Saturday, March 29, 2008

My Favourite Lata Mangeshkar Songs - 1950s

In my last post I had listed my favourite Lata Mangeshkar songs from the 1940s. Now I enter into the 50s. If in the last few years of the 40s Lata Mangeshkar gained foothold into the Hindi film music industry, it was the 50s that she really grew to dominate the industry. From the rawness that was evident in her voice, she quickly mastered the art of playback singing in the 50s under the tutelage of great music composers like Anil Biswas, Naushad, C. Ramchandra and others.  There was a distinct change in her tallaffuz, especially when it came to emphasis on key words and clarity of pronunciation. And as the 50s progressed she perfected this art to emerge as the one and only reference point for perfect pronunciation in songs. Of course, she greatly benefited from a whole galaxy of master composers who composed gems after delightful gem for her to vocalize.

So you can imagine what a tough task it was for me to pick one song per year in the 50s. Have a peak at my attempt and see if I have been able to do justice to this onerous task. If you don't, what does it matter? They're personal favourites after all J

1950: Lata Mangeshkar sang 152 Hindi film songs this year. I have heard just 50% of these; and this list is quite dominated by songs composed by Anil Biswas (Arzoo, Lajawab, Beqasoor), C. Ramchandra (Sargam, Samadhi, Sangeeta, Nirala) and Husnalal Bhagatram (Aadhi Raat, Pyar Ki Manzil)   While each of these soundtracks is a masterpiece in itself, there are a few songs I like more than the others: Jana Na Dil Se Door (Arzoo) for the delightful way in which Lata sings the word 'door' ; Matwale Nainon Wale Pe (Beqasoor) for its composition structure and effortless murkis; the lovely duet with Mukesh, Zamane Ka Dastoor (Lajawab); Mehfil Mein Jal Uthi Shama (Nirala); Naumeed Ho Kar Bhi and Jo Mujhe Bhula Ke Chale Gaye (Sangeeta); Tu Chhed Sakhi Sargam (Sargam) with the riveting violin piece at the end; the pathos of Koi Kisi Ka Deewana Na Bane ( Sargam); and of course Gore Gore (Samadhi). Then we have Dil Hi To Hai (Aadhi Raat) by Husnalal Bhagatram, about which I have written in an earlier post. This year also marked Lata Mangeshkar's debut with Sachin Dev Burman with Aankhon Se Door Door (Mashaal).

In 1950, Lata Mangeshkar gave voice to some really nice compositions by relatively lesser known music directors. The one's I think do deserve to come out of obscurity are: Kaga Re Ja Re by Vinod (Wafa),  Chup Chaap Patange by Hafeez Khan (Meherbani), Preetam Se Ja Ke Keh De by Hemant Kedar (Hamari Kahani) and Aisa Kya Qusoor Kiya by Chic Chocolate (Nadaan).

Such great songs, but my favourite without a doubt is a haunting Sajjad Husain creation - Bhool Ja Aye Dil from Khel. Sajjad Husain's composition are unique and extremely difficult from a singing point of view because due to their low pitch and staccato notes. Sajjad Husain didn't do too many films, and recorded just around 14 songs with Lata. But each one of those is outstanding, which is probably why Lata Mageshkar holds Sajjad Husain in very high regard. Listen to this one:

Bhool Ja Aye Dil (1950 - Khel - Sajjad Husain - Shams Azimabadi)

1951:  For any Lata fan this would be a special year. It is tough for any other year to match this one in terms of quantity as well as quality. With 208 songs, 1951 represents the biggest year for Lata Mangeshkar. Even in terms of quality, no other year comes even close to this one with great songs by most music directors. One the one hand we have one of Anil Biswas's best compositions in Tarana and Aaram, while C.Ramchandra continued to display his virtuosity with Albela, Khazana and Sagai. Madan Mohan made his debut with Lata in Ada and Madhosh, while Shankar Jaikishan dominated the charts with Awaara, Badal and Kali Ghata. Sachin Dev Burman produced three of his career best soundtracks in Buzdil, Sazaa and Naujawan, while Roshan showed signs of greatness in Hum Log and Malhar. Naushad had Deedar, and Husnalal Bhagatram had Afsana. Lata Mangeshkar made each of these great compositions even greater by her nearly flawless rendition.

