Movie Soundtracks

Audio master: ‘Bandini’ is about crossings real and imagined, literal and metaphorical

Gulzar made his debut as a lyricist with the 1963 Bimal Roy classic, starring Nutan, Ashok Kumar and Dharmendra and scored by SD Burman.

When Bimal Roy decided to adapt the Bengali novel Tamasi as Bandini in 1963, it was a given that he would turn to his regular collaborator Shailendra to write the film’s songs. But there was one small problem: SD Burman and Shailendra had had a fight and were not on speaking terms.

So Shailendra asked a talented, young poet he had befriended at the Bombay Youth Choir to go and meet the director. The young man, who was then doing odd jobs at a garage, demurred; he dreamt of being a litterateur, not a film lyricist.

Shailendra would probably have smiled to himself. Years earlier, a young Raj Kapoor, having heard Shailendra recite one of his poems at a soiree, had approached him to write for his next film. Shailendra had refused; my poems are not for sale, he had imperiously declared. Shailendra was then employed as an apprentice at the railway workshop in Matunga. The young poet’s defiance would surely have reminded Shailendra of this incident from his past. He persisted and managed to persuade the poet to go and meet Bimal Roy.

About the meeting, Gulzar later told an interviewer, “Bimalda ran an eye over me and asked Debu [Roy’s assistant] in Bengali, “Bhadralokki [Boishnob] kobita jaane?” (What does this gentleman know about Vaishnav poetry?) When Debu smiled and told him that I knew Bengali, Bimalda actually blushed in embarrassment.”

Roy then explained the song situation to Gulzar and dispatched him to meet Burman, who made him listen to the tune. (This was also the writer’s first meeting with RD Burman, who was then assisting his father.) Gulzar says he came back and wrote the song quickly, but it took him a week to polish it.

His efforts paid off as Burman loved it. “When he approved it, I told him I’d now show it to Bimalda. ‘Can you sing?’ he asked. ‘No,’ I replied, ‘my talent extends only to writing.’ So he forbade me from going to Bimalda. ‘Arre, tum kaisa bhi sunaiga, aur hamara tune reject ho jayega,’ was his reasoning. I was struck by his humility; here was such a great music composer who seriously feared his tunes could be rejected.”

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Mora Gora Ang Lai Le, Bandini (1963).

Mora Gora Ang Lai Le is the only song Gulzar wrote for Bandini. By then Burman and Shailendra had made their peace, and the latter wrote the remaining songs. [A concerned Bimal Roy then asked Gulzar to join in on his next production, which was being directed by Hemen Gupta. Kabuliwala, for which Gulzar wrote Ganga Aaye Kahaan Se, went on to release earlier than Bandini.]

Bandini is also significant because it marked the return of Lata Mangeshkar to the Burman fold. The two stalwarts had stopped working with each other in the late 1950s after Mangeshkar took offence to a comment allegedly made by the composer. Years later, speaking to a journalist, she explained: “He was quoted in an article saying, ‘Who made Lata’s career? We did. We gave her the songs.’ I don’t know if he was misquoted but we didn’t talk for three to four years. Till his son Pancham [RD Burman] mediated. When Burman Sr called, I was still very angry and spoke to him very curtly. Then he said, “Lata, tu aaja, tujhe gaana hai” and my anger evaporated. We broke the ice with the song Mora gora ang layee le in Bandini.”

Like Mora Gora Ang Lai Le, the other Mangeshkar solo in the film, Jogi Jab Se Tu Aaya Mere Dware, also features the central character Kalyani (Nutan). In the film, Kalyani and her father are depicted as being Vaishvanites. This biographical detail, which probably had a lot to do with the personal background of the film’s writer, Nabendu Ghosh, informs both these timeless melodies.

Both these songs also provide us with the opportunity to see how two of our finest film lyricists – one at the beginning of a glittering career, the other hurtling towards a tragic end – responded to what was essentially the same brief. Note, for example, how they bring out the confusion and indecision in the mind of the woman who has fallen in love for the first time.

Mora Gora Ang Lai Le: “Ek laaj roke paiyyan, ek moh kheenche baiyyan, jaoon kidhar na jaanon, humka koi batai de.”

Jogi Jab Se Tu Aaya: “Jaa ke panghat pe baithoon main, Radha diwani, bin jal liye chali aaoon, Radha diwani, mohea jab yeh rog laga re.”

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Jogi Jab Se Tu Aaya Mere Dware, Bandini (1963).

In the period during which Mangeskar and Burman were having their little cold war, inevitably it was Asha Bhosle who became the composer’s mainstay. (However, it is pertinent to recall that, during this period, Burman also gave a handful of songs to Suman Kalyanpur, the only time he worked with this singer whose voice had an uncanny similarity to Mangeshkar’s. That probably tells us something.)

