Amarjeet’s Hum Dono (1961) begins with a beautiful wordless argument between lovers Anand (Dev Anand) and Meeta (Sadhana). She is late, he is irritated. She placates him by sticking a cigarette in his mouth and gifting him a lighter with a tune that will be familiar to Hindi movie fans. The lullaby-like melody reminds Anand of Meeta after he has enrolled in the Army to show Meeta’s father that he is not a shirker but a responsible young man. As Anand gets a shave by a pond, he pauses to light a cigarette. Meeta appears in the pond’s reflection as Jaidev’s sublime Main Zindagi Ka Saath begins.
Hum Dono features the 1950s star in a double role as Anand and Manohar, his lookalike who is also in the Army. The movie, which was colourised and re-released in 2011, has an exquisite set of songs that are tightly woven into the story and accompany the changing circumstances of its characters. In his biopic Sahir Ludhianvi: The People’s Poet, Akshay Manwani writes, “…Sahir’s songs, all mesmerizing compositions, were an offshoot of the film’s unfolding storyline, blending smoothly with the narrative. All the romantic, tragic, devotional, introspective moments in the film inspired him to produce an exemplary allround performance.”
Two compositions could well be the theme songs of 2017, by all accounts a hard year for believers in peace, tolerance and positive change. The lyrics “Kabhi khud pe kabhi haalat pe rona aaya” are a right-royal downer, rendered by Mohammed Rafi with suitable mournfulness. Rafi completely shifts tracks in the ebullient Main Zindagi Ka Saath. The lyrics are a testament to Ludhianvi’s remarkable ability to communicate weighty philosophical concerns through seemingly simple words. Anand’s devil-may-care attitude comes through in the casual way in which he shaves, get dressed with the help of an attendant, and lumbers towards the Army camp, where he will meet his lookalike for the first time.
The jury is out on the song’s true meaning. Is it an ode to optimism, as it has been made out to be, or a recommendation to embrace indifference and compromise?
Ludhianvi’s words are double-edged: I went along with life all the way; I blew off every worry; I stopped mourning and started celebrating every defeat; I accepted my lot as my fate; I erased the memory of what I had lost; I want to reach that place where there is no difference between happiness and sorrow.
A more succinct comment on the average Indian’s reaction to a deeply divisive and hate-filled year has not been written.