Monday, February 27, 2012

The IPTA Effect in the Hindi Cinema of the Fifties & Sixties (Last Part)

This article was first published in the journal ‘South Asian Cinema’ edited by Lalit Joshi. Issue no. 6, 2005. This issue is entitled ‘The Left in Cinema’. 
Author : Prof. Rashmi Doraiswami, 

Jamia Millia Islamia,Delhi

IPTA talent was likewise involved at various levels in the adaptation of Russian literary classics: Chetan Anand’s Neecha Nagar (1946), inspired by Gorky’s Lower Depths, Chetan Anand’s comedy, Afsar (1950), for Navketan, based on Nikolai Gogol’s The Inspector General, and Ramesh Saigal’s Phir Subah Hogi (1958) based on a loose adaptation of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment.  Sahir Ludhianvi wrote two outstanding songs for Phir Subah Hogi, set to memorable music by Khayyam.  Of these, the rousing song of optimism, ‘Woh Subah Kabhi to Aayegi’ probably remains the most wasted song in the history of Hindi cinema for its unimaginative picturisation. Mala Sinha, who has just suffered an outrage to her modesty, lies supine in Raj Kapoor’s lap and for most of the duration of the song, Kapoor caresses her, crushing her ears crudely in his hands.  The other song, ‘Chino-Arab hamara’ is widely considered to be Sahir’s parody of Iqbal’s Saare Jahaan se Achcha, which had been set to music by Ravi Shankar. It also, however, punctures the global vision of Mera Joota Hai Japani, positing that our national achievements economically hardly measure up to our achievements as a non-aligned power. A harsh critique in the ironic mode of the existing socio-economic conditions, the song is comparable to Ludhianvi’s Jinhe naaz hai Hind par woh kahan hai? in Pyaasa. While both songs express deep disillusionment, the latter is searing in its direct references to the disease and rot in society; the first is ironic, with black humour. Chino-arab is also interesting for the way it has been composed by Khayyam: the song unfolds on an even keel, almost as if the singer is talking without any rise in the tune to support arguments. The even keel only increases the impact of the laconic words.

Pressure Points
Apart from an ideological horizon to which the IPTA contributed, the ‘IPTA-effect’ can also be felt as ‘pressure points’ in the text. These pressure points may manifest themselves in the acting, with a pull towards realism, as in the case of Balraj Sahni’s performances in Do Bigha Zameen and Kabuliwala (1961).  It also manifested itself in the themes chosen and their treatment. Bimal Roy, for instance, took up themes of untouchability (Sujata), women who commit crimes under stress (Bandini), adaptations that show the transition in epochs and values (Devdas / 1955), in a humanist, reformist vein. Parakh (1960) is Roy’s most didactic film, articulating a view on nation-building by IPTA artistes. The story and music were by Salil Choudhury and the dialogues and lyrics by Shailendra. The film sketches a host of characters of a village, including a postmaster who receives no letters and a philanthropist businessman who wants to give away a large sum of money to the village for its development. To give away the money to an honest and reliable person, he comes disguised as the postmaster’s assistant to the village.  Here he meets the typical characters of the village: the trouble-making priest, the cunning landowner farmer, the young dedicated school-teacher…. Development and governance can only be entrusted to those who work with selfless dedication for the common good.

Lyrics and Music
Lyrics and music created the other major pressure points in a film text, creating islands of excessive radical signification. Pyaasa’s (1957) critique of bourgeois values can hardly be evoked without a reference to the crucial role Sahir Ludhianvi’s poetry plays in the film.

The lyricists associated with the PWA and IPTA wrote songs in a variety of genres, often lending the song that emotion of excess that deepened the narrative with an ideological colouring.  These included the lyrics of nationalism. One of the most popular and evocative songs in this genre is Aye mere pyare vatan from Kabuliwala, written by Prem Dhawan. This song, written for a film about a Pathan from Kabul who comes to India to earn money, not only poignantly evokes the sense of separation from the homeland, but also draws on a long tradition of viewing the vatan, the homeland as mother, as beloved, as religious shrine. This repertoire of images about one’s native land seems to have existed all the way from India to Central Asia. The other popular song in this genre was Kar chale hum fida jano-tan saatiyon, Ab tumhare hawale vatan saathiyon by Kaifi Azmi (Haqeeqat/ 1964). There was also the deep commitment to secularism which resulted in songs such as Tu hindu banega na musalman banega, insaan ki aulad hai, insaan banega (Sahir Ludhianvi in Dhool ka Phool / 1959).

