In Search Of Chaplin

April 30, 2014 at 9:15 AMApr (Activism, Cinema, Musings, Slice Of Life, Soliloquy)

chaplinTwo days ago while driving my scooter in the main road of Manipal (Karnataka) an auto overtook me. I was angered by the way he overtook from the left side (wrong side). With great anger I looked at the auto. By then the auto was right ahead of me. As I was staring at the auto in anger my eyes caught the Chaplin face at the back of the auto. My eyebrows hit the sky in surprise. I couldnt believe that I was seeing a Chaplin photo behind an auto in Manipal where almost all autos have NaMo face or praises like Mera Bharath Mahaan, Jai Karnataka, Brahma Baidarkala, Jai Shri Raam, Vartey Panjurli or some other local deities at their back. In such a setting seeing Chaplin’s face was extremely exciting, thrilling and in a strange way relieving too. There was a text written next to the photo of Chaplin. I turned the accelerator to see what it was. The auto fellow, I guess, thought I was in a hurry and wanted to go ahead. He slowed down to make way for me to go ahead. Thanks to him slowing down. I too slowed down and saw properly. It was a Chaplin quote. As I was reading it the auto took a right turn and I had to go straight.

From two days now every auto that I see I check if its the same Chaplin auto. I am looking for that auto. I am searching for Chaplin.

As I am looking for Chaplin, I realize, I am also looking for a break from the fascist face, from nationalist, statist and religious matters making space for themselves through images and texts. I am looking, I realize, for a new imagesphere (kindly permit me use the term) which is more humanitarian and more inclusive.

As I continue looking for Chaplin amidst the NaMo faces and images and texts that are jingoist, statist, nationalist, religious, castist I am reminded of the famous speech from Chaplin’s film The Great Dictator where he says, “To those who can hear me, I say ‘Do not despair.’ The misery that is now upon us is but the passing of greed, the bitterness of men who fear the way of human progress. The hate of men will pass, and dictators die, and the power they took from the people will return to the people. And so long as men die, liberty will never perish.”

The search for Chaplin continues… There is no despair.

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Counting 116 Moonlit Nights…

April 21, 2014 at 9:15 AMApr (Activism, Cinema, Literature, Media, Music, Musings, Poetry, Soliloquy)

photo courtesy: Gokry M.

photo courtesy: Gokry M.

In one of the most memorable songs penned by Gulzar sahib i.e. Mera Kuch Saamaan the last stanza makes a mention about 116 moon lit nights (ek sau solah chaand ki raatein) that were spent together. Why is it 116 and not any other number? Did Gulzar sahab try to indicate that the couple was together for four months (with four new moons)? Or is it just a random number? The significance is not in the number but in the fact that somebody kept a count of it. For someone to keep count of it the emotional value and the worth of that togetherness must be enormous!

So when it is said that of the 101 years of Indian cinema Gulzar has been a part of it for 55 years its not mere statistics but an emotionally loaded statement which underlines the emotional value cine lovers attach to the name and works of Gulzar who has contributed to cinema in various capacities as lyricist, screenplay writer, dialogue writer and as a director.

***

It is said that Meena Kumari had the habit of collecting pebbles and assigning names to them and also giving them some characteristics. She used to introduce her pebbles to everyone on the set. While everyone laughed at it Gulzar, it is said, saw all those humans that Meena saw in those pebbles.

When Pluto was considered as not a planet Gulzar wrote a poem on the abandonment and in an interview he said it reminded him of his own position in his family. Gulzar sees life even in non-living objects and also feels for them. Such is his sensitivity.

He was once slapped by Ritwik Ghatak with great affection. But the slap was a bit hard. Gulzar sees it as a melodramatic expression of love. Even when hit hard he sees the beauty in it and he sees melodrama which is intrinsic to Ghatak in that slap which he calls as expression. Remembering his troubled relationship with his father he says there was some beauty in the way his father abused him. His reference is to the language used while abusing. Gulzar saw poetry in everything and everything he did got a poetic touch.

Meena Kumari was a poet who wrote in the pseudonym Naaz. She left her diary of poems with Gulzar before dying which Gulzar has published with some modifications. To see the original and the modified gives a glimpse of what make a genius a genius.

He not just sees poetry in everything but also has the ability to turn anything into good poetry.