Here is a random selection of songs from some the above films, each unique in its own special way. These are songs I never get tired of:  Balamwa Nadan (Aaram), Wo Din Kahan Gaye Bata (Tarana), Dheere Se Aaja Ri (Albela), Mohabbat Mein Aise Zamane (Sagai), Saawri Surat Man Bhai (Ada), Jhan Jhan Jhan Payal Baje (Buzdil), Tum Na Jane Kis Jahan Mein (Sazaa), Thandi Hawayein (Naujawan), Abhi To Main Jawan Hoon (Afsana), Garjat Barsat (Malhar, a compostion in Raga Malhar that was repeated later in Barsaat Ki Raat)....actually almost 80% of the 135 songs I have heard from this year would fit in well with my definition of a great song.

As always, I have a special preference towards songs that have not got their due or have not registered themselves in the minds of the people simply because they haven't been heard much. So songs like Sapna Ban Sajan Aaye (Shokhiyan, Jamal Sen), Qismat Mein Khushi Ka, Tumhe Dil Diya and Hawa Mein Dil Dole (Saiyan, Sajjad Husain), and Bandh Preet Phool Dor (Malti Madhav, Sudhir Phadke) occupy a special place in my collection. Listen to these songs and judge for yourself!

But my favourite one is Anil Biswas's exquisite composition from Aaram - Man Mein Kisi Ki Preet Basa Le. The opening piano piece is one of the best I've heard in Hindi film music.

Man Mein Kisi Ki Preet (1951 - Aaram - Anil Biswas - Rajendra Krishan)

: Another difficult year for me as I have heard more than 70% of the songs sung by Lata Mangeshkar this year and like most of them. Classical musicians like table maestro Ustad Allarakkha better known as A. R. Qureishi made Lata sing Dil Matwala in Bewafa, while Ali Akbar Khan had a wonderfully sublime composition in Aandhiyan - Hai Kahin Par Shadmani. Basant Prakash composed Meri Beena Ke Sur Saat in Saloni which is in the same league as his own Sajan Tum Se Pyar in Badnam, Pt Gobindram's Kari Kari Andhiyari Raat (Jalpari) was no less than Vasant Desai's Kya Kya Na Log (Hyderabad Ki Nazneen). And obviously the soundtrack everyone still remembers, Naushad's magnum opus Baiju Bawra.

Hemant Kumar's Vande Matram (Anand Math) definitely counts among Lata's best, as do C. Ramchandra's Tum Kya Jano (Shin Shinaki Bubla Boo) and Madan Mohan's Mere Piya Se Koi (Ashiana). Roshan's Ae Ri Main To Prem Diwani (Naubahar) is probably the best version of this Meera bhajan. Roshan's Dil-e-Beqarar So Ja (Raag Rang) is at the same level as the S D Burman beauty from Jaal - Pighla Hai Sona. And how can one forget Sajjad Husain's Wo To Chale Gaye Ae Dil from Sangdil or Shakar Jaikishan's Aye Mere Dil Kahin Aur Chal (Daag)?

Among all such wonderful songs, I have a special liking for C. Ramchandra's Parchhain, which I consider one of his best ever soundtracks (comparable to Anarkali and Yasmin). That includes my absolute favourite Katate Hain Dukh Mein Ye Din, which I consider - blasphemous as it might sound - a notch above Ye Zindagi Usiki Hai (Anarkali - 1953), which many count as her best for CR.

