiju!! But at the end of the day, Baiju Bawra musical repertoire remains a tour de force of Mohammad Rafi’s immortal renderings in raag malkauns: man tadpat hari darshan ko aaj aur tu ganga ki mauj mein in bhairavi or duniya ke rakhwale in darbari kanada.

In this kaleidoscopic variations of post independent Indian cinema, emerged a laugh riot towards the end of the golden decade. Strangely enough, this rom-com had many dark shades of murder, kidnapping, forgery, impersonation. And yet, it stood the test of time to stay rock steady as one of the finest works of art for more than a half century, 1958. Along with three crazy auto mechanic brothers and a healthy and sturdy beauty, the film revels in the automobiles almost as the fifth partner in CHALTI KA NAAM GAADI sending off generations holding their sides or smiling away without any specific reason to do so!

The Ganguly brothers; Ashok, Anup and Kishore had a field day and indulged into endless wild antics. The somber tragedienne of Mahal, Tarana or Sangdil lets her hair down, and allows the luxury of larking around in full abandon. Not only with her irresistible beauty, but her uncanny sense of comic timing, Madhubala proved her mettle as a comedy queen like never before. Similarly, the super hit song maker of Pyasaa, Sujata, Devdas or Kagaz Ke Phool, too jumped into the laughter fray and ended up doing what?? Like those Bahar ditties: kasoor aapka, huzur aapka / na mera naam lijiye, na mere baapka or duniya ka mazaa lelo, duniya tumhari hai, SD Burman gifts you with this all time hilarity: lekin pehele, dedo mera, paanch rupaiyya barah anna, marega bhaiyya, na na na [payment for fixing an immobile automobile!!] or the duet: chale the japan, pahunch gaye cheen, samajh gaye naa. Though my personal favourite remains: ek ladki thi bheegi  bhaagi si. With an orchestral ensemble of motor workshop wrenches, spanners, screw drivers, bonnet tops. For Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi, sky was the limit!

The new decade started with a big bang. 1960 itself prided itself with some sparkling stars: Kohinoor, Chaudhvin Ka Chand, Barsaat Ki Raat or Kala Bazaar. Needless to say, the brightest of them all was K. Asif’s magnum opus: Mughal-e-Azam.

However, a relatively less popular film breezed in like the soft fragrance of bela and juhi, shimmered like the tender new leaves of Indian spring. This was only the second film of the artist hailed as the able successor of Bimal Roy. As his mentor’s perfectionist editor, Hrishikesh Mukherjee brought impeccable grace, beauty and dignity on the screen with ANURADHA. A lissome Leela Naidu embellished the screen with a rare ethereality. Quiet, sedate and soft spoken, Anuradha brought in romance of a very different kind. She embodied womanhood of not only grace but also of maturity, of intrinsic practicality.  No wonder that in her debut act, she could bring out all this as her counterpart was none else than the all time great Balraj Sahani. What a pair they made? The current terminology is ‘chemistry’. We had witnessed many chemistries: Dilip-Madhubala, Raj-Nargis, Guru-Wahida, Dev-Geeta Bali. But Leela-Balraj ushered a flavour of truly modern India after the euphoria of freedom in the ‘50s. Like all his stellar performances, this was Sahani’s finesse to the point of no return.

The last but not least, a standing ovation needs to be accorded to the man with the baton in hand and woman with divine voice in her vocal chords. Pandit Ravi Shankar and Lata Mangeshkar. This was Panditji tour de force in filmi sangeet. Setting a rigid standard of not flinching away from the classical, he did a filigree work of melody, bhav and the ragas. Tilak-shyam was woven into jaane kaise sapnon mein kho gayi ankhiyan. Majh-khamaj ruefully carved out kaise din beetey, kaisi beeti ratiyen. And Lata Mangeshkar levitated and soared like a nightingale with a heart wrenching cadence in a least known raga, jana-sam-mohini.  It was truly sam-mohan, hypnotism of the populace– jana. The song penned by Shailendra goes like this: Haaye re, woh din kyun na aaye. A decade ending requiem.

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