***

photo courtesy: internet

photo courtesy: Chakmak magazine

In an interview to Nasreen Munni Kabir he said that his temperament matches to that of poetry to a great extent.

In the very same interview to Nasreen Munni Kabir, Gulzar sahib says, “If I want to show you a sunset in my film, I would have to go through many processes to do that- a camera lens, different focal points, etc. whereas if you read a poem of mine that describes a sunset, it would be a first hand description of how I had imagined it.” This personal imagination which makes the same image look differently with every new description new poem new expression holds so good while looking at the image of moon that Gulzar has repeatedly used several times but differently.

In one of his non-film albums Visaal with Ghulam Ali one of his couplets reads, “Chaand Jitney Bhi Ghum Huye Shab Kay, Sab Ke Ilzaam Merey Sar Aaye.” These stolen moons can be seen in his various creative writings in different forms. Like the song from Omkaara begins he can say, “Main Chaand Nigal Gayi,” changing the gender. He has internalized moon in different ways and given extremely different descriptions. It is a beggar’s bowl once (Merey Apney), then in another place a bag, in another place a fifty paise coin (Aandhi) and in another place a ‘theeka’ (Bunty Aur Bubli)

Similarly one can see variations in the way Gulzar describes water/wetness and also the sun.

Gulzar sahab is of the belief that some of the lyricists who are senior to him were not lyricists committed to the film medium where they are expected to write according to the character, according to the story, according to the subject. Gulzar makes his lyrics rooted in the characters in the story in the situation. The “lai le” in his first song “Mora Gora Ang Lai Ley,” (Bandini) is the rural touch Gulzar gives because the character is based out of a rural setting. The lyrics of the man who used words like ‘saundhi’, ‘sila’ etc writes the song, “Goli Maar Bheje Mein,” (Satya) when the story the character demands for it. The expression in such a context also becomes, “Khaali si rikshaw.” It shows not just the range of the creative writer but also his understanding of the characters his understanding of the story his understanding of the situation.

In the film Namkeen directed by Gulzar sahib the daughter asks, “Yeh Kaun Sa Shabd Hai?” and the mother reacts saying, “Shabd Nahi, Lafz Bolo.” This suddenly shows the difference between the two characters and helps in understanding the two worlds the two characters belong to and gives us a texture of the characters. While the women in his films Mausam and Hu Tu Tu do abuse in films like Kitaab the child says, “Pehle Kehti Thi Doodh Piyunga Toh Badaa Ho Jaaunga Ab Kehti Ho Padhoonga Likhoonga Toh Badaa Aadmi Banoonga,” and in Maasoom the child asks, “Main Paidhaa Hee Nahi Hoti Toh Kya Hota?” not just define the characters but are also organically coming out of the character who is shaped by the atmosphere in which s/he lives. Because it is true to the nature of the characters the character Anand referring to a fat man as “motey” in the film Anand doesn’t come across as demeaning because the character is a playful character.

The shift from ‘lafz’ to ‘shabd’ is also suggestive of the erosion of the language Urdu in independent India. Gulzar mentions that the language he uses is Hindustani which was also a language that Gandhi was in favour of. But because Hindustani as a language is not existing now the language is called Urdu as it is more close to Urdu than to Hindi.

In the post independent India Hindustani eroded and so did Urdu with more and more Sanskritization of Hindi and labeling of Urdu as Muslim language, which is not true. The sanitization of Hindi is well reflected in the Hrishikesh Mukherjee film Chupke Chupke for which Gulzar wrote the screenplay and dialogues. The role played by Urdu writers in Bombay cinema- Sahir Ludhianvi, Kaifi Azmi, Majrooh Sultanpuri, Shakeel Badayuni, Jaan Nisaar Akthar, Krishan Chander, Rajendar Singh Bedi, Javed Akthar and also Gulzar- is enormous in keeping Urdu alive in the independent India where it was being branded as a Muslim language.

Photo: Anwar

Photo: Anwar

Gulzar says that Hindustani is a language which adopts local flavor. Gulzar who locates himself in the Hindustani tradition has adopted himself to the changing times. He believes that with time sensibilities also change and with it poetry also changes. Gulzar’s lyrics started incorporating the English terms such as “personal se sawaal” and terms like, “email”, “beedi,” “ashtray” in his works. But in the same breath he utters “beedi” and also words like “gilaaf” and ‘lehaaf” to ensure that language does not erode. The line is contemporary and rich with heritage.