Katate Hain Dukh Mein Ye Din (1952 - Parchhain - C. Ramchandra - Noor Lucknawi)

1953: This year showed yet again that C. Ramachandra's was at the peak of his creativity. His association with Lata Mangeshkar grew stronger and it seemed that he composed only for her. Anarkali is ample proof of that unique tuning, what with amazing compositions like Ye Zindagi Usi Ki Hai, Mohabbat Aisi Dhadkan Hai and Aaja Ab To Aaja. He went on to produce a film together with Lata Mangeshkar - Jhanjhar, which had a gem like Ja Re Ja Nindiya, a duet with Madhubala Zaveri. Jhamela and Shagoofa were the other films where Lata sang for him. Shankar Jaikishan had been in the industry for just 4 years, but they had already established a strong presence in the industry. Their soundtracks were again completely Lata dominated as is evident with Aah, Patita, Aurat and Shikast.

Before I get to my pick from this year, I want to mention two songs that almost made it to the top of my list. The first one is Ritu Aaye Ritu Jaaye from Humdard. a raagmala composed by Anil Biswas. Then, there is a completely unheard of beauty by Shyam Sunder from the film Alif Laila - Bahar Aayi Khili Kaliyan. At first it sounds like just another sad song, but repeat hearings made me appreciate the intricacies of the tune.

Now for my pick: A song that I regard as the best lori ever composed for Hindi Films - Salil Chowdhury's  Aa Ja Ri Aa Nindiya Tu Aa from his Hindi film debut Do Beegha Zameen.

Aa Ja Ri Aa Nindiya Tu Aa (1953 - Do Beegha Zameen - Salil Chowdhury - Shailendra)

: The nation swayed to the been tune of the been (played on the clairviola by Kalyanji), as Vyjanthimala in Nagin lip-synced to Lata's collaboration with Hemant Kumar. In what is probably the first and the biggest hit of Hemant Kumar as a music director we got instantly hummable and popular tunes like Man Dole Mera Tan Dole, Mera Dil Ye Pukare Aaja, and Jadugar Sainya. Hemant Kumar's Shart also had its share of nice songs, including the duet Dekho Wo Chand. For Naushad, Lata Mangeshkar lent her voice for Amar and Shabab, which had a treasure of songs like Na Milta Gham, Na Shikwa Hai KoiMarna Teri Gali Mein and Jogan Ban Jaoongi. Sachin Dev Burman's Taxi Driver not only had Jayen To Jayen Kahan, but also what could be the first 'cabaret' by Lata - Dil Se Mila Ke Dil.

Again, my preference for relatively lesser known songs come to the fore here as i reveal my soft corner for songs like Mohabbat Ki Daastan (Mayur Pankh, Shankar Jaikishan), Allah Bhi Hai (Maan, Anil Biswas), Chanda Chamke (Bahut Din Hue, E. Shankar Shastry) and Aa Ki Ab Aata Nahin (Mehbooba, Roshan). My pick of the year? Mohammad Shafi's Bajooband Khul Khul Jaye from the film Bazooband. This is a standard bandish in Bhairavi, but clearly shows the Lata Mangeshkar was best at singing raga based songs.

Bajooband Khul Khul Jaye (1954 - Bazooband - Mohd. Shafi - Prem Dhawan)

: This was the year of Radha Na Bole (Azaad, C. Ramchandra), Phaili Huyi Hain (House No. 44, Sachin Dev Burman), Manmohana Bade Jhoote (Seema, Shankar Jaikishan), Jo Tum Todo Piya (Jhanak Jhanak Payal Baje, Vasant Desai), Sitaron Ki Mehfil (Uran Khatola, Naushad), Jise Tu Qubool Kar Le (Devdas, Sachin Dev Burman), and Pyar Hua Iqrar Hua (Shri 420, Shankar Jaikishan).

My favourite song from this year is from the Dev Anand - Nalini Jayawant starrer Munimji. This track had a number of good songs by Sachin Dev Durman, and I pick Ghayal Hiraniya. The picturization is this song is quite cheesy, but the composition and singing is top notch. Listen to the way Lata negotiates the opening alaap, and when she goes ga ga ga ga ghayal towards the end, it's absolutely wonderful.

