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Tuesday, November 1, 2011

‘Yahoo’ – The Cry of a Generation

Shammi Kapoor, nee Shamsher Raj Kapoor, could safely go down in history as Hindi Cinema’s first true blue youth icon. As one who changed the very essence of screen dynamics, Shammi was inviolably sacrosanct as the ‘rebel star’, whose comic wit could degenerate into clenches, just as his serious banter could swell into a bombast. And the audience loved it all. Plus, there were those pulsating numbers enacted by him so vigorously on screen, where every vein, every muscle of his, swiveled & swirled in a manner that was as indescribable as it was indefatigable.

Shammi's music in fact makes for an entire subject of study and analysis. It started out on a circumspect note with the stately Talat doing most of his playback, which didn't really jar for Shammi himself, had a relatively sedate persona when he started out. It was much later when Rafi synthesised his singing style to a point of ‘hybrid vocal calisthenics’ even as an unimpressive gait metamorphosed into the  flamboyant, swaggering 'Yahoo' star. Two of Talat' evergreen numbers, 'Chal Diya Karvan..' ['Laila Majnu'] and 'Aye Gham-e-dil Kya Karoon..' [from 'Thokar'] were in fact, picturised on Shammi though the film themselves tanked. As did another lesser heard number, 'Tere dar pe aaya hoon fariyaad lekar..' from an even lesser known, 'Chor Bazaar'. Rafi made the first impression as the voice of Shammi with a song seeped in the Punjabi idiom, 'Tune mera yaar na milaya..' from another box-office failure, 'Shama Parwana'. Films like 'Rangeen Raatein', 'Rail Ka Dibba', 'Jeewan Jyoti' and 'Hum Sub Chor Hain' only added to his dwindling stocks at the box-office. This lasted for a full four years, 1953 to 1956.

‘Yahoo’, a kind of guttural rasp, which became his very own vocal fiefdom, first made its appearance in ‘Tumsa Nahin Dekha’ in 1957 and reached a crescendo with the mega-hit, ‘Junglee’ in 1961 to become a sort of a national chant. And thus was born a star among stars!! Always the irritable hell-raiser to his leading ladies, his kind of romance was akin to brandishing a red rag to a bull. And the hits followed thick & fast, ‘Professor’, Kashmir Ki Kali’, Raajkumar’ and ‘Jaanwar’. But as it happens, once you reach a career peak, there predictably is a downslide. The year 1965 was to prove a watershed in Shammi’s life, when his first wife, Geeta Bali succumbed to small-pox, leaving behind a shattered husband. ‘Teesri Manzil’, now rated a cult film, was then under-production but had to be halted for months. A broken, embittered Shammi unable to cope up with the tragedy, hit the bottle with a vengeance and drained it to the very dregs. By the time he was back, the once envied physique had started showing signs of neglect. Though, some of his celebrated hits, ‘An Evening in Paris’ & ‘Brahmachari’ were to come in the following years, the expanding girth now required the exigent camouflage of a suit or an un-tucked shirt. Inevitably, came the flops, ‘Pagla Kahin Ka’, ‘Jaane Anjaane’, ‘Preetam’ & ‘Jawaan Mohabbat’. Even as he slithered into the sunset plumes, Shammi had to share his last box-office success, ‘Andaz’ with Rajesh Khanna and his motor-cycling zip-off.

Subsequently, Shammi tried his hand at direction with ‘Manoranjan’ but the attempts to recreate the aura of ‘Irma La Douce’ with the same voyeuristic undercurrents fell flat on its face. Towards the end, after his days as character actor too faded into a dim tint, it was sad to see a wheel-chair bound Shammi being subjected to an exacting dialysis routine, though he still maintained equanimity with the caresses and bruises of life.

Today Shammi is no more but his legend endures. A legacy of the days when the nation swayed with the unbridled vigour of ‘Aasman se aaya farishta, pyaar ka sabak sikhlaane….’ that now makes for sweet shenigans on TV channels, just as the ‘Yahoo’ mystique has a glorified halo around it. A star among stars has indeed gone back to where he came from, ‘aasman’ or the eternal skies!! God bless his soul!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Mystique of Mani Kaul

 Let me be honest! I am not a Mani Kaul fan by any stretch of imagination. In fact, he seems to have created more tremors in death than during his lifetime, when for a major part he was the butt of ridicule of Bollywood filmmakers, particularly one Manmohan Desai, who had the propensity to say things impromptu and then try and give lame justifications for the same. For so many, Mani was simply a red-rag, whose cinema was an incomprehensible as it was a drag, he made films devoid of filigree whose frames were like the ripples of the ocean, slow and expressionless.