Gulzar knows the tradition he belongs to and has consciously made efforts to keep it alive. Metaphoric to this would be his film Kitaab. The central story of the film is based on a short story by Samaresh Basu. But Gulzar while adapting it he fits the story of Basu within a story of his own- Daadi Aur Das Paise and writes the screenplay. Within his work he invokes the story of another writer. This is metaphoric of an entire tradition a culture being within Gulzar sahib.

Looking at the films of Gulzar one is to find that Mausam is based on The Judas Tree (AJ Cornin), Parichay on Rajkumar Maitra’s novel, Namkeen based on Samaresh Basu’s novel, Angoor on Shakespeare’s play, Ijaazat based on Subodh Ghosh’ story, Kushuboo on Sharatchandra Chaterjee’s writing. These show us that within Gulzar is a tradition and that Gulzar knows the legacy to which he belongs.

This can be seen even in his lyrics. In the song, “Dil Doondta Hai,” Gulzar is taking a flight from a couplet of Ghalib which originally is Jee Doondta Hai which became Dil because of the composer Madan Mohan. He invokes Ghalib even in his song Satrangee Re from the film Dil Sey. The song Chaiiyya Chaiiya from the same film is taking off from Bulleh Shah, the song Raah Pe Rehtey Hai from the film Namkeen has the line, “khush raho aye ahl-e-watan hum to safar kartey hai,” where Gulzar is invoking Wajid Ali Shah and in the song Zeehaal-E-Muskin from the film Ghulaami,Gulzar invokes Amir Khusro. These can be seen Gulzar’s tribute to all of them and also as Gulzar identifying and revealing the tradition that he belongs to.

Gulzar had once said that all the languages that he has within him become his. He had also said that he has inherited from Tukaram, from Bulle Shah, Fair and Namdev and that he belonged to the tradition of all these writers and that all of them are a part of his consciousness.

So Gulzar has been one among the several Urdu writers who has kept the tradition and language of Urdu alive in India. The relationship between Urdu and Bombay cinema songs can be best described with the line of Gulzar: Woh Yaar Hai Jo Kushboo Ki Tarha Jis Ki Zabaan Urdoo Ki Tarha. Not just through his songs but also through his tele serials Gulzar has kept the Urdu tradition alive. The most famous of his tele serials being ‘Tahreer Munshi Premchand Ki’ and ‘Mirza Ghalib.’ Both Premchand and Ghalib were celebrated Urdu writers.

In the poem that Gulzar as an introduction to his tele-serial Mriza Ghalib after describing the locality of Balli Maaran- where Ghalib’s house is located, Gulzar in the last two lines lifts the poem to a higher level. These minor touches which life the work to a higher level is seen again and again in many of his lyric writing. Take for example the song from Sadma, “Aye Zindagi Galey Laga Ley,” where after questioning life, “Humney Bhi Terey Har Ek Gam Ko Galey Sey Lagaaya Hai,” adds the question, “Hai Na?” which throws the ball in the court of life and asks life to answerable and holds life accountable. Just the question “Hai Na?” lifts the lyrics to a higher level. Similarly in the song “Tujhse Naaraaz Nahi Zindagi” the usage of the word “Maasoom” before “Sawaal” adds great beauty and depth to the lyrics.

These small additions which add beauty and make the lyrics tasteful are like the pinch of salt added to food. Salt is something that adds taste and hence Gulzar refers to ‘Ishq’ as ‘Namak’ which when added in the right amount makes the food (read life) tasteful and food (taste) without it is bland and tasteless. The usage of ‘Namak’ too is like that pinch of salt which adds not just taste but also depth and takes the lyrics to a higher level.

In the film Hu Tu Tu at one point Aadi’s father shouts saying, “Tum Sawaal Bahut Kartey Ho” to which Aadi politely responds saying, “Lekin Jawaab Bhi Toh Nahi Miltey.” This again shows that Gulzaresque touch which lifts the scene to a higher level and also shifts the weight. This and the use of “Hai Na?” in the song, “Aye Zindagi Galey Lagaa Ley,” are like a hit back in tennis, a game Gulzar plays daily, which throws the ball in the oppositions court so well that the opposition is left with no answer. In both places with just a small twist Gulzar adds great value to the existing.