Ghayal Hiraniya (1955 - Munimji - Sachin Dev Burman - Shailendra)

: I have not heard very many Lata songs from 1956. Of the 200 odd songs she sang this year, I have heard less than 70. Shankar Jaikishan dominated this year with Chori Chori, Basant Bahar, New Delhi and Halaku, while Madan Mohan saw his first major hit with Bhai Bhai. Some of my favourites from this year include Kaise Aaoon Jamuna Ke Teer (Devta, C. Ramchandra), Kahan Le Chale Ho (Durgesh Nandini, Hemant Kumar), Qadar Jane Na (Bhai Bhai, Madan Mohan), Jago Mohan Pyare (Jagte Raho, Salil Chowdhury), Ja Tose Nahin Boloon (Parivar, Salil Chowdhury), Ja Ja Re Ja Balama (Basant Bahar, Shankar Jaikishan), and Rasik Balma (Chori Chori, Shankar Jaikishan). But the place of honour is reserved for the haunting melody by S. M0hinder in Shirin Farhad - Guzra Hua Zamana Aata Nahin Dobara.

Guzra Hua Zamana (1956 - Shirin Farhad - S. Mohinder - Tanveer Naqvi)

1957: This would probably be remembered as the year when Lata Mangeshkar had a difference of opinion with two major music directors of those times. Some misunderstanding while recording the songs for Miss India, led to a situation where Lata Mangeshkar did not sing for Sachin Dev Burman for 6 years. She also had a minor issue with Shankar Jaikishan about the filmfare award for Rasik Balma, but that thankfully was shortlived. C. Ramchandra probably had his last 'great' year as a music director before his estrangement with his muse. Lata did return to sing a few songs with him later (including the immortal Aye Mere Watan Ke Logo) , but the days of their unmatched collaboration were coming to an end.

The Lata songs that I treasure from this year include Taaron Ki Zaban Par (Nausherwan-e-Adil, C. Ramchandra), Jab Raat Nahin Katati (Changhez Khan, Hansraj Bahl) Chhup Gaya Koi Re (Champakali, Hemant Kumar), Sakhi Ri Sun Bole Papeeha (Miss Mary, Hemant Kumar), Meri Veena Tum Bin Roye (Dekh Kabira Roya, Madan Mohan), Do Ghadi Wo Jo Paas (Gateway of India, Madan Mohan), Nagri Nagri Dware Dware (Mother India, Naushad), Aye Malik Tere Bande Hum (Do Aankhein Barah Haath, Vasant Desai), Phul Bagiya Mein (Rani Rupmati, S N Tripathi), Chand Phir Nikla (Paying Guest, Sachin Dev Burman), and Tabiyat Theek Thi (Mirza Sahibaan, Sardul Kwatra).

Blame it on my fascination for songs based on hindustani classical music - my pick for 1957 is a amazing raagmala composed in 4 ragas. The mukhda is in Raag Sohni whereas the antaras are in Bahar, Jaunpuri, and Yaman respectively. The song in question is the Lata-Rafi duet Kuhu Kuhu Bole Koyaliya composed by Adi Narayan Rao for the film Suvarna Sundari.

Kuhu Kuhu Bole Koyaliya (1957 - Suvarna Sundari - Adi Narayana Rao - Bharat Vyas)

1958: The year of Madhumati. Madhumati happens to be one of my favourite soundtracks of all time. I can listen to the songs of this film in endless loops. Salil Chowdhury demonstrated his versatility and virtuosity through a wide variety of Lata songs like Dil Tadap Tadap, Chadh Gayo Paapi Bichhua, Ghadi Ghadi Mora Dil Dhadke, Julmi Sang Aankh Ladi and of course Aaja Re Pardesi. But no, I'm not going to pick any of these songs for this year. Let's look at some of the other songs: Mere Man Ka Bawra Panchhi (Amardeep, C. Ramchandra), Sari Sari Raat (Aji Bas Shukriya, Roshan), Mujhe Dekh Chaand Sharmaye (Samrat Chandragupt, Kalyani Veerji Shah), Tumhare Sang Main Bhi (Sohni Mahiwal, Naushad), Haye Jiya Roye (Milan, Hansraj Bahl) - all very nice songs. Due to my own personal bias towards the Lata Mangeshkar - Madan Mohan combo, I'm going to select one of their collaborative works from 1958. Yun Hasraton Ke Daagh and Unko Ye Shikayat Hai from Adalat are outstanding composition. Still, I select Hum Pyar Mein Jalne Walon Ko from Jailor.

