Category Archives: Cinema

Sita sings the blues

Is a brilliant feature-length animated movie by Nina Paley who ties her own experiences in marriage with the story of Sita.

Watch it here.

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Promises to self

At sixteen (yes, how cliched!) I watched Charulata. And discovered the soft, gentle world of Bengali music I had only known in snatches until then, through the occasional performance during a school Annual Day. I also made a promise to myself – that The Boy would be one who knew and could sing this song:

A few years later, I fell in love. With a man whose films I wrote a dissertation on, simply so that I could lie in the magical light and shade of his movies, wallow in the searing lyrics of his songs, lose myself in the dark gaze of his eyes. And then I set down a new test, a harsher one. The Boy would know the lyrics and meaning to this song:


and be able to sing this one:

Boys came and went, few with any inkling that a man such as Guru Dutt Padukone once walked this earth. Those that did could not sing. One did attempt playing Chaudvin ka chaand on a jal tarang, but I will be kind to him and say no more.

Years later, I did find The Boy, but had forgotten all about my promise to myself. I think it may have been then the lilting Lalita he played or the haunting Sindhubhairavi or even the devout Kalyanavasantam that erased all memory of my strict conditions.

And then one day last week, I woke to a strangely familiar humming. The Boy had been up hours before me as always and was sitting at the desk, coffee in hand. He turned to me and asked, “Do you know the words to that Charulata song?”

A sweeter question has never been heard.

Nazakat hi sahi

Bura na mano baat ka
Ye pyaar hai, gila nahi…

Bahut nazakat se ikha gaana hai, said PB with a sigh. I couldn’t agree more. I offered up Isharon isharon mein for tasting, but it didn’t meet her standards. Never mind.

Nazakat is conspicuous by its absence in popular lyric today. I have unabashedly enjoyed the humble bhel puri’s debut in Hindi lyric and delighted in the revisionary Jack and Jill doled out by Ajay D and Urmila M (anyone recall the movie?), but some part of me longs for the time when self-doubt was expressed not as Main aisa kyun hoon but as Na kisi ki aankh ka noor hoon, na kisi ke dil ka qaraar hoon.

Tomes have been written about how popular culture shapes popular imagination, especially in India – so i wonder – if cinema was the way the unlettered heard and enjoyed poetry, isn’t a bit of a cheat to fob them off with Dil di gaddi, pyaar da junction, dibba khali hai? If the language and idiom of some of the illiterate, older people around me is anything to go by, there seems to have been far more poetry in public consciousness forty years ago than there is today. An old sardar I met on a highway outside Delhi, told not only the best ‘surd’ jokes I’ve ever heard, but stumped me completely by quoting Zafar. But he could not read the rusty nameboard that hung outside his dhaba.

Lyrics do not need to be sophisticated to qualify as poetry. Jalte hain jiske liye for all its simplicity is no less luminous than Taveez bana ke pehnun use, aayat ki tarah mil jaaye kahin. Yes, the occasional Chaiyya Chaiyya does make an appearance in Hindi films, but that’s the trouble – it is occasional to the point of being rare. Annually, there are welcome exceptions – Jodha Akbar was this year’s. Sakhi Piya in Khoya khoya chand was, to use a cliche, a whiff of fresh air.

Sometimes, the lines are simply so insipid that they inspire nothing, not even the irritation which comes with Rain is falling chhama chham chham. Pardesi pardesi jana nahin is one of those. Anyone, I mean absolutely anyone could have written those lines. They are instructions – stay, don’t go, be here, not there. Dull, dull prose, not even worthy of comparison with lines like Abhi na jaao chhod kar, which essentially said the same thing!

Nazakat. I can’t help coming back to that word. Mohabbat is pyaar, mehboob is yaar. The is no sitam in people’s lives, there is mere tadap, no evocative dastaan, only kahaniyan. No understated armaan, only bland chahat. 

So what is it? Laziness? Yet another facet of universal dumbing down? A (false) assumption that this is what the ‘masses’ want? Of course, I can stop cribbing and escape into Badayuni or Ludhianvi whenever I choose, but I cannot help wondering about all those unwritten lines, that squandered potential. To have koyal si teri boli, kukukuku when you could have woh baat kar le to bujhte chiraag jalte hain – this is when you want to remind your heavy heart – uthaye ja unke sitam, aur jiye jaa, unhi muskuraye ja, aason piye ja, uthaye ja unke sitam.