In the film Masoom when tension erupts between the husband and wife is changing the saree and the husband enters the room and the wife covers her body and runs into the bathroom. These small Gulzaresque touches take the narrative to a different level.

Such moments come repeatedly in his films which make us wonder if the screenplay written by Gulzar can be called screenPLAY or should they be renamed as screenPOESY for they are more poetic than dramatic.

photo: Daya Kukkaje

photo: Daya Kukkaje

Gulzar had made his entry into cinema by working as an assistant director to Bimal Roy. He was suggested as a lyricist to Bimal Roy by Shailendar. But Gulzar considered cinema to be inferior to literature and hesitated to write. So Bimal Roy is said to have asked Gulzar to assist him and only later under circumstances he got into writing lyrics and screenplay and dialogues. But when he started to write he wrote in such a fashion that his scripts became kings and the films became heavily script centric and to an extend shifted the weight of the film from director to the screenwriter.

Even as a lyricist he added to the storyline. In adding and underlining he became a co-writer of the film. For example Dil Sey is a film where the Sufiyaana undertone of the film comes out only in the lyrics written by Gulzar. By bringing out the Sufiyaana element Gulzar also becomes a co-writer of the film and not just lyricist.

Gulzar was closely associated with the Progressive Writer’s Association which believes in literature for social change. He says that his association with the PWA did have a great impact on him and calls himself a “soft communist” though he diverged from the ways of expression from that of PWA writers. These influences come out while writing lines like, “Din Khaali Khaali Bartan Hai…” in the song “Ek Akela Iss Shehar Mein,” written for the film Gharonda, where he continues to say, “Aur Raat Hai Jaise Andha Kuaan,” making the hunger and thirst particular and universal at the same time and extending the hunger and thirst to more than starvation to existential starvation and deprivation. There is an auditory imagination to the double use of the word “khaali khaali” for when spoke into an empty vessel there is a slight echo. The bartan used in the song also echoes with its emptiness making the word “khaali” echo once. The soong, ‘Theek Thaak Hai” from Merey Apney is also a reflection of the deep social concerns of Gulzar sahib.

His non-filmi album on Kabir Abida Parveen is also a reflection of the progressive nature of Gulzar and also his efforts to keep a tradition a legacy alive.

The progressive nature of Gulzar is reflected also in his women characters who are quite independent and strong. In the film Aandhi there is a lady who follows the will of her heart, in Namkeen there are four women living their own ways, In Ijaazat there is a women who doesn’t want to marry and another lady who moves out of marriage and remarries. In Mausam the girl is a sex worker and holds grudge against the man who had betrayed her mother. Merey Apney is about a widow’s truggle. Sanjiv Kumar is said to have famously said about Gulzar, “Har Baar Kehta Hai Meri Film Hai, Magar Hoti Hamesha Aurat Ki Hai.”

Gulzar’s progressive nature is seen also in his depiction of handicapped people in Koshish and challenging the education system in Kitaab. Gulzar’s initiative to work, in real life, with children and for Aman Ki Aasha (for the betterment of Indo-Pak relations) are also reflection of his progressive nature. His poem for Aman Ki Aasha says, ‘Aankhon Ko Visa Nahi Lagta, Sapnon Ki Sarhad Hoti Nahi,” and another poem appeals, “Inn Lakeeron Ko Zameen Per Hee Rehne Do, Inhe Dil Pe Na Utaaro.” Being a victim of partition and having had nightmares of partition riots for over two decades when Gulzar writes these lines it not just makes great impact but also shows the craving one has to find his land his home back.

Photo: Anil Bedge

Photo: Anil Bedge

Like his experiment with the form which led him to inventing a new form called Triveni he did his experiments in the world of entertainment too. He cut two non-filmi albums with Abishek Ray titled Udaas Paani and Raat Chaad Aur Main. These two albums have Gulzar reciting poems with the music and aalaap of Abhishek Ray in the background. This has been the most unique of non-filmi albums amidst a lot of mediocre and below average music albums the late 20th century and early 21st century saw. The experiment was also seen in his album with Vishaal Bharadwaaj, Bhupendir Singh and Chitra titled Sunset Point. These are unique gems in the world of entertainment like Gulzaar’s films and teleserials.

Gulzar worked closely with music directors of generations from Salil Chaudhary to AR Rehman and Abhiskek Kapoor and Vishaal Bharadwaj. But his closest association was with RD Burman.

