The 80s is often associated with all the things that went wrong with Hindi films. Messy action and violence, aging superstars singing innuendo-heavy songs, has-beens trying to be wannabes, noisy music, poofy hair accessories, Jackie Shroff — you name an embarrassment and there it was staring back at you, in all its 70mm glory.
But to be fair, the 80s didn’t start out that way. Musically speaking, at least. The early years saw soundtracks like Umrao Jaan (1981) and Bazaar (1982). And Silsila (1981). Or an Utsav (1984) even. But things soon went downhill. Subhash Ghai patronized Lakshmi-Pyare who made up for their dwindling quality with larger orchestras and more noise. Bappi Lahiri, who was a somewhat decent composer otherwise, chose to be the disco-baadshah. And even before you fully recovered from that, the production houses of the south discovered Bappi. And the world was never the same again.
Hindi film-goers were introduced to beaches with chorus girls going taathaiyyaa taathaiyyaa hooo, while strategic crane shots showed us ample pots interspersed with even more ample heroines, offering pyaar ka tohfaas to their himmatwaalaa hero — a safedii kii chamkaar, dhulaaii ka bhandaar Jeetendra, in all his blinding white glory. The beginning of the end had surely arrived.
However, Kalyanji-Anandji did give us some hope with Yudh (1985) and Jaanbaaz (1986), bringing to light the synth talents of a young Viju Shah, much before he made news with Tridev (1989). And Rajesh Roshan gave us Kaash (1987). But these were, as they say, chamaks in the kadhaai. Popular film music was already brushing its toe dangerously close to the bucket, by now.
But a discussion of Hindi film music of the 80s is incomplete without the mention of one person. Throughout the decade, he gave consistent and quality music. This man had seen glory days in the 70s and early 80s. Big production houses, major hits, the default choice for any star son launch .. he’d had it all. By the mid-80s though, his popularity had dwindled. Producers who once lined up outside his door labeled him a flop and avoided him. The films he did compose for, were mostly duds. Badly made movies that tanked, taking many a wonderful soundtrack down with them.
The year was 1987. Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak (1988), the movie that many credit with resurrecting Hindi film music, hadn’t arrived yet. The Tere Sar Ke Tukde Tukde Kar Ke Kutte Ko Khila Ke Uska Khoon Pee Jaoonga brand of movies were rampant. But in the middle of this mindlessness, came a tender film that brought together a sensitive filmmaker and his musician best friend, once again. Director Gulzar and music director Rahul Dev Burman who began their journey with Parichay (1972), and touched upon movies like Aandhi (1975), Khushboo (1975), Kinara (1977), Kitaab (1977), Angoor (1982) and Namkeen (1982), culminated their artistic relationship in a beautiful, complex and layered film — Ijaazat (1987).
On a rainy night, Mahen unexpectedly runs into his ex-wife Sudha at a railway station waiting room. Two people unwillingly thrown in each other’s company, compelled to revisit a part of their life they have chosen to forget. The relationship has changed, the rules have changed. And the past becomes an intangible third person in the room, much like Maya was in their life. But where is Maya now?
Using his trademark of weaving the past with the present, Gulzar takes us back and forth between the waiting room and their home in the past. (a home, that Mahen remarks, was much like a waiting room.) And the complexities start to unravel. Maya’s free-spiritedness, Sudha’s conflict between being supportive and being possessive, Mahen’s inability to get past his memories but still wanting to keep Sudha happy — the characters become relatable and their dilemmas become real. And as with most of life’s dilemmas, there are no simple answers, no easy solutions.
In a way, Ijaazat is a simple story about three people, two relationships and one night. But it derives its depth from its complex characterizations. Its strength lies in its screenplay and dialogues by Gulzar and its moody cinematography by Ashok Mehta. And in the strong performances of its three leads — Rekha, Naseeruddin Shah and Anuradha Patel.
And of course, in its music. Ijaazat is inarguably one of the finest of Pancham’s oeuvre. Four gorgeous solos, exquisitely crafted by RDB and lovingly sung by Asha with layered poetry by Gulzar that once again show the symbiotic relationship that the three shared. One realizes at such moments, that the whole sometimes is truly greater than the sum of its parts.