I managed to catch a glimpse of 'Uski Roti' way back in the 70s during the black & white days of Doordarshan, which also happened to be my pubescent years in Lucknow. And all I remember of the film was a woman unpacking a sack for her truck driver husband which consisted of the obvious epicurean wonder : the 'roti'. I was anyways not really enamoured of watching the movie beyond this momentary glimpse. Gradually things changed for with age and time, one does learn to appreciate such esoteric strands of cinema that have created their own diminutive space in a wider canvas of film making. 

Mani was now well within my ambit of curiosity primarily because he was one of the leading lights of the off-beat cinema movement along with Mrinal Sen and Bhisham Sahni, way back in the late 60s. A kind of cinema which holds a strange fascination for me now. More specifically, Mrinal Da's 'Bhuvan Shome', Mani Kaul's 'Uski Roti' and Bhisham Sahni's 'Maya Darpan' are considered neo-classics in having pioneered the art cinema movement in India. Around the same time, Basu Chatterjee also came up with 'Sara Aakash' but unlike the other three, he chose to move away from the art genre and gravitated towards the middle path that straddled the realm of art and commerce a.la. Hrishikesh Mukherjee and Gulzar. The most unique aspect of these four films was that they were all devoid of songs, something unimaginable in the heady days of the 60s and the 70s.

A still from 'Uski Roti' [1969]

As usual and as is the norm in our film industry, once an artiste or technician departs, he becomes the focal point of conversations & discussions, regardless of the fact that his life was shrouded in obscurity during his last days, like Mani's. Having gone through the whole gamut of obituaries that have been written on him, the one anecdote that stood out for its jocularity and was a satirical garb in self-deprecating humour went like this : Mani's landlords, an ageing couple once called him over for dinner and the husband, in an obvious jibe at the filmmaker said, 'Do you about Mr. Kaul's latest film which is about a man waiting at a bus stop...'. The wife immediately chortled, 'No, please don't reveal the story and spoil my joy'. At this Mani just smiled and said, 'Sorry, but he has already told you the story, ma'am'. If anything, this was reflective of the kind of filmmaking in which Mani revelled and excelled too. He essentially belonged to a school of filmmakers who followed a cinematic pathway that was subvertible from its narrowness or the imperfections of its very basis. Throughout his chequered career, Mani struggled to find his niche as a film-maker. Even the cerebral often lamented that he  found it hard to comprehend his kind of film-making.

I would define Mani Kaul as one who swam against the tide, but rarely did he manage to wade out of deep waters; his kind of obscurantism on celluloid had little or no takers. Yet, I would be willing to give my right hand to get hold of 'Uski Roti' and Aaashad Ka Ek Din', which were both based on literary works of Mohan Rakesh and 'Duvidha', which took inspiration from a Rajasthani folk tale. These three works of Mani have given him some kind of a halo in a world of cinema that depicted stark  & stoic realism.

God bless his soul!!

Monday, February 7, 2011

A Typewriter that continues to go Tip, Tip, Tip…..In the memory of Late Ismail Merchant


The one and only number that I can recall as having been composed on a 'typewriter' was a duet by Kishore & Asha that went ‘Typewriter Tip Tip Tip Tip Karta Hai…’, which really caught my fancy as it used to be played with frequent rapidity on Vividh Bharti and Radio Ceylon. As the years went by, the song barely lingered in my memory but a decade later, HMV released the song in one of its compilations, which rekindled my interest. I managed to dig out the information that ‘Bombay Talkie’, the film for which, it was recorded, was a co-production of Ismail Merchant and James Ivory, whose banner went by the name of Merchant-Ivory productions. Like many of their previous ventures, ‘Bombay Talkie’ was released only in Mumbai and its proximal areas but never went any further. I was given to believe that no print of the film existed anywhere, which gave a severe wrench to my hopes of procuring a copy or at least watching the film on the cable, if for nothing else, then just for ‘Typewriter…’.

Even as I sifted and pared in all VCD shops round the country, I came across Ismail Merchant’s autobiography, a damn expensive memorabilia and one of the visuals in the book showed a gigantic typewriter, with stills of a rollicking Shashi Kapoor and some colourfully clad dancers transfixed on the keys in paroxysmal poses. In a trice, I could visualize what the picturisation of ‘Typewriter…’ would have been like. Rich, sonorous and energetic, just like Shanker-Jaikishan’s infectious beats that were a rage till the turn of the 1970s.