It is said that when Gulzar went to RD Burman with the song, “Mera Kuch Saamaan,” RD Burman looked at the free verse and said, “Get Times of India tomorrow with you and I will compose for that.” This episode speaks of the faith Gulzar had in his poetry for he was not demoralized by the words of RD Burman. The song went on to win the national award for best lyrics that year.

RD Burman once told Gulzar that when he composes songs he has the face of the singer in his mind. Meaning while he is composing slowly a face emerges before his mind’s eye. Sometimes of Lata sometimes of Asha sometimes Kishore. RD Burman added to it, “While composing some songs the face that appears before my eyes is of yours.” The experience is similar to several cine lovers whose mind’s eye sees the face of Gulzar when they hear any reference made to the songs of Bombay cinema.

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Gulzar’s father on discovering his love for poetry had said that he will have to live a life dependent on his siblings. Gulzar had a great zeal to prove his father wrong and he did. In one of his poems he tells his dad his fear of poetry drowning him someday hasn’t come true and says he is still afloat and also expresses his desire to keep floating and never returning to the shore.

Stay afloat a paper boat carrying poems. Take along with you my congratulations…

[Originally written for the Sunday Magazine of Vijayavani, a Kannada newspaper. Published on 20 April, 2014 to mark and celebrate Phalke award being conferred on Gulzar]

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To Fight Stigma…

April 18, 2014 at 9:15 PMApr (Friends, Musings, Slice Of Life, Soliloquy)

[A Facebook note from 23 March 2014]

Exactly ten years ago I walked into the psychiatry department of the hospital in Manipal for the first time. I was feeling unwell and did not know what was happening to me. After almost a week trying to overcome a perpetual state of disturbance, melancholy and suicidal thoughts I had decided to consult a doctor.

It was not the first time that I was going through such a phase but never before hadthe intensity been so strong. If that was one of the reason for me to consult a doctor, me being a student of psychology had also made me wise enough to take the step towards the department. But even then, because visiting a psychiatrist/ psychologist was considered as a matter of “shame” I did not even inform my parents or anyone. Even when accepting the ‘problem’ I was not able to fight this idea of ‘shame’ which is a social phenomenon. This stigma burdened the already troubled mind quite a lot those days. To fight this idea of “shame” it took long.

In the following years I have gone through similar phases quite a few times and quite a few times the intensity has been extremely troublesome.

I remember that day from a decade ago on this day to thanks my psychiatrists Dr.Hema Tharoor and Dr. P.V. Bhandary for being there as doctors and also as concerned human beings.

I also remember all of this because I have to assert that psychiatric, psychological problems are not a matter of ‘shame’ nor a taboo. Fighting this stigma is important.

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NaMopium In Schizophrenic Times

April 10, 2014 at 9:15 AMApr (Activism, Friends, Literature, Musings, Slice Of Life, Soliloquy)

Few weeks ago in an educational town, in coastal Karnataka, a play was staged which I had the fortune of watching. It is an interesting play which dramatizes, in its first half, the poem of Vayalar in which Seeta is the daughter of Ravan. The play begins with Seeta in Ashok Van and as it proceeds we see Mandodari explaining to Seeta that she is the daughter of Ravan who had left Seeta in the ocean after listening to the prediction of the holy saints that she will cause the death of her father. Saying so Mandodari pleads to Seeta to accept Ravan as her father and stop Rama from fighting the battle against Ravan. Seeta refuses to accept the story narrated by Mandodari and we see Ravan getting prepared for the war.

In the second half of the play the man who played Ravan in the first half is attacked by Hindu fundamentalist group for he is said to be the writer of the play staged in the first half. The artist tries defending himself explaining the play is adapted from a poem and by placing arguments of freedom of speech and expression. But nothing makes an impact and finally when the fundamentalist group makes unwanted remarks on the daughter of the writer he ends up killing the leader of the fundamentalist group.

The play was interesting because the creative artist who in the play is trying to reclaim his relationship with his daughter, in the second half is trying to reclaim his creative freedom. At a deeper level the daughter can be seen as a creation and creativity as the force of creation. So he- Ravan the creative artist- is trying to reclaim his creative energy creative force and creation in an atmosphere where the Rama is trying to own Seeta and make her into his ‘daasi’ and the fundamentalist groups whose icon happens to be Rama (also, socio-political censor board) are trying to hijack the creation, creative freedom and creative force and make them its slave. Ram not being there on stage made it even the more beautiful and truthful because these forces of censorship are invisible forces.