Since the collective was valourised, community songs and songs that roused people to collective action were almost essential songs in films these lyricists worked on. There was a wide spectrum of such songs that included those related to professions such as Apni kahani chod ja or Hariyala sawan dhol bajata aaya (Do Bigha Zameen), Saathi haath badhana (Naya Daur), folk songs - Daiya re daiya re, chad goyo paapi  bichua (Madhumati), songs from the bazaar tradition Pan khaye saiyan hamaro (Teesri Kasam, produced by Shailendra / 1966), and those that evoked a region: Jhoot boleya koi na by Shailendra in Jagte Raho. Songs that evoke collectivity in this manner have almost disappeared from the Hindi cinema, which now are only choreographed as group aerobics. The complex and sensuous dancing by Vyjantimala in Zulmi sangh aankh lagi or the Bichua song in Madhumati, evoke the different levels of the hillside with its planar choreography.
It is of interest that the two lyricists who are widely acknowledged as the poet among lyricists (Sahir Ludhianvi) and the lyricist poet, who understood the specificity of writing a film song as distinct from a literary poem (Shailendra23) had both passed through the influence of the progressive movement.
There was also a subversion of genres of song or their hybridization. Women prisoners in a jail in Bandini sing Ab ke baras bhejo… (by Shailendra), metonymically condensing the prison and sasural (the house of the in-laws for a married woman), creating a hybrid image of a space away from the maternal home. This hybridization is also evident in communitarian song of the chawl - Ajab tori duniya (Do Bigha Zameen) sung in the tempo of a bhajan, but with a complaint that is political: ‘Ho ke hamari hui nahin hamari, alag tori duniya o more rama. The same is true of Kaifi Azmi’s Tu hi sagar hai tu hi kinara, Dundhta hai tu kiska sahara which uses the paradoxical contraries that traditionally describe god (sagar, kinara) to describe man. The first line of the song seems to be addressed to god, but the second posits an opposite point of view, for the addressee is man.

This was not to imply that lyricists who had been under the impact of the progressive movement did not also write songs of the self in the context of alienation. Kaifi Azmi’s Waqt ne kiya kya haseen sitam (Kaagaz ke Phool / 1959), Sahir Ludhianvi’s Main zindagi ka saath nibhata chala gaya  and Kabhi khud pe kabhi haalat pe rona aaya (Hum Dono / 1961) belong to this register. Ashraf Aziz finds a trace of Shailendra’s death wish even in his love-songs:

“At approximately the midpoint of his career as a lyricist, we find metronomic timing devices in his lyrics – as if he was counting his days on earth.  … in Madhumati, he wrote:

Ghari, ghari mera dil dharke
Hai dharke, kyun dharke

Dil tarap tarap ke keh raa hai aa bhi ja,
Dil dharak dharak ke

He used the words ghari (= watch, moment, stage of the day or night), dharak and tarap as if they were the chimes of the clock of his life”. Shailendra, in fact, uses the contrary paradox in his lyrics very often a sense of the split and the loss in the self when in love: Main nadiyan, phir bhi main pyaasi, bhed yeh gehra, baat zara si (Aaja re pardesi in Madhumati);  Jeevan bhar ka naata pardesiyon se joda, aap gayi piya sangh, mujhe kya choda (Gira hai kisi ka jhumka in Parakh).

The genres of music drawn on were equally diverse: folk, modern and classical from India and abroad. According to Jitendra Raghuvanshi,  “Modern chorus singing was developed by IPTA”. This was in keeping with the IPTA resolve to use simple and direct means to present to the masses the solutions to the problems facing them: “A revival of the folk arts, mass singing, open air stage are specially desirable for this purpose”.

While the chorus signified the collective so important to the thought of the progressive movement, it was used both literally and metaphorically in songs in cinema, to denote actual or imagined communities. One of the most radical uses of the chorus is in the song Jaago Mohan Pyare in Jagte Raho. The song summarises the play of night and day in the film along with its signification of ignorance and fear (night) and confidence (day). The song is a rousing one (particularly in the portions sung by the chorus in which the strong influence of the  IPTA can be felt), but also in the mode of a bhajan, of a prabhati song, that is, a song sung at dawn and addressed to god, the ‘dear one’. The devotional and revolutionary modes thus come together in this unique song. The metonymic shift from god to the simple protagonist is evident, urging him to know the new age and his own strength.

The sound design of Madhumati too has the chorus of women humming woven into it. While the first chorus of women when the title roll, is scary and haunting, it later creates a sense of the hill community of women, of an enduring  presence, of an other-worldly call in the hillside. As Dilip Kumar’s memory gets activated and he begins to recall his past life, it is the choral humming and Madhumati calling out ‘Babuji’ that takes us to a time gone by. The prologue to the song, Suhana safar aur yeh mausam haseen, has several sounds that underline the beauty of the journey, its pastoral  idyllic nature: the chirping of birds is woven into an orchestration that sounds like a chorus, which then passes on to women humming in chorus, creating a sound perspective; birds chirping, followed by the shepherd’s call to move the sheep along, is followed by Mukesh’s voice starting the song right on beat.