Ismail Merchant for once broke away from his pre-defined norm and came up with a film that was the closest approximation of a Bollywood pot-boiler. So what if ‘Bombay Talkie’ did not run, for Ismail ji’s films were never meant for the turnstiles nor did they ever played to the gallery. They were all polished, up-market ventures that more often than not were a throw-back to the stark Colonial days in India. Ismail ji, sadly has left us forever and the elusive Typewriter has moved from my inner consciousness to a level of sensuous cognition, metaphorically speaking!!

It isn't yet time to put it in the back-burner, not as yet. Not until it stops going ‘Tip, Tip, Tip…’.

How Bright are the Royalty Stakes??

The Government of India recently introduced a bill in the Parliament for amendment in the Indian Copyright Act, 1957 with regard to music rights for films. If passed, then, along with the producers, the lyricists and the composers would also have a stake in the profits generated from the sale of musical tracks. In other words, the latter would be joint shareholders with the producers on the ‘royalty’ from sales through various channels.

The fallout has been a ban imposed by the Film Federation of India [FFI] on Javed Akhtar, who parlayed a career as a dialogue writer to lyric-writing success, as he was the one who pushed for the bill for what he felt was a just cause. FFI justified the ban saying that the producer was already in a high-risk zone and such a move would only increase the level of financial burden on him.

The royalty issue is nothing new to the industry. In the 1960s, Lata Mangeshkar had pushed vehemently for singers to be given a share of the advance royalty paid by the music companies to the producers, of which, a miniscule portion used to be transferred on to the music director. Lata’s argument was that if the producer surrendered a part of the royalty to the music director, the singer in question, brooked a similar claim as it was he/she who carried it across to the masses. Javed Akhtar’s line of call is similar in tenor to Lata’s, for in his opinion, the lyricists always get a raw deal as they are paid once for a song and then totally bypassed, while the producer is able to exploit its selling potential for an indefinite period.

Lata, however, was unable to have it her way, for despite having the backing of almost the entire playback fraternity, the most crucial of them all, Mohd. Rafi, stood in intrepid opposition. Rafi’s argument was that as a playback singer, his claim over a song ended once he had recorded it, for unlike a music director, he was not ‘contractually bound’ to the producer to demand a share in royalty inasmuch as a song’s success or failure had no bearing on the singer, so long as he had been paid his legitimate dues. FFI’s point in a way vindicates Rafi’s stand, that if the lyricists demand a share in the profits as royalty, would they also be prepared to bear the losses if any, with the producer? After all, even the best of song writers cannot claim that every single number of theirs would hit the bulls-eye.

Four decades ago, Rafi’s opposition to Queen-bee Lata not only put a spoke in her royal(ty) wheel but also led to strained relations between the two super-singers. It would be interesting to see the outcome of a similar crusade when the new Copyright bill comes up for debate in the Parliament. Would Javed Akhtar emerge as a key benefactor for the song writer’s fraternity or just fade away like one of those fleeting phantoms who raise dust but no level? Only time will tell.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

A.R. Rahman - One up on his illustrious predecessors

Jay - History 'n Political Affairs: A.R. Rahman - One up on his illustrious predecesso...: "After sweeping a litany of awards, ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ managed a most eclectic slice of an a la carte spread at the Oscar feast - zipping ..."

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Gopaldas 'Neeraj' - Chalta Rahe Yeh Caravan…

It was in the early 60s when a youngster from Aligarh, who had already established his credentials as a litterateur and a poet and had completed a whole gamut of scholastic pursuits, opted for higher sweepstakes of the tinsel world. He went on to leave his imprimatur as the finest literary talent from UP to have enshrined the terra-firma of Bollywood. Gopaldas Neeraj was his name.

In a career that lasted just about a decade, Neeraj came up with heart-tugging musical utterances that enhanced the elegance of poetic Hindi lexicon across the film firmament like never before. Not for him the loosely framed scaffolding of inane word-spinning that was the standard norm; every number of his bore the inimitable stamp of a rare alchemist in sensitive poetry. He made his foray through a B-grader flick called ‘Cha Cha Cha’ with the numbers - ‘Luti jahaan pe bewajaah paalki bahaar ki’ and ‘Subah na aai, shaam na aayi’ having the most exquisite wraparound of words and emotions, which instantly captured the attention of music lovers. But Neeraj’s finest moment came with the film, ‘Nai Umar Ki Nai Fasal’ which was embellished by what has come to be rated as the poet’s ‘sacrosanct musical template’ - ‘Caravan guzar gaya, ghubaar dekhte rahe’, a turgid socio-economic parable that saw Neeraj pouring out his creative zest in the most perfect amalgam of meter, rhyme & poetry. Here was a number that attained the same measure of popularity within the ambit of films as outside of it. With his literary bona-fides having been established, Neeraj was all set to climb further up to the bigger league of song writers in films.