Hum Pyar Mein Jalne Waalon Ko (1958 - Jailor - Madan Mohan - Rajender Krishan)

: I haven't had much exposure to the Lata songs released this year. In my view, Intezaar Aur Abhi (Char Dil Char Rahein, Anil Biswas), Main Tumhi Se Poochhti Hoon (Black Cat, N. Dutta), Dil Ka Khilona (Goonj Uthi Shehnai, Vasant Desai), Sajan Sang Kahe (Main Nashe Mein Hoon, Shankar Jaikishan), Tera Jana (Anari, Shankar Jaikishan), Kahe Jhoom Jhoom (Love Marriage, Shankar Jaikishan) are all nice songs, but the simplicity and sweetness in Lata Mangeshkar's rendition of Vasant Desai's Tera Khat Le Ke (Ardhangini) is unmatched.

Tera Khat Le Ke Sanam (1959 - Ardhangini - Vasant Desai - Majrooh Sulatnpuri)

To read about my favourite Lata Mangeshkar songs from the 1960s, read on.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

My Favourite Lata Mangeshkar Songs - 1940s

Wo Bhooli Dastaan Lo Phir Yaad Aa Gayi….

Late 80s. College. Rock & Metal. Hindi film music at its nadir. First old Hindi film music cassette. Lata Mangeshkar and Madan Mohan. Heaven!

That sums up how I was drawn to the wonderful world of old Hindi film music. As I outgrew my brief flirtation with rock music (I still go back to it from time to time with a certain nostalgic fondness), I turned to old Hindi film music. The first cassette I bought was picked up quite randomly. It was called "I Remember Madan Mohan" by Lata Mangeshkar. Since then, my obsession with old Hindi film music in general, and Lata Mangeshkar in particular, shows no signs of waning. I have been religiously collecting Lata Mangeshkar songs for many years now and have a collection of around 2400 songs in audio cassettes, CDs and mp3s.

A few months back, while cleaning up my database of Lata Mangeshkar songs I started a purely random exercise of picking up my favourite songs from among the 2400+ songs I have in my database. And that led to a list of 1 song per year, which I will be putting on this blog over the next few weeks. Needless to say, this is purely a personal list, with personal predilection and past memories having a huge role to play in the final outcome. This is also based on a database of 2400 songs I have heard, which is probably just a third of all songs sung by Lata Mangeshkar.

The earliest song I have is Lata Mangeshkar's first ever song sung in 1942 (at least the first song used in a movie) – Chaitrachi Navalai, a duet with Snehaprabha from the Marathi film Pahili Mangalagaur. But since that is in Marathi, it does not make this list.

Without further ado, let's move on with the list.

1946: Lata Mangeshkar's first Hindi film song was released in 1945, but the earliest one I have is from 1946. She sang a duet with Shanta Apte under Vasant Desai's music direction for a film called Subhadra. The song - Main Khili Khili Phulwari - was also picturised on her.

Main Khili Khili Phulwari (1946 - Subhadra - Vasant Desai - Moti B.A.)

: Lata Mangeshkar's first playback song for a Hindi film was released this year. Although this song from the film Aap Ki Seva Mein was first recorded in 1945, it was released as a record only in 1947. Written by actor Mahipal and composed by Datta Davjekar, this thumri – Paa Lagoon Kar Jori Re – did not get much attention and Lata Mangeshkar had to wait another year before Hindi film music directors took notice of her talent.