Like her sister, Asha Bhosle also has two songs in Bandini. The deeply moving Ab Ke Baras remains one of her finest songs, a mark of her amazing versatility as a playback singer. A married woman’s lament about the home she has left behind and her lost childhood, Ab Ke Baras is said to be based on a Raksha Bandhan folk song sung in parts of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. Shailendra’s words gain further poignancy as the song is sung by an inmate of the female prison ward. To get Bhosle into the right frame of mind, the wily music director is said to have asked the singer to put herself in the young bride’s shoes. It sure worked.

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Ab Ke Baras, Bandini (1963).

The other Asha Bhosle solo is the more upbeat O Panchhi Pyare. The song opens with the sounds of grain being winnowed and pounded. I recall attending a programme featuring the late Homi Mullan, a percussionist who was a sitting member with the Burmans, where he gave a demonstration of how the winnowing sound was created in the studio: they actually used traditional bamboo winnowing fans and rice to produce the effect.

Its rhythm – and the timing of its occurrence in the film – suggests that O Panchhi Pyare is a song signifying hope, represented by the call of the bird, the harbinger of spring. But inside a prison ward, hope can be fragile and fleeting, as Shailendra is quick to remind us: “Main toh panchhi, pinjre ki maina, pankh mere bekaar; beech hamare, saat re saagar, kaise chaloon uss paar.”

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O Panchhi Pyare, Bandini (1963).

If Bandini had an alternate title, then it would probably have been Uss Paar. In fact, it would be fair to say that the film’s songs are about crossings, real and imagined, literal and metaphorical. This, of course, is obvious in the case of Ab Ke Baras and O Panchhi Pyare, where the suppressed desires of the prison inmates find their release in song.

One can also make a strong argument that the two Lata Mangeshkar solos mark the central character’s passage from adolescence to adulthood.

In Manna Dey’s stirring Mat Ro Mata, we again come across a character embarking on a voyage. The song is being sung by a prisoner on death row as he makes his final journey, the walk towards the gallows. The condemned freedom fighter’s mother watches on, but it is amply clear that the “mata” in the song has a dual meaning. In the face of imminent death, the man shows no sign of despair, however. This is not the final exit; there is the hope of regeneration: “Phir janamungaa us din, jab aazaad bahegi Ganga; unnat bhaal Himaalay par, jab laharayega tiranga.”

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Mat Ro Mata, Bandini (1963).

Like Ab Ke Baras, where Shailendra ingeniously transmutes a folk song about the bride missing her childhood home into a prisoner’s lament, in O Janewale Ho Sake To Laut Ke Aana the lyricist cleverly uses a bidaai (a song traditionally sung when the daughter gets married and leaves her home) in a crucial scene where Kalyani runs away from her father’s house.

It is pertinent to recall another bidaai song (this one written by Majrooh Sultanpuri) from an earlier SD Burman film: Chal Ri Sajni from the Dev Anand-Suchitra Sen starrer Bambai Ka Babu (1960). Apart from the fact that both these songs are rendered by Mukesh, what is striking is the composer’s use of the chorus. But O Janewale Ho Sake To Laut Ke Aana is much darker in tone; there’s almost a funereal aspect to it, exemplified by the wailing chorus. There is no turning back from here.

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O Janewale Ho Sake To Laut Ke Aana, Bandini (1963).

Early on in a fascinating, but perhaps misguided, essay on Shailendra, the anatomist Ashraf Aziz quotes the poet-critic Malcolm Cowley: “Poets in particular, among whom suicide is almost an occupational disease, are likely to write messages to the world that neglected them.”

Inspired by Cowley, Aziz hunts for coded messages about Shailendra’s impending suicide in his film songs. Inevitably, the Bandini soundtrack becomes, for him, the veritable smoking gun. Especially its final song, the bhatiyali-inspired O Mere Manjhi, sung by SD Burman himself in his inimitable voice.

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O Mere Manjhi, Bandini (1963).

“The proximate ‘space’ of [Shailendra’s] poetry,” writes Aziz, “was defined by the banks of the Ganges; the problem of life was to get from one shore to the other…The other bank [‘uss paar’] was more than physical territory; it connoted the other side of life.”

If you subscribe to this line of thought, then let me also point out that it was the same Shailendra who, not bound by the demands of a screenplay, once wrote:

“Tu zinda hai tu zindagi ki jeet mein yakeen kar
Agar kahin hai swarg tu utaar la zameen par
Tu zinda hai
Yeh gham ke aur chaar din, sitam ke aur chaar din
Yeh din bhi jayenge guzar, guzar gaye hazaar din.”

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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

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This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.