Keep Awake, Keep Alert
Shambhu Mitra’s Jagte Raho27 (1956) deals with the nation metonymically through the building complex. The house and its rooms holding within it the different times of the nation within itself, was also used in Sahib Bibi Ghulam (1962) and in Andrei Tarkovsky’s Mirror (1974). In Jagte Raho, the housing colony is used to effectively put across the idea of keeping alert and defending the new nation from internal enemies. A migrant, the poor son of a farmer, enters a housing complex looking for water to drink. The inmates take him to be a thief and organise themselves into a group, to search the houses and capture the thief. The community here is thus bound together only spatially and not through any profession.

The inhabitants’ ‘army’ sets out to look for the thief and the police, too join in. A panorama of nefarious activities that go on, under the cover of respectability is uncovered: the brewing of illicit liquor, printing of counterfeit notes, the ill treatment of women, the murderous intentions of the corrupt rich and their lackey accomplices. The inhabitants of the block, with all their intended aggressivity and their vigilance are ineffective in catching the real culprits, the anti-social elements within their own fold.  The poor ‘thief’ who is being hounded is unwittingly the witness to all these illegal activities. He is the contramodern flaneur, the country simpleton walking through a building block in the city, in fear and wonder. He is mute and terrified and on the run because of fear; but in an effective reversal breaks into speech when the crowd catches him. He addresses it stating his innocence and speaks out against the corruption he has witnessed. This is a crucial moment in the narrative when the protagonist bursts into speech, a specific moment of the subaltern speaking. What is of interest here is that after his speech, he does not cease to be hounded by the crowd. It is almost as if his conscience rousing words have had no impact.  But it is precisely his role as unwitting witness and as conscience-keeper of a nation that the film as a whole emphasises. The trial sequence has an important space in the narrative of the Hindi film because the moment of breaking silence and speaking out occurs here. Compare this scene with the courtroom sequence in Awaara where the same actor (Raj Kapoor) speaks out against his father, the Law and the elite who do not take cognisance of the parallel ‘society of the gutter’.

This is an important dramatic moment in the narrative for it works as an agent that moves the narrative forward. This is more often than not, in the Hindi film, in its most potent manifestations, the moment of the subaltern  not just speaking, but speaking out against injustice. Jagte Raho in this respect is unique among Hindi films, not just with its engagement with social realism, but also in that this moment of speaking out does not prove to be an agent of change. The passive and silent observer speaks and the crowd continues to hound him as before. It is only in the end that he moves out of the building block having evolved to a new consciousness of himself, without having changed either the people around him, or his surroundings. His new-found timid confidence is also a silent one, unarticulated!  Though he is not an agent of change, he has, in all innocence, disrupted a whole range of nefarious activities, not through active intervention, but by merely being an unwitting witness, a ‘passive disrupter’. The police finally arrest the counterfeiters and black marketers. It is a compassionate child whom the protagonist encounters in one of the flats he accidentally enters when on the run, who tells him to be fearless. At dawn a woman in the nearby temple finally offers him the water he was thirsting for all night.  The innocent but wise child and the spiritual woman are thus his ‘saviours’.

 Night and day are very effectively used to show the emergence from hopelessness to hope in this film directed by Shambu Mitra, an eminent theatre personality and IPTA activist. The dialogues were by K. A. Abbas, lyrics by Shailendra and Prem Dhawan and music by Salil Choudhury. The film has few songs but all are extremely well-placed. ‘Koi na, bhai koi na’ is a robust counterpoint to nocturnal goings-on, and ‘Zindagi khwab hai’ by one of he drunken residents questions what the meaning of truth or falsehood is, when all of life is a dream. These are satirical in spirit. The last song, ‘Jaago mohan pyare’ sung at dawn and picturised on Nargis, her last ever appearance with Raj Kapoor in a film after their off-screen break-up, epitomises the hope for a nation through the presence of the bumbling, but honest simpleton.  At dawn, this unnamed citizen walks away from the nightmare of being thought a ‘thief’ and the housing complex towards the nearby temple where the song is being sung.  The songs in the film, in fact, play a role very different from the role they traditionally perform in the Hindi film. They are all sung by characters who play important roles in the chapters in the unfolding of narrative: a group of sikhs, a drunken man and the worshipping woman; but they are not sung by the protagonist. The songs carry within themselves a greater understanding of social forces and life – satirical, ironical, devotional and revolutionary – than is invested in any of the characters, including the protagonist. This decentring of narrative energies is very unusual for a Hindi film: the viewer moves towards a larger perspective on the events that have taken than does any of the characters, who at best have partial visions.

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