Madhubala has her back to the camera, her head down. Her pleas have fallen on dead ears, or so she thinks. Dev Anand does a slow pirouette around her. There is a playful look in his eyes, that endearing goofiness that made us overlook every movie he inflicted on us since Heera Panna. He is enjoying her predicament. But, at that moment, we also know that her words have had their effect; reconciliation is round the corner.
She, of course, does not know this yet. As he exits the frame, she slowly, very slowly, turns around. A lock of hair lies fallen across her luminous face. There is sadness in those eyes. And then she lets out a sigh.
And so do we.
In a 1988 interview with author and documentary filmmaker Nasreen Munni Kabir, Raj Khosla acknowledged that it was from his mentor Guru Dutt that he learnt the art and craft of filmmaking, including the nuances of shooting a song:
“The use of the face and the eyes more than the body movements in songs…I follow him in using more of the close ups, more of the eyes, they tell the main story…”
No song sequence better illustrates this than Achcha Ji Main Haari from Khosla’s Kalapani (1958).
The song is in the roothna-manana tradition, with the usual roles reversed – it is the hero who is sulking and the heroine is out to placate him. It has its own dramatic arc, but an overall air of playfulness pervades. Apart from the frequent use of close-ups, one can also see Guru Dutt’s influence on Khosla in his use of the dolly.
While Achcha Ji showcases Khosla’s penchant for directing songs, it would be criminal to forget the song’s chorographer, or dance director as they were called then. The credits mention two names: Lachchu Maharaj and Satya Narayan. The former was an exponent of the kathak form and would more likely have been involved in the sequences involving Nalini Jaywant, who plays a courtesan in the film. So Satyanarayan (as he was usually credited) is our man, the one who would have worked out the nitty-gritties of the actors’ movements.
Achcha Ji does not have the scale of Ghar Aaaya Mera Pardesi (Aawara, 1951) nor the in-your-face brilliance of Waqt Ne Kiya (Kaagaz Ke Phool, 1959). But Khosla and Satyanarayan, aided and abetted by the charisma of the lead pair and a brilliant song, have taken a staple situation and, with little, deft touches, forged something quite magical.