Paa Lagoon Kar Jori (1947 - Aap Ki Seva Mein - Datta Davjekar - Mahipal)

: Music aficionados would know how Lata Mangeshkar's voice was rejected by a leading film producer for being too thin, and then Master Ghulam Haider took it as a challenge to mentor her. In 1948, Ghulam Haider did several songs with her, including her first major break with Dil Mera Toda (Majboor) that is believed to have been instantly composed while traveling on a local train or Bedard Tere Dard Ko (Padmini) that was composed through the night. However, it would be wrong to give the sole credit to Master Ghulam Haider since other music directors like Khemchand Prakash, Anil Biswas and Naushad had as much role to play in giving her singing opportunities. If I were to pick up my favourite song from this year, it would be Ek Dil Ka Lagana from Anokha Pyar. For this film, Anil Biswas chose wife Meena Kapoor as the voice of the lead heroine Nargis, whereas Lata Mangeshkar was the voice of Nalini Jaiwant. In those days, each song used to be recorded twice – once for the film, and once for the gramophone record. Meena Kapoor fell sick when the gramophone disc of Anokha Pyar was to be recorded and Lata sang all the songs for the disc. This meant the future generations would hear Lata's voice as the primary voice of Anokha Pyar . Listen to both versions:

Ek Dil Ka Lagana Baaqi Tha (1948 - Anokha Pyar - Anil Biswas - Zia Sarhadi)

Lata Mangeshkar's version from the disc:

Meena Kapoor's version from the film:

: This was the year! The hurricane called Lata Mangeshkar completely swept the Hindi film music industry. She sang a mammoth 161 songs this year and had several huge hits – Ladli with Anil Biswas, Andaaz and Dulari with Naushad, Patanga and Sipahiya with C Ramchandra, Badi Behen with Husnlal Bhagat Ram, and of course the biggest hits of them all – Mahal with Khemchand Prakash and Barsaat with Shankar Jaikishan. Of these 161, I have 76 songs (by 12 music directors from 26 films) in my collection and it's not easy to pick up one favorite. Do I pick up Aayega Aanewala (Mahal) over Jiya Beqarar Hai (Barsaat)? Uthaye Ja Unke Sitam (Andaz) over Kabhi Khamosh Ho Jana (Patanga)? Chale Jana Nahin (Badi Behen) over Chanda Gaye Pardes (Chakori). If I really have to pick one, then I would go for Shyam Sunder's Baharein Phir Bhi Aayengi (Lahore). Not only is this song (along with another by the same music director in the film Bazaar - Sajan Ki Galiyan Chhod Chale ) beautifully composed and expertly sung (though still in the Noor Jehan mode), they somehow get overshadowed by obvious biggies like Mahal and Barsaat.

Baharein Phir Bhi Aayengi (1949 - Lahore - ShyamSunder - Rajinder Krishan)

To read about my favourite Lata Mangeshkar songs from the 1950s, read on.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Race - A Gripping Thriller??????

The official website of Abbas-Mustan's Race calls it a "gripping, multi-star thriller". Now that I have watched the film I'm wondering if I watched the same film. Multi-star, yes. But a gripping thriller? Either I don't understand what a thriller is, or Burmawala brothers have a strange sense of humour. I decided to turn to wikipedia to check how Race stands against the definition of this genre called thriller. So here goes my checklist:

"Thrillers often take place wholly or partly in exotic settings such as foreign cities, deserts, polar regions, or high seas" – Check. Durban, South Africa certainly qualifies as an exotic foreign city.

"The heroes in most thrillers are frequently "hard men" accustomed to danger" Bravo! Abbas-Mustan must have read this while working with their scriptwriters. The only attempt at character development in Race was to establish that the 'hero' lives on the edge, with a passion for dangerous sports. Well done. Another check.

"In a thriller, the hero must thwart the plans of an enemy, rather than uncover a crime that has already happened" - Check. Race adheres to this as well.

"Jeopardy and violent confrontations are standard plot elements" - Check.

"A thriller climaxes when the hero finally defeats the villain" - Again, check.

I'm sorry, but it seems that I was wrong and Race is indeed a "thriller".

