The iconic Jaane kya tune kahi in Guru Dutt’s Pyaasa (1957) is a masterpiece in the world of music and cinematic technique. Anand Desai (in maroon) and Antara dig into the finer nuances of this classic song, unspooling its various artistic and creative layers – composition, rendition, camera work, performances, orchestration and more.
A lonely poet is lost in his own world of gloom and despair that merge into the enveloping darkness of the night around him. Suddenly, the stillness is broken by an exquisitely musical voice, reciting his poetry. Vijay sits up with a start.
Phir na keeje meri gustaakh nigahi ka gilaah
Dekhiye aap ne phir pyar se dekha mujhko
An enchanting recital of this sher by Geeta Dutt sets the mood for things to come. Familiar lines? Well… if you thought this story is about this beautiful Asha Bhosle-Mukesh number from Phir Subah Hogi, think again.
Vijay calls out, “Suniye!” A charming young woman looking elegant in a sari and some jewellery with a ladies’ vanity purse turns around to look at him and then looks away again.
“Maine kahaa…” Vijay begins, intrigued and surprised how this beautiful stranger knows his poem.
Before he can finish, the enigmatic stranger gives him the most disarming smile, and teasingly sings,
Jaane kya tuney kahi…
The unique Chinese temple blocks start tingling (from 0.40). Played by the renowned Kersi Lord, this is the dominant instrument all through this unusual composition by SD Burman. As was his typical style, Dada Burman makes use of a limited number of instruments – Sitar, Chinese Temple Blocks, Guitar, Tablas, Bamboo Flute and an unusual addition – the Khol!
Jaane kya tuney kahi
Jaane kya maine suni
Baat kuch bann hi gayi
Geeta Dutt’s voice oozes oomph in every note. The passion in the voice matches the mesmerizing beckoning in those large eyes, a beatific smile and slight swaying of the head in rhythm with the song – can you take your eyes off Gulab?
Vijay can’t as well. No surprises there.
Set in Bilawal Thaat, this song is not based on any particular Raag. Composed as a straight sargam, Jaane kya tune kahi has all straight notes.
VK Murthy’s camera catches the masti in Gulab’s eyes with a deep bottom angle shot as she starts stepping back, leading the way. Vijay follows her, stupefied.
The sitar strains fill the interlude as deep close-ups shift to mid and long shots, tracking Gulab’s nimble steps leading Vijay through the narrow alley.
The treatment of the interlude is worth re-listening. Dada Burman uses three Guitar strokes, alternatively with the Chinese blocks and then the beautiful strains of the Sitar with its sympathy strings, ending emphatically with an extended Flute.
Sansanaahat si hui
Thar-tharaahat si hui
Jaag uthe khwaab kayi
Baat kuch bann hi gayi
Interestingly, these are all Komal notes – so if its “Ni” komal then it sounds like Khammaj! But then again, there is no particular Raag. Mystifying, to say the least! The Taal is Dadra [6 matras … Dha dhin na Dha tin na.]
Instruments that capture the Calcutta spirit
Never the one to shy away from innovations, Dada Burman uses another stroke of ingenuity to amplify the resonance in this song, bringing in the ‘Khol’, a typically Bhaktigeeti or Kirtan percussion instrument popular in Bengal. But remember, this was a romantic song. So what Dada does is – instead of playing the Khol from both the sides (the way one plays a Dholak) it is kept upright and played along with the Chinese Temple Blocks!
Nain jhuk jhuk ke uthe
Paaon ruk ruk ke uthe
Aa gayi chaal nayi
Baat kuch bann hi gayi
The Bamboo Flute bridge makes you feel “lovingly isolated” (between 2.43 to 2.44 – just one full second). Notice the Sitar matching a make believe Drut as Waheeda fleets in and out behind the pillars.
Geeta Dutt’s bhaav gayaki peaks in this song, mixing up an astounding array of emotions – playful, whimsical, mischievous and loving.
Waheeda Rehman emotes every word in its true spirit – with tantalizing smiles, coy glances, coquettish quirks of the eyebrows and looks that simply say, “come with me”. She fleets through the maze of Corinthian pillars in Prinsep Ghat in pristine Calcutta – a typical architectural trait of the city of palaces, pausing just briefly to allow Vijay to catch up.
The majestic architecture is soon left behind and Gulab slips into the narrow alleys, the darker side of the city. Vijay does not notice where he is going. He is simply follows, spellbound.
The Chinese Temple blocks resume their resonance with each antara.
Zulf shaane pe mudi
Ek khushboo si udi
Khul gaye raaz kayi
Baat kuch bann hi gayi
The song concludes with a superb 9 seconds Coda on Sitar and the Chinese Temple blocks.
Gulab succeeds in bringing Vijay right up to her quarters. For her, it is work. For him, it is a journey into the unknown, to trace his lost poetry. For the viewer, the mysticism of the song and the scene continues to cast its spell long after it’s over.
