Indian cinema is no stranger to seduction by song, but Tumhavar Keli Mi Marji Bahal in V Shantaram’s Pinjra (1972) offers a crisply intelligent variation of the familiar trope. Apart from featuring a deviously tempting woman and a reluctant man, the song also incorporates a powerful metaphor in the form of a gilded cage.

A principled school teacher (Sriram Lagoo), who is revered as the moral centre of his village, believes that lavani dancer Chandrakala (Sandhya) will corrupt the villagers with her performances and launches a crusade against her troupe. The dance form has long been vilified as undignified and immoral, but Chandrakala defends her performances with casual eloquence. Master is reluctantly drawn to the insightful dancer, and finds himself flustered and conflicted by his attraction for her.

Master’s moral dilemma reaches a crescendo when he has an erotically charged conversation with Chandrakala, and he finally convinces himself to walk away from her. Charmed by his innate goodness, Chandrakala sings Tumhavar Keli Mi Marji Bahal, gently coaxing him to return.

Pinjara is replete with sensual lavani songs, but Tumhavar Keli Mi Marji Bahal is lyrically more nuanced. Although Chandrakala is energetic while dancing, her movements are uncharacteristically controlled and sinuous in this song. The quiet dignity of Tumhavar Keli Mi Marji Bahal justifies Master’s eventual surrender, because unlike most men who are drawn to the dancer’s body, he is captivated by her practical and philosophical mind.

Ram Kadam’s languorous melody and Usha Mangeshkar’s titillating voice competently illustrate Chandrakala’s yearning for the upright Master. Shivaji Sawant’s camera is deliciously thorough, capturing the invitation in her face and the tortured dilemma in his eyes with tight close-ups before moving away to depict the longing in their bodies.

The golden cage, which appears throughout the film in scenes where Master’s morality is being challenged, is amply visible in the song. It is meant to stand for the gilded cage of love with which Chandrakala is tempting Master, and functions as an ominous metaphor when it obscures Master’s face in the final shot, signalling that he has imprisoned himself in a cage for which he had no fondness.

The song heralds a turning point. While Master is pleasantly engaged with Chandrakala, a rival spots him and alerts the villagers who are waiting for the teacher to arrive at a meeting. This sets a series of events in motion, forcing Master and Chandrakala to relinquish the comfort of the literal and metaphorical cages they are most familiar with and confront the unintended consequences of their decisions.

Tumhavar Keli Mi Marji Bahal from Pinjra (1972).