But hang on. Here's the clincher. Wikipedia winds up the characteristics of a thriller with these lines:

"Thrillers may be defined by the primary mood that they exhibit: excitement. In short, if it 'thrills', it is a thriller"


I'm disputing the categorization of Race as a thriller only because it failed to excite me, or provide any thrills. I found the first 30 minutes of the film absolutely boring with the plot getting nowhere! The device of a narrator establishing the characters just doesn't work here. I'm not sure if it would work in any thriller. And even when the plot thickens a bit, I wasn't 'thrilled'. Call me old school or whatever, but I believe in the good old written word. Style cannot be a substitute for content in my book. Thousands of slo-mos, jump cuts, cars blasting and flying left right and center - all this emphasized by a thumping background score - cannot induce excitement into material that's just not written to be exciting. The basic premise of the plot - the primary motive that drives the characters to do what they do – is as clichéd as can be. And what does one say about the walk-towards-the-camera-in-slow-motion introduction of lead characters that has already been beaten to death of late?

Then you have the innumerable plot-twists. Plot-twists work well in a thriller if they are judiciously used to shock the audience, but when the philosophy of more-the-better comes into play it can be seriously counterproductive. In Race, the twists are so frequent (and so predictable and lame) that after a while I just didn't care what 'shock' came in next, nor was I interested in knowing how the film would end.

Now for the saving grace. Just one: this one is more 'thrilling' than the director-duo's last hit, 36 China Town. Now that isn’t saying much, is it?

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Black and White - No Grays

ये पेचीदा उलझे से रस्तों की दुनिया
ये वहशत के हाथों शिकस्तों की दुनिया
जहाँ आदमी आदमी से जुदा है
ये कैसी है फ़िरक़ापरस्तों की दुनिया
यहाँ होती दीन-ओ-धरम की हैं बातें
मज़ाहिब के चर्चे करम की हैं बातें
छिड़े जन्ग फिर मज़हबी क्यूँ यहाँ पर
सुनी हम ने ज़ुल्म-ओ-सितम की हैं बातें
मसाइल के यूँ सिलसिले तो बहुत हैं
लिये आफ़तें ज़लज़ले तो बहुत हैं
नहीं चाहिये हम को एक और दीवार
यहाँ दरमियाँ फ़ासले तो बहुत हैं
जले जिस्मों की काहिशों के लिये अब
घरों से उठे आतिशों के लिये अब
बुझा प्यास ऐ अब्र ऐसे बरस तू
तरसते हैं हम बारिशों के लिये अब
I wrote the above lines many years ago, at a time when I just out of college and it was fashionable to be disillusioned about religious intolerance and such matters. Those were the days when religious intolerance manifested itself in terms of localized, small scale communal riots that got erased from public memory as quickly as they emerged. 9/11 hadn't happened then (not even Babri Masjid); and this malaise had not attained such gargantuan proportions at the global level as it does today. In such a scenario, writings like the one above were merely musings of a meandering mind. Today they might seem like topical thoughts.

What has this got to do with Subhash Ghai's Black & White? As I returned home after watching the film, I had this sudden urge to go back to my old secular-themed poems because the words mouthed by some of the characters in the film seemed unbelievably close to what I had written in the past. While it is a little embarrassing to re-discover that I used to write in such a clichéd and blatantly sermonizing manner, it helps me be a little more charitable towards the film. The film is definitely topical and well-intentioned, even though the treatment is somewhat at odds with the demands of a theme like this.

The film is about an unambiguously 'black' suicide bomber (Anurag Sinha) who comes on a mission to New Delhi, and comes face to face with his conscience after his interactions with a 'whiter than white' family (Anil Kapoor and Shefali Shah). When I had first heard about this film, I had sincerely hoped that the film would eventually conclude that there's nothing like black or white – everything is in varying shades of grey. Unfortunately, Ghai seems more influenced by a quote by the famous John Wayne – "If everything isn't black and white, I say, "Why the hell not?"" Nothing wrong with sticking to this ideology, but two things – one, is it really possible to put everything in water tight compartments of black and white; and two (more importantly), had Ghai chosen to explore the grayness of people, the film would have been much more interesting.

