Madan Mohan and Majrooh Sultanpuri first came together in 1953 for the film Baghi. Thereafter, these two pillars of Hindi cinema worked together on the occasional super-hit album such as Chirag (1969). One of their finest collaborations is arguably the film Dastak (1970). Its soundtrack comprises four songs – a thumri, a ghazal, a virah geet (song of separation) and a soft number with minimal orchestration.

The year of Dastak’s release was filled with blockbusters such as Johny Mera Naam, Sachha Jhootha, Aan Milo Sajna, Purab Aur Paschim, Jeevan Mrityu and Sharafat – all male-centric films. Dastak, written and directed by progressive Urdu writer Rajinder Singh Bedi, explored urban alienation primarily from a woman’s viewpoint.

The film is based on Bedi’s radio play Naql-e-Makaani (Migration), first performed on All India Radio in 1944. Bedi, a contemporary of Saadat Hasan Manto, Ismat Chughtai and Ali Sardar Jafri, was an exceptional writer. Dastak marked Bedi’s directorial debut (he directed three more films).

Dastak (The Knock) is the story of Salma (Rehana Sultan) and Hameed (Sanjeev Kumar), a newly married couple who migrate to Mumbai in search of livelihood. The couple move into a notorious part of the city as they can’t afford better lodgings. They are frequently troubled by visitors in search of the previous occupant, a singer.

Salma is also traumatised by the suffocating environs of the tiny apartment, a far cry from her large ancestral house in her village. Salma pursues music to fill her lonely hours. Her avocation proves to be a costly mistake.

Meanwhile, Hameed is struggling to be a good provider without succumbing to the corrupt ways of the city. Cruel neighbours seem determined to declare the young couple as a prostitute and a pimp. Salma and Hameed start drifting apart. Salma even starts believing herself to be a woman of easy virtue.

Sanjeev Kumar and Rehana Sultan in Dastak (1970). Courtesy Dachi Films/National Film Archive of India.

Majrooh (meaning “injured”), a leading progressive poet of his generation and a contemporary of Faiz Ahmad Faiz and Sahir Ludhianvi, had a long and brilliant run of nearly six decades in the Hindi film industry (he died in 2000).

Madan Mohan, on the other hand, was only 51 when he died in 1975. In a relatively short career of 25 years, he created some of Hindi cinema’s most outstanding music. Madan Mohan’s songs were often based on classical ragas. Renowned musician Raees Khan played the sitar in many of his films.

Madan Mohan had already created hit albums such as Anpadh (1962), Haqeeqat (1964), Woh Kaun Thi (1964) and Mera Saaya (1966) when he was signed for Dastak. The soundtrack features his favourite playback singers Lata Mangeshkar and Mohammed Rafi.

The first song in the film is Baiyyan Na Dharo, a thumri composed in Raag Charukesi. As is the case with most Madan Mohan-Lata Mangeshkar melodies, Baiyyan Na Dharo is distinguished by the use of the sitar and the tabla, essential accompaniments to Hindustani classical music.

Mangeshkar’s voice lends the song an aura of divinity. She sings:

Dhalegi chunariya tan se, hansengi re churiyan chhan se,
Machegi jhankaar,
Baiyyan na dharo, o balma

(My veil will slip off, my bangles will laugh mischievously, there will be noise and merriment all around. Let go of my arm, my beloved, I implore you).

Baiyyan Na Dharo, Dastak (1970).

Mayee Ree Main Kaase Kahoon Pir Apne Jiya Ki (Mother, to whom shall I convey my sadness?) is a virah geet of a woman who yearns for love. Sung by Mangeshkar in the movie, the tune has another version recorded in Madan Mohan’s own voice that has been very popular with music lovers.

The composer uses the dholak, the santoor, and violins to create dramatic interludes. Majrooh Sultanpuri writes in Awadhi to emphasise the distance between Salma’s home and her present environs.

Aankhon main chalte firte, roj milen piya baanware
Baiyyan ki chhaiyan aake, milte nahi kabhi saanware
Dukh ye milan ka leke kaah karoon, kahaan jaoon re,
Paa kar bhi nahi unko main paati

(I see my beloved every day, yet he doesn’t come into my arms,
To whom shall I convey this pain of my failed communion,
He is mine, yet we are not one.)

Mayee Ree Main Kaase Kahoon, Dastak (1970).

Mohd Rafi sings the sublime melody Tumse Kahoon Ik Baat Paron Se Salki, Raat Meri Hai Chhanv Tumhare Hi Aanchal Ki (The words I wish to say to you are lighter than feathers, my night is but a silhouette of your veil). The song is like a balm on the frayed nerves of the harried wife. It captures some rare moments of intimacy between the couple. While the world sleeps, Mumbai seems to finally accept them into its folds, even if briefly.

The music is minimalistic. One can occasionally hear the violin and the congo. Incidentally, Rafi also sang a similar soft number Meri Duniya Men Tum Aayi (You came into my life) for Madan Mohan in Heer Ranjha, released the same year.

Tumse Kahoon Ik Baat, Dastak (1970).

In the later portions of the film, Hameed has succumbed to temptation and accepted a bribe. He is expecting the bribe-giver to drop by. Instead, a visitor comes looking for the previous tenant.

Salma’s spirits broken, she surrenders to her fate and starts singing for the visitor. In a magnificent ghazal composed in Raag Bhairavi, Sultanpuri makes a scathing comment on the hypocrisy of men who readily commodify women. The accomplished sitar arrangement pulls at our heartstrings.

Hum hain mata-e-koocha-o-bazaar ki tarah
Uthti hai har nigaah kharidaar ki tarah
(I am but merchandise in a market, every man comes to me with an intention to buy me)

The poet ends the ghazal with a couplet addressed to the self-appointed guardians of society.

‘Majrooh’ likh rahen hain woh ahal-e-wafa ka naam
Hum bhi khade huve hain gunahgaar ki tarah
(Majrooh, they are making a list of loyalists,
I find myself standing in the dock, as if I have confessed to my crime.)

Hum hain mata-e-koocha-o-bazaar ki tarah, Dastak (1970).

Films like Dastak are not made every day. It took an exceptional team consisting of luminaries such as Rajinder Singh Bedi, Madan Mohan and Majrooh Sultanpuri to create such a masterpiece. Sultanpuri’s lyrics for his first collaboration with Madan Mohan in Baghi were indeed prescient.

Hamaare baad ab mehfil mein afsane bayan honge
Baharen hum ko dhoondengi, naa jane hum kahan honge

(When we are long gone, we will be talked about at gatherings, spring will search for us in vain.)

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