How that mesmerizing resonance was created
There is an interesting story behind these Chinese Temple Blocks, which were borrowed and brought by gentleman named Dasrath. As the renowned musician late Kersi Lord Sir said, “The song was recorded at Mahalaxmi studios. The hall was very large and the recordist was Shri Mukul Bose. There were different mikes for strings, percussion etc. However, after Mukul Bose heard the sound of the Chinese Blocks, he made me place it in the center of the recording hall and used the cross pick up strategy to record this song!”
The near-perfect “point of view” scene
The camera work is quite another story. Notice the mukhda and the antaras – the camera does not leave Gulab’s enchanting face, smile and eyes, lyrically tracing a rhythm with the music. It is only in the interludes that the camera sweeps back, capturing the mystic of the deserted streets of Calcutta.
The camera follows the sari-clad young woman, positioned from the point of view of Vijay almost all through – a perfect technique of cinematography. Take away the two brief front angle shots of Guru Dutt (at 1:27 to 1:28 and 3:27 – 3:32) and two shots in the interlude (2.08 – 2:22) when Gulabo moves towards the camera – you got an almost perfect scene of point of view! Remember, you (the viewer) are not following Gulabo. Vijay is. And VK Murthy’s camera carefully stays right behind the poet all through the rest of the song.
This observation of the near-perfect scene of “point of view” camera technique was shared with us students by Mr P K Nair, the then Director of the National Film Archives of India (NFAI) in our Cinema Appreciation course. It is no surprise that Guru Dutt’s Pyaasa, considered one of the classics of world cinema, is part of film studies in many film institutes. And this song? A true masterpiece in all aspects – composition, rendition, performance, technique and of course, poetry.
The story behind the Prelude
Yes, poetry, the spine of Pyaasa’s storyline! Coming back to where we began, if you are wondering what the mukhda of a Phir Subah Hogi song is doing in Guru Dutt’s Pyaasa, which was released a year before the Raj Kapoor-Mala Sinha starrer, here’s what happened.
According to Peeyush Sharma, “Guru Dutt had asked the poet-lyricist Sahir Ludhianvi to bring his chosen poetry for his dream project Pyaasa. Sahir Sahab landed up with some 500+ nazms and ghazals, leaving it to Guru Dutt to pick what he wanted. Guru Dutt chose nazms and shers from that massive body of work to use them as isolated recitals wherever needed in the film, since the hero was a poet. Some of those lines later became full-fledged songs in other films, like the opening lines of this song which were not part of the main song anyway. Copyright wasn’t an issue either as it came into effect only when the full song was recorded and issued on a disc.”
The non-film original in Dada’s own voice
Interestingly, the Pyaasa song is a revised version of a non-film Bangla song SD Burman had composed and sung, raising a storm in music circles in Bengal terms of popularity in 1956. My father, then a student in distant Varanasi, remembers how the record was talked about and shared among his friends.
SD Burman used simple, regular orchestration in the original because in those days singers had to make do with whatever musical instruments were available in the HMV Studio in Calcutta. The improvisations with instruments that could happen in the Bombay studios were not a common practice in Calcutta. Nevertheless, Burman Dada’s voice and rendition was enough to create the magic.
Well, Pyaasa went on to become a box-office hit and this song catapulted Waheeda Rehman into the front league of actors in her first major Hindi film. Needless to say, it also became one of the most popular songs of Geeta Dutt’s illustrious repertoire.
And for SD Burman and Sahir Ludhianvi, Pyaasa went down in history as the most emphatic end-note of a highly creative association. Touching a zenith with this film, the duo never worked together again. The world remembers them though. In 2004, the soundtrack for Pyaasa was chosen as one of “The Best Music in Film” by Sight & Sound, the British Film Institute magazine.
Adds Peeyush Sharma, “For the first time in the history of background music in Indian cinema, Dada used entirely different instruments and orchestration for the two female leads in Pyaasa. He created two distinct moods in scenes where Mala Sinha is on screen and in the ones where Waheeda is in focus to emphasize the character contrasts. No wonder the British Institute recognised it.”
Well, that’s what makes a film a shining cornerstone of art for all times to come.
Evergreen Hits of Dev Anand-Hemant Kumar – By Peeyush Sharma and Antara
The Tender Musical Tête-à-tête in Chupke Se Mile (Genius of SD Burman) – By Anand Desai and Antara
When Kishore Protested and SD Burman Persisted: The Making of Dukhi Man Mere – By Peeyush Sharma
From the Archives
Tere Mere Sapne Ab Ek Rang Hain – Eternal Melodies of SD Burman-Rafi – By Peeyush Sharma
‘Gata Rahe Mera Dil was Patchwork’: In Conversation With Vijay Anand – By Peeyush Sharma
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