Chhotisii kahaanii se, baarishon ke paanii se, saarii vaadii bhar gayii .. sings Asha, as we follow a train’s journey through rain-drenched valleys and mist-covered mountains, while the titles roll. The music is so delightfully visual that one doesn’t need the lyrics to see the scene. The steady rhythm of the train, the sound of the rain slowing down to a drizzle, only to burst into a gleeful downpour once again, a waterfall that cascades grandly or a little brook that plays peek-a-boo .. the images are created by the music, but the on-screen visuals and the lyrics enhance the experience. Gulzar personifies the rain, making it dance lightly, using the clouds as stepping stones —
ruktii hai thhamtii hai, kabhii barastii hai
baadal pe paaon rakh ke, baarish machaltii hai ..
Pancham always claimed to not having an ear for poetry. Seeing the kind of magic he has created with Gulzar’s pen, one wonders if he was just being self-deprecatory. When Sudha sends back some of Maya’s belongings, Maya wants her memories back as well. A song whose lyrics Pancham jokingly described as akin to reading a newspaper. Asha’s voice languidly caresses every word, as she plaintively at times and retrospectively at other times, asks him to return the moments that they’ve shared. Meraa kuchh saamaan tumhaare paas padaa hai ..
meraa kuchh saamaan tumhaare paas padaa hai
saawan ke kuchh bheege bheege din rakhhe hain
aur mere ik khat mein liptii raat padii hai
vo raat bujhaa do
meraa vo saamaan lautaa do ..
ek sau solah chaand kii raatein, ek tumhaare kaandhe kaa til ..
What does that even mean? asked a friend. One hundred sixteen moonlit nights, and one sesame of onion, I replied. Wise friend has promised to never ask us to interpret Gulzar lyrics again. But perhaps it is a count of nights spent together? Or maybe a four month relationship? (One hundred sixteen moonlit nights would be one hundred twenty days minus the four amaavasyas?) White on black and black on white? Contrasts to indicate the gamut of emotions felt? With Gulzar, so many interpretations are possible. But whatever the intended meaning, the imagery is subtly sensual and so very beautiful.
Mahen and Sudha go on their honeymoon, to make a fresh start. Which sets the scene for the next song. Katraa katraa miltii hai, katraa katraa jeene do .. Pancham uses the twin track recording effect beautifully in this number, overlapping Asha’s highs and lows. The locales of Kudremukh form a gorgeous backdrop as Asha’s silken voice hit the high notes of pyaasii hoon main pyaasii rehne do. Her thirst for more is not a complaint. She knows she cannot have Mahen completely, but in her very longing for him, she tries to find happiness.
tumne to aakaash bichaayaa
mere nange pairon mein zameen hai
paake bhii tumhaarii aarzuu ho
shaayad aise zindagii haseen hai
aarzuu mein behne do
pyaasii hoon main pyaasii rehne do ..
But Sudha’s longing remains unfulfilled. Mahen is unable to remove Maya from his life and Sudha is tired of being patient. In these moments of despair, comes the fourth and final song of the movie, a ghazal. Khaalii haath shaam aayii hai, khaalii haath jayegii, aaj bhi na aaya koii, khaalii laut jayegii .. The pain in Asha’s voice is palpable as Sudha sits waiting in the darkness, watching the light come in through the slightly ajar door, a constant reminder that Mahen is not back ..
aaj bhii na aaye aansuu, aaj bhii na bhiige nainaa
aaj bhii ye korii rainaa, korii laut jaayegii ..
Memories are heavy baggage and burying them is the healthy thing to do. But will denying the existence of memories make them go away? Or is it better to embrace them? As Sudha remarks to Mahen, looking at the rain that refuses to stop — baras jaayegii to apne aap thham jayegii. Perhaps memories too are like that. They flood you for a while, but with time, they cease. Then again, memories get their well-deserved burial only at the end of one’s life. As Maya requests Mahen at the end of her letter —
ek ijaazat de do bas, jab isko dafnaauungi
main bhii vahii so jauungii .. main bhii vahii so jauungii ..