Gulzar’s Lekin was known for its beautiful songs and dance sequences. Joothe naina bole, set in Raga Bilaskhani Todi, sung by Asha Bhosle provides the perfect music to its accompanying Kathak recital by Hema Malini, choreographed in the Jaipur gharana of Kathak by Roshan Kumari. Debasish Bhattacharya revisits this gem of a mujra as a special on Gulzar Sahab’s birthday.
It was back in 1990. I was 30 at that time when Gulzar Sahab’s Lekin released. Being an ardent fan of Gulzar’s lyrics and poetic depiction of scenes with immaculately penned script and dialogues, I was keen to watch the film. More so because I had heard Lekin was based on Rabindranath Tagore’s short story Kshudhita Pashan (The Hungry Stones), on which a much acclaimed award winning movie had already been made by veteran director Tapan Sinha. The haunting call ‘Sab jhoot hai’ shouted by a half-mad caretaker of an old Rajasthani haveli in Kshudito Pashan had weighed on my mind for years. It had been overpowering and ruled my limited memory of Sinha’s film.
My first viewing of Lekin was unfortunately not pleasant. The godforsaken auditorium in the outskirts of Kharagpur town that screened the film was the last place you could watch a good movie. I was working on my Ph. D. in IIT Kharagpur and staying in a hostel in the campus. Frequent power cuts and adhoc cutting short of the film by the operator to accommodate the next show on time, added much to my irritation.
But, one thing I must say as I still remember it vividly, the guest artist came to own my heart then and there with her eloquent dance number. I was awestruck then and I still cannot get over that feeling whenever I watch Hema Malini performing this dance. I was mesmerised by her intricate ‘ada’ graceful nuances of movements, layakari, tatkars and chakradars. A mujra by a court dancer can be elevated to such a divine level? Yes, it was.
I was so moved that I thought to write an article on this dance. But, it took me almost another 30 years to sit and pen down my thoughts on this.
Memories sometimes take you deep down the lane and you cannot stop strolling along. The memories of watching Satyajit Ray’s 1958 classic Jalsaghar (The Music Room) that had Begum Akhtar singing a thumri and Roshan Kumari giving a triwat performance came back. Roshan Kumari’s Kathak in the film, her elegant ada in Jaipur gharana had left me spellbound, even at that tender age.
Roshan Kumari’s triwat Kathak recital in Satyajit Ray’s Jalsaghar (1958)
Back to 1990. The title cards of Lekin had started rolling. I was eagerly waiting to see the choreographer’s name as I knew almost all the other names associated with the movie; and to my surprise, Roshan Kumari’s name flashed on the silver screen! When you get something that you love and yet have never expected, then your happiness crosses all limits and the same happened to me. Let me take you through this dance that holds me spellbound even today.
The beauty of a mystic scene in the music room of a Rajasthani haveli as it unfolds gradually is a piece of art in itself. An early dawn ambience is created from the faint notes and strokes of a Tanpura and Sarangi, set in Bilaskhani Todi, a Raga full of passion and pathos. The unhappy ghost, Rewa (Dimple Kapadia), stands midway on the staircase leading to the music room, pointing her finger to show the archaeologist, Samir (Vinod Khanna), the performance that is about to begin on the dancing floor of the haveli.
The lights brighten to focus on the mujra dancer circling the dance floor as a bandish in Bilaskhani Todi begins in the sombre voice of Pandit Satyashil Deshpande (sung on screen by the Ustad played by Alok Nath).
The dancer settles down at the centre of the majestic floor with her 18-yard ghaghra (long skirt) spread all around with her back to us. She delicately arranges her ghaghra on the floor as the bandish continues. It is to the credit of music director Hridaynath Mangeshkar to have converted this beautiful bandish, believed to have been originally created by Bilas Khan, one of the four sons of Miyan Tansen at the funeral of his father, into a complete song.
As we get immersed in the khayal, all of a sudden Asha Bhosle’s voice strikes like lightning, stunning all our senses and at that moment the court dancer’s face is revealed. A spectacular entry of Hema Malini was expected but this one has a magnetic appeal. For the next four to five minutes, Hema’s performance does not allow us to move.
The Jaipur gharana of Kathak was perhaps chosen as the story was set in Rajasthan, and Roshan Kumari was the perfect choice to choreograph the dance.
Asha’s stunning voice sings Joothe naina bole saanchi batiyan and Hema while lip-syncing the song brings her heart out with elegant Bhaav, a basic Abhinaya style of Jaipuri Kathak. Hema’s dancing acumen coupled with Roshan Kumari’s training gifts us a Mujra performance of the divine level. Throughout the dance Hema does full justice to all the lyrical marvel visualised and penned down by Gulzar, the poet.
Gulzar starts with ‘Joothe’ and not ‘Jhoothe’ as commonly conceived by us in a Radha-Krishna Manabhanjana episode. Gulzar chose this word as a metaphor for something which was already tasted by someone else. Krishna’s lying eyes are telling the truth that He has spent the night with some other sakhi/ gopini/ Lady. When He remembers that Radha is waiting for Him, he comes to her at the break of dawn with a lot of lies to give her solace. Radha has understood all His tricks and refuses to even talk to Krishna, telling Him upfront that His eyes tell the true story just as the moon brightens the darkness in the dead of night.
Gulzar provides a poetic explanation of his chosen expression ‘Joothe’ which is mostly mistaken for ‘Jhoothe’ for its sound while Asha Bhosle explains how difficult it was to synchronise the lip movement and the song almost got dropped from the film!
Joothe naina bole saanchi batiyan
Nit chamkaave chand kaali ratiyan
Again, the lines go…
Jao jao jhoothe (here it is Jhoothe and not Joothe)
Maahi ki jaat,
Kin sautan sang tum kati raat,
Ab lipti lipti banao na baatiyan.
And we watch Hema depicting the beautiful Radha-Krishna katha with her perfect body language and facial expressions to another height. It is a devoted katha rendered so well in the Kathak style of Jaipur gharana, the bhaav choreographed by Roshan Kumari in a class in itself. It is neither loud nor very submissive but perfect to express Radha’s unhappiness about Krishna’s mischief to her. Mesmerising is the only word I know to express my sense of appreciation.
For this performance Hema’s dress has also been chosen from the Hindu temple Kathak rather than the Nawabi style of presentation with Kurta Pyjama and body hugging Bakshabandhani, we normally see in Kathak recitals. Gulzar perhaps deliberately chose such a dress to go well with the storyline set in the backdrop of a Hindu kingdom. The light hue of her dress shows us the pink that reminds us that after a dark night another day is blooming.
Hridaynath Mangeshkar uses the Pakhawaj and Tabla as percussion instruments to create a perfect ambience and allows the occasional fast and loud chords of the Sarangi in the interludes to create the drama generated in Hema’s recital. In the interludes we see Hema dancing tihais on faster beats with meticulous feet tapping and the ghungroos creating an overpowering sound heightening Radha’s unhappy mood at that point.
Throughout this dance performance the tatkars, the layakaris created by the feet and all the mudras shown by the hands are a feast for our eyes. This also hints to the offering of a danseuse at heart whose name is Hema Malini.
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