With the demise of Shailendra in 1966, Neeraj came the closest to filling the void in the Shanker-Jaikishan team as the one who could provide a poetic slant to Hasrat Jaipuri’s shairana style. And he did create some outstanding numbers for the high-profile duo, like the lyrical idyll, ‘Likhe jo khat tujhe’ (‘Kanyadaan’) written in iambic or open verse - a metaphor for astute penmanship, ‘Ae bhai zara dekh ke chalo’ (‘Mera Naam Joker’) - an evergreen classic that almost created a colloquy with the audience, ‘Bas yehi apradh main har baar karta hoon’ (‘Pehchan’) - an wistful ode to human affiliation and the unabashedly romantic, ‘Aap yahan aaye kisliye’ (‘Kal Aaj Aur Kal’). Neeraj’s most famous teaming up however, was with the genial SD Burman that created a virtual cascade – in one sweep he could exhibit his mettle on a convoluted meter with ‘Rangeela Re’ or create a heady aperitif with 'Shokhion mein ghola jaaye phoolon ka shabab' (‘Prem Pujari’), create moonlit hues with ‘Megha chaaye aadhi raat’ (‘Sharmilee’), sound fragrantly effusive with ‘Jeewan ki bagiya mehkegi’, swear unfailing love with 'Hey maine qasam lee' or weave a socio-mythological parable with 'Jaise Radha ne maala japi Shyam ki' (‘Tere Mere Sapne’), disseminate arguably philosophical overtones with ‘Dil aaj shayar hai’ and on a faster beat, 'Choodi naheen ye mera dil hai' (‘Gambler’) or create a whimsical parody of sorts with ‘Dheere se jaana khatiyan mein’ (‘Chupa Rustam’) – counting just a few of several exquisite numbers that left indelible poetic sinews across the wellsprings of time.

With the turn of the 70s, Neeraj, having attained some measure of popularity, set up temporary base in Mumbai, without abandoning his roots of course. But he was too much of a simpleton to adapt to the hop, skip & jump style of Bollywood, besides being plagued by persistent ill-health, owing to a constant shuttle between Aligarh and Mumbai. Besides, the Mumbai industry thrived on team-work and here is where Neeraj, by his own confession was a victim of destiny’s decree. The composers with whom he worked with a fair measure of regularity – Roshan & Jaikishan (of the S-J duo) had passed away by 1971 and Dada Burman in 1975; the younger generation of composers had their own committed writers to look elsewhere. Neeraj was soon out in the cold despite the exquisite poetry that he wove into his works. Soon enough, the poet in him was rekindled and he returned to his hometown after a final tryst with destiny through a surpassingly lovely creation – ‘Jannat hai dekhni to kisi dil mein aashiyan bana’ from ‘Shatranj Ke Mohre’ reflecting his all-encompassing love for mankind that was axiomatically depicted in another of his poetic jargons – ‘Vaheen dhoondna Neeraj ko tum jahaanwaalon, jahaan bhi dard ki koi basti nazar aaye’. Another one of his lesser heard but well-crafted numbers was, 'Suryamukhi hai mukhda tera' from the film 'Tu Meri Main Tera'. The sad reality now was that he was no longer in the big league of cine-lyricists and the offers were for such obscure, low-budget films that stymied his growth as a writer. Goldie (Vijay) Anand, his old colleague and friend did apparently summon him to write for a film which he was directing for Dev Anand and Neeraj did come dowm from Aligarh to pen the song. Sadly, the film and as a result the song never saw the light of the day and are both languishing in the cans somewhere. Despite the allure of the tinsel world, he remained a poet at heart – 'Aatma ke saundarya ka shabd roop hai kaavya, maanav hona bhaagya hai, kavi hona saubhaagya’.

In a career spanning 55 years, Padma Bhushan Neeraj can well be given the sobriquet of the ‘Poet Laureate of India’ with a range & variety that epitomized his creative genius. Not many can claim to have received equal encomiums from the litterateurs as well the cine-goers, appealing to the connoisseurs as well as the commoners, which makes his art so timeless.

