There is something mysteriously appealing about a downpour. You want to sit and stare at it, you want to go and stand in it and almost wish it washes everything away. It has been a part of your childhood, it has fuelled your teenage captivation, it has provided you comfort and asked you to have faith in the world when everything else seems to have fallen by the wayside. Rain is nostalgic and promising at the same time. No wonder, it has been the subject of some of the most compelling pieces of art ever conceived by man.
“Bairan bijuri chamakan laagi, badari taana maare re
Aise mein koyi jaaye piya, tu rutho kyon jaaye re”
These are the lines from a song called Aayi Ritu Sawan Ki, from a lesser known Amitabh Bachchan movie called Alaap. Directed by Hrishikesh Mukherjee, it co-starred Rekha, Sanjeev Kumar, Chhaya Devi and had music by Jaydev. It is one of the surprises of Indian cinema, that a movie like this and with so much pedigree is not known by too many. Even a lot of very serious Big B fans don’t seem to be familiar with it. However, you only need to have a look at the video of this song (at the end of this post) to see the kind of compulsive viewing this collection of talents had conjured up.
The video begins with Chhaya Devi singing the song with tears in her eyes and Amitabh Bachchan staring at her with a mixture of awe and sadness. Just the depth of expression on Bachchan’s face and the poignancy in his eyes give a glimpse into the kind of mountain of acting talent he is. He has a harmonium in front of him, but he is just too overwhelmed to even place his hands on the instrument. The song goes into a flashback, and we have Sanjeev Kumar looking out of a window, into a rainy night. In the movie, he is mourning, and he looks into the distance, seeking solace in the drops of water and sings his heart out. There is no hurry, no haste in the way the video moves forward. There is Rekha in the scene, and she is just standing there, looking at Bachchan and Chhaya Devi from the background. It is as if the magic of the moment has tamed even the most coruscating diva of them all.
But I digress. The enchantment of this gem is only partly so because of the visuals. It is the song, it is that composition, which tugs at you with anguish. One heart-wrenchingly mellifluous note follows another, but there is no drama, no exaggeration. Both the singers (Kumari Faiyyaz singing for Chhaya Devi and Bhupinder for Sanjeev Kumar) sing with tranquillity, but you never get away from the undertone of grief. Chhaya Devi’s character sings with a longing for Sanjeev Kumar, and Sanjeev Kumar in return for his wife, and the force of alluring, delicate yearning hits you. Bhupinder has always been known for his deeply tender voice and it comes to the forefront in this song. The instrumentation uses the sitar, the santoor, the flute and an arrangement of violins and the first three instruments build up like small drops of water hitting a window pane. And when the main paragraphs of the song end, the violins cascade and come down like a gentle wave, as if they have been put there to provide a small modicum of warmth that the souls singing these lines are searching for.
As a child growing up in Ranchi, I would sit and enjoy movies with my Grandmother, who was a very sincere student of music, and I remember watching Alaap with her. I also can clearly recollect how transfixed I was when I first “saw” this song. It was burnished on my soul, and maybe because of this, I have always been a little biased towards songs which deal with rain. It was my Grandmother who had first explained to me the importance of serenity, and how through a song like this, it could be applied to a constantly dynamic phenomenon, which in this case was falling drops of water. Looking out the window has never been the same since! Alaap in Indian Classical music (and also in Bengali) means introduction, and if you want to introduce someone to the extravaganza and language of Indian cinema and its so-called “song and dance routines”, this might just be a very good place to start.