Disclaimer: Long boring post on Gulzar, Vishal Bharadwaj, eroticism in Hindi film lyrics & such like.
To say I don’t watch much television would be an understatement. I don’t watch it at all. The reason primarily being two-fold: between my daughter & my maid, the household average TV watching duration is fairly high, and all programmes include too many ads in between.
But this Friday night, I sat glued in front of the TV for a full hour watching the latest episode of Sa Re Ga Ma Pa on Zee TV. The celebrity judge for this week was Vishaal Bharadwaj and even Johnny Depp would have been kept waiting had he come calling for me that evening. He didn’t. Lucky Johnny.
Anyway, everyone who I discuss Hindi music with knows I am loony about VB, RD, Rafi, Madan Mohan and Rehman in the Hindi film music pantheon of deities. I remember my first brush with VB's music – Mai – from the children’s film ‘Makdi’. That would be about 7 years ago. A little girl I knew had just lost her mother and we were watching the film together at Jo’s place and the song came on. As the song ended, there we sat like statues, tears streaming down our faces, furtively wiping them, embarrassed beyond words. I’d not heard of VB before and I was hooked for life. It also mattered that after Satyajit Ray, this was the first guy I knew of who’d script & direct his films, compose the music and even sing in them!
The thing about music is that it works best in partnership. The union between two artists is more perfect than any earthly relationship the mind can imagine. I think VB has found that union with Gulzaar. Gulzar writes, VB imparts the melody; one imagines, the other conveys. How else are you going to explain the magic of:
“Khwab ke bojh se, kapkaati hui,
Halki palkey teri, yaad aata hai sab,
Tujhe gudgudana, satana, yu hi sotey hue,
Gaal pe teepna, meechna, bewajah besbab.”
Can anything beat the sheer romance of fluttering eyelids (palkey) heavy with the weight of dreams (khwab ke bojh se)? If you’ve read the poetry of John Donne you’ll note the same fusion there of the erotic with the innocent as in the above lines. Two lovers and the strange intimacy that allows a man to tickle (gudgudana) and trouble (satana) the woman and pull her cheeks (gaal pe teepna.) This is beyond sex, this is comfort.
Speaking of eroticism, Bryan Adams and his ilk need to take a few lessons from Gulzaar. Though catchy and fine, there isn’t really any imagination in ‘The only thing that looks good on me is you.’ Frankly, I’d feel like a muffler or something if my hubby ever claimed that. Eeeks. But listen to a super sad song like ‘Mera kuch samaan, tumhare paas pada hai’ and you will notice how deftly he mixes eroticism with the poignancy of loss. Everybody knows ‘Mera kuch’, so there isn’t much sense in talking about it. The couple have separated; the man has moved on; he has shipped the stuff she left behind to her current address. The song is her letter reminding him of those things that he has missed. It even begins with the actual reading of the letter. What got left behind is something you will figure out as the song proceeds. There is no sadder song, I have heard, nor one sung more achingly. Of the many things she refers to in the course of the letter, she makes special mention of:
'Eksou solah, chand ki raatey,
Ek tumhare kandhey ka til.’
One has to have loved a man with moles on his shoulder to fully realise the languorous pleasure of the 116 long moonlit nights, and the hollow emptiness in the heart at their ending.
Gulzar is also the guy who wrote in ‘O sathi re’:
’Tere kohre badan se, sil jaungi re,
Jab karvat lega, chil jaungi re.’
This is also one of those countless gems he worked together with VB. This is again a love song, interspersed with beautiful rhyming between ‘sil’ (stitch) and ‘chil’ (scrape). When you have merged yourself so seamlessly with another, what hope remains of escaping unscathed? Delightful.
But not all of Gulzar is sad. He also writes lines like:
‘Aisa koi saga nahi, jisko thaga nahi’ and ‘Teri baato mein kimaam ki khushbu hai, tera aana bhi garmiyon mein loo hai.’ These lines are funny, effervescent, tongue in cheek and bring a smile.
Finally, a word about ‘Kaminey’– the song, not the film. This is my anthem, something which sustains me when I fret and fume. It takes something beyond talent to deploy an abusive word like Kaminey, subvert it and invest it with so much poetry, so much dignity. The dignity lies in the realization that all our desires are self-defeating, illegitimate, and endless. We pass all our time cribbing about life (Iski jaan kha gaye, raat din ke giley) and don’t even realize the futility of such desires,
’Meri aarzoo kaminey,
Mere khwab bhi kaminey.
Ek dil se dosti thi,
Woh huzur bhi kaminey’.
When you haven’t managed to overcome your desires, you will seek antidotes for fulfillment. Most of them are delusions, fake, and imitations of the thing you craved. Thus, you start of with wanting the moon in the sky, and in the end, console yourself with a lantern hung high above:
‘Kabhi zindagi se maanga,
Pinjere me chand la do,
Kabhi lalten (lantern) deke,
Kaha aasman pe taango.’
I could go on and on. Genius leaves behind such impressions that often you don't even realise how incomplete our lives would be without its gifts. Such moments help us recollect that.