Just as the Bard of Avon sang, ‘If music be the food of love, play on’, Gopaldas Neeraj, a tsar in his own poetic fiefdom, continues to move along the whispering sand dunes leaving behind a trail of bitter, sweet musical intonations. ‘Yaad rakh jo aandhiyon ke saamne bhi muskuraate, voh samay ke panth par, pad chinnh apne chod jaate’.

‘Caravan guzar gaya’ he had once lamented but for unabashed loyalists of the lyricist-poet it would be - ‘Chalta rahe ye caravan, umr-e-rawaan ka caravan…’ .

An Ode to Nationalism - Sir Iqbal to Sahir Ludhianvi


Sir Allama Mohammed Iqbal was one of the greatest sons of undivided British India – a poet, an intellectual and a philosopher, having affiliations with the old feudal order. His name shall always be associated with what remains to this day, the most sacrosanct template of patriotic sentiment – ‘Saare Jahaan Se Achcha Hindustan Hamara’, first published in the journal ‘Ittehad in 1904.

Initially, Sir Iqbal was a staunch nationalist, which he used as a contemplative metaphor to define the universality of external forces. Beneath a tumultuous psychological struggle, lay his justification of conscience & reason - ‘Ghurbat Mein Hon Agar Ham, Rahta Hai Dil Watan Mein, Samjho Vaheen Hamein Bhi Dil Ho Jahaan Hamara’. However, his trips to Europe brought about a change in his thought-process and he soon became a vocal supporter of Islam. In his publication, ‘Tarana-e-Milli’ (1910), Sir Iqbal’s retained the same rhythm & metre but abandoned the earlier sentiment for – ‘Muslim Hain Hum Watan Hai, Sara Jahaan Hamara, Cheen-O-Arab Hamara, Hindustan Hamara’.

Strangely enough several years later, a young lad from Ludhiana, Abdul Hayee, who attained celebrity status as a poet & litterateur with a more lyrical name, Sahir Ludhianvi, used these lines as a muse for satire to articulate his pronounced Leftist leanings – ‘Chin-O-Arab Hamara, Hindustan Hamara, Rehne Ko Ghar Naheen Hai, Saara Jahaan Hamara’. The song was used for a Raj Kapoor film – ‘Phir Subah Hogi’ (1958), which was inspired by Fyodor Dostoevsky’s ‘Crime & Punishment’. Unlike Sir Iqbal, who reveled in semantic paroxysms that raised emotional prejudices – ‘Aye Aab-e-rud-e-Ganga, Voh Din Hai Yaad Tujhko, Utra Tere Kinare, Jab Karvan Hamara’, Sahir’s poetry stemmed from a rank abhorrence to the capitalist cult and a bitterness towards the bourgeoisie – ‘Kholi Bhi Chin Gayi Hai, Benchein Bhi Chin Gayi Hain, Sadkon Pe Ghoomta Hai, Ab Karvan Hamara’. Having been a member of the Progressive Writers’ Association, Sahir had cultivated an egalitarian mentality that called for a social policy that supported the working class. His poetry focused on the moral dilemmas of human psyche and their chilling consequences. Thus, what was a broad, dialectical interpretation of individual torment for Sir Iqbal – ‘Iqbal Koi Mehrum, Apna Naheen Jahan Mein, Maalum Kya Kisiko, Dard-e-Nihaan Hamara’, became an untrammeled cry of the oppressed and the anguished for Sahir – ‘Taleem Hai Adhuri, Milti Naheen Majuri, Maloom Kya Kisiko, Dar-e-nihaan Hamara’.

Sir Iqbal’s poetry had the power to offer a philosophic background to the Muslim intelligentsia in a featherbed of religious sentiment – ’Tauheed Ki Amanat, Seenon Mein Hai Hamare, Aasaan Naheen Mitaana, Naam-o-Nishan Hamara’. Sahir, an atheist, believed in raising his voice within the system rather than breaking away from it. If Iqbal was rational, then Sahir slithered into the meta-rational. At the end of his poetic diatribe, Sahir realises his mea culpa as he ends optimistically with – ‘Mil Jul Ke Is Watan Ko, Aisa Sajayenge Hum, Hairat Se Munh Takega, Saara Jahaan Hamara’.

Despite inspiring two diametrically opposite sentiments, the twain of the rational of Sir Iqbal and the meta-rational of Sahir did learn operate symbiotically - one showing the way, the other following and thus exploring some bitter truths, as they were.