My biggest problem with the film is its script. The screenplay is haphazard and clearly unsure of where it is headed. In a tale like this, I think it is important for the audiences to see how the plot for the bombing is being hatched. But we see nothing about that. The 'plotters' are shown meeting several times but all that happens during those meetings is just a device to establish the bomber's character. We get no clue about what is being planned. If that was intentional and meant to create suspense, then a more fulfilling revelation of how they would execute their plan was required towards the end. Not the lame 'liquid bomb' stuff that we get to see. It would have also helped if some sort of a cat and mouse game was shown between the plotters and the police/CBI. That rids the script of any 'thriller' element it might have had.

Maybe Ghai's intention was just to focus on human aspect of the story. Perfectly fine. But there again, we get such vaguely written scenes. There is nothing that can justify why Anil Kapoor's character takes so lovingly to Anurag Sinha's character, whereas his wife clearly has some doubts in the beginning. Maybe it's his 'whiteness' (emphasized by a Surf-white wardrobe) that makes him see only 'white' in others, but that's a bit hard to swallow.

There are several elements in the film that provide evidence to Subhash Ghai's well-meaning intentions of creating something different. The first few minutes that document the journey of the suicide bomber from Afghanistan to New Delhi are well-shot and are as un-Ghai as you can imagine. The monochromatic palette used in these sequences does well to highlight the 'blackness' of the sequences. As he moves to Chandni Chowk we are introduced to the most endearing character of the film, an old poet yet to get recognition (fantastic performance by theatre veteran Habib Tanvir). The small scene where he is reading his poem out on the phone is a gem. Then, there are some sweet insights into the lives of married couples – the light-hearted banter between the old man and his wife (resulting in a funny one-liner) and the child-like playfulness shown between Anil Kapoor and Shefali Shah in bed are a treat to watch. It is difficult to imagine that these sweet nuggets are written by the same man who once wrote the loud (but immensely enjoyable) Raam Lakhan and Khalnayak.

At times, Subhash Ghai pens scenes that are understated, yet effective. The death of Habib Tanvir's character is one such beauty. But there are times when he gets overboard with symbolism. The climactic fight scene between Anurag Sinha and Milind Gunaji tries to imply that it's Anurag Sinha's conscience fighting with himself, but the way it is depicted visually is too in your face. A scene like this would never appear in a Ghai film of yore, but the fact it has started making an appearance in his films now (even though a tad too obviously) shows the director's intention to reinvent himself.

Such evidences of the director's intention to be different are, unfortunately, few and far between. For the most part there are clichés galore. There is this visual cliché I absolutely hate in films – the first shot of Delhi is of India Gate, followed by the Rajpath and Rashtrapati Bhavan. It's almost become a stock shot now. Then the whole stampede scene at the Qutub Minar with a doll being trampled is so passé. Next you have Muslim characters mouthing dialogue in Urdu that is completely anachronistic. I'm open to be proved wrong in this case, but I don't think Muslims in India today talk like that. The only exception was the character played by Aditi Sharma, representing a modern educated woman with smatterings of English in her dialogue. A welcome departure from the hackneyed 'Hai Allah' type of Muslim women one gets to see in Hindi films.

Another thing which I found a bit cheesy was the way Anil Kapoor's profession is revealed in the beginning. Also odd was the implication that a professor of Urdu necessarily has to be well-versed in Arabic and the Quran. While I don't question that it is possible, the implication that I-am-a-professor-of-Urdu-hence-know-the-Quran didn't quite gel. I know a few Hindus who are very well-versed in Urdu, yet don't know Arabic.

There is one thing which I don't see as a flaw, but if done differently would've appealed to me personally. In a scene, Anil Kapoor asks Aditi Sharma to talk about Ghalib's poetry. And the verse she chooses is the beaten to death ishq par zor nahin...
इश्क़ पर ज़ोर नहीं है ये वो आतिश ग़ालिब
कि लगाए न लगे और बुझाए न बने
Wouldn't the following verse be better in the context of the film, given the irony this verse presents with the simultaneous appearance of words for love, death and infidel?
मुहब्बत में नहीं है फ़र्क़ जीने और मरने का
उसी को देख के जीते हैं जिस काफ़िर पे दम निकले