In Mahesh Bhatt’s semi-autobiographical Arth (1982), relationships fray and tear, friendships are forged, and the complexities of love, need and autonomy are laid bare.
At the centre of the story is Pooja (Shabana Azmi), whose heart breaks when her husband Inder (Kulbhushan Karbhanda) falls in love with Kavita (Smita Patil). Pooja pieces her life back together with the help of friends, including the musician Raj (Raj Kiran) who offers good counsel and encouragement and, later, love. But you don’t need a man or marriage to feel secure and complete, Pooja realises at the end. The music, redolent with meaning, traces her journey with sensitivity and elegance.
Ghazal maestro Jagjit Singh serenades the troubled protagonists with great tenderness. Lyricists Kaifi Azmi, Rajinder Nath Rehbar and Iftikhar Imam Siddiqui provide the questions that are the essence of the film, delicately teasing out the meaning of love and life.
“How could I bring myself to burn your letters,” asks Rajinder Nath Rehbar in the wistful nazm Tere Khushboo Mein Base Khat. “I’ve floated them down the Ganga, setting the waters afire.”
“They say love is forever; why then does it not last?” Kaifi Azmi’s lyrics in Koi Ke Kaise Bataaye are a tribute to the ache and bewilderment of lost love, magnified to include the mostly unfair workings of the world.
Fans of Arth – and Jagjit Singh – have long been divided over the best song in the album. Is it oblique yet fervent admission of love in Jhuki Jhuki Si Nazar or the attempt to soothe a loved one’s pain in Tum Itna Jo Muskura Rahi Ho?
It’s an even contest, and the result, possibly, is that both songs make it to ‘Romantic’, ‘Best of Jagjit’ and ‘Top Ghazals in Films’ playlists across the country.
Jhuki Jhuki Si Nazar is an extended proposal in verse. “Count your heartbeats and tell me,” it goes, “does your heart not ache as mine does?” There couldn’t be a subtler way of professing love, even though here it still ends up making the respondent squirm.
The song is made poignant by the fact that the singer is addressing a woman who he knows is married, has been betrayed and is still finding her way through the fog of despair. That is why, perhaps, the quiet, and respectful, persuasion in the song. It might be love, but isn’t it always better to ask first?
“How many sorrows lurk behind that radiant smile?” Tum Itna Jo Muskura Rahe Ho is therapy for heartbreak set to fine music.
A peppy, guitar-based prelude gives way to a lone violin in the interlude as the probing questions continue. But don’t miss the surprising and welcome digression in the second and fourth stanzas, the segue marked by a surge of resolute violins.
This gentlest of pep talks might well have become maudlin, but for the spirited call to take charge of one’s life: “Why allow the lines of fate to defeat you?”
The only song by Chitra Singh in the album (which is not part of the film) also begins with a question, about the end of love and what it means. In Tu Nahin To, Iftikhar Imam Siddiqui explores that wasteland – all that is left is emptiness, memory, and a story.