Hridaynath Mangeshkar’s evocative music and Smita Patil’s formidable screen presence are central to the allure of Jabbar Patel’s Jait Re Jait (1977), but this combination reaches its zenith in its song Me Raat Takli. A hauntingly resonant melody, powerful lyrics by ND Manohar and Patil’s ability to ooze sensuality with little more than a loose-limbed stride combine to transform a simply shot song into a restrained celebration of female sexuality.

Jait Re Jait is an unadorned reflection of tribal life. Nagya (Mohan Aghashe), son of the religious head of the Thakar community, is relentless in his quest to become “punyawant” (pure), while unhappily married Chindi (Patil) is consumed with a desperate yearning for Nagya. Chindi is spurned by Nagya when she propositions him because she cannot be free unless she repays the bride-price to her husband. A determined Chindi works doubly hard to gather funds to repay her husband – hacking away at trees to assemble firewood for sale – and secures freedom from her dissatisfying marriage.

Chindi sings Mee Raat Takli after she completes this transaction, savouring her hard-earned freedom from social compulsions that bound her to a dissolute drunkard and prohibited her from seeking pleasure with another man. As she walks down a forest path, Chindi is finally peaceful basking in the dappled shade offered by fresh, green branches instead of furiously hacking at them. Her lips curve into an uncharacteristic smile as she sings about finally shedding her dark loneliness and shame.

Lata Mangeshkar’s voice is superbly defiant, matching the rebellious yearning in Chindi’s eyes and gait. The visuals are equally intense, each frame capturing Chindi’s unabashed abandon with maturity and grace. Chindi communicates with her entire body, and Binod Pradhan’s camera captures the little nuances of her stance, juxtaposing it with a simple but wild landscape.

The two male musical narrators of Jait Re Jait contribute to the chorus with observations about Chindi’s sensuality, comparing the lush foliage to her subtly provocative walk. As Chindi walks away in the final shot, she comes across as a powerful woman who owns her sexuality with casual confidence. It comes as no surprise that she marries Nagya and helps him fulfill his obsessions with the same single-minded determination.

Me Raat Takli.