I wrote a mail to the Writer-Director who also played the role of Ravan congratulating him and appreciating the play, though we did not know each other. Following a few mail exchanges the writer-director and I met for a cup of chai. Sitting next to a push-cart near the bus stop sipping hot chai we spoke. Expressing his desire to get into the Film Institute he asked me about my experience. As we continued we spoke about writers, especially poets. We spoke of Gulzar, Faraaz, Majaaz, Muktibodh, Piyush Mishra, Ramdhari Singh Dinker. And about the theater scenario of Delhi where both of us had spent some time and knew some artists in common.

After a point when he said how he felt good about the mail I wrote to him we entered the topic of his play. He asked me, “What is the problem of these fundamentalist groups, especially Hindu groups?” I did not know how to answer or rather where to start from. Instead I said had his play been staged in the nearby towns (Udupi-Mangalore) then possible he would have faced the wrath of moral policing and communalism. “But why?” I tried explaining a bit and then went silent for a while. When I went silent he asked me who I am supporting in the coming elections. I laughed and said, “I don’t know who I am supporting but I know who I am against.” “Narendra Modi,” he completed my lines. I nodded. I then asked who is he supporting. “There is a wave of Narendra Modi in the nation and I have flown with the wave. I don’t support BJP nor endorse their views about religion and culture but I think the nation now needs an efficient and strong leader like Narendra Modi. If Congress comes to power they will sell the nation in installments and if BJP comes to power there is the fear of fundamentalism increasing. But Narendra Modi will be the right person to lead the nation.”

There was a need for me to pinch myself to see if what I was experiencing is in real.

Someone who wrote such a nice play, a political play where he attacks right wing politics and who has strong views against fundamentalism and upheld the right to freedom of speech and expression and spoke about it even in his play, whose world view did not clash in accepting multiple Ramayanas, was telling that he is “carried away” by the “Narendra Modi wave” and that he feels the nation now needs an “efficient leader like Narendra Modi.”

Couple of weeks before this happened in the 1984 reading group started by a few friends, a Bengali boy born and brought up in Ahmedabad went on bashing the Left. When a couple of them, who knew his Left bashing politics, smiled he said, “Yes I am a Narendra Modi fan and want him to be the PM.” As he uttered this another boy tried arguing and the Ahmedabadi born Bengali boy said, “Dude I know Narendra Modi is responsible for what happened in 2002. I know he had orchestrated it. In fact a police official who took the orders had told this to me way back in 2005. I know all of it. His development might not be to the extent it is being portrayed. But he has a vision.”

My heart stopped beating. My mind went numb. Suddenly I realized that evidence about the 2002 attacks and about the flaws of Modi’s development were of no use in the times we live in where everyone seem to be high over NaMopium. Few days into this I read the piece by Thane Richard saying the moral boundary has been crossed and people had made “peace with the possibility of him [Modi] being guilty.” With great pain I had to accept the analysis.

Couple of weeks after this I meet this extremely talented writer director whose play is progressive and takes a strong position against right wing fundamentalism who tells me that his heart is with Narendra Modi.

A thought passed my mind as I went back to my cup of chai not knowing how to continue to the conversation. Many, like the Ahmedabad bread Bengali boy seem to believe Utopia is here. While many like me seem to believe dystopia is here. But the writer director whose plays are progressive but supports Modi made me feel that not utopia or dystopia but some sort of schizophrenia is here. It felt like we are living in is schizophrenic times.

Few days ago the writer-director called asking if we could meet. He said he wanted to read out his new play to me. We did meet later in the day. He read out the play. It again was a political play and a good play, I must say.

He asked me for my feedback when he finished reading the play. I sighed thinking that in a few days he will be casting his vote.

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V.K. Murthy: An Unusual Hero

April 8, 2014 at 9:15 AMApr (Cinema, Music, Musings, Slice Of Life)

VKMPaying tribute through words is a difficult task especially to a man who spoke a thousand words in an image, images that haunt us and will continue to haunt cinema lovers for ages to come.

Two images strike before the mind’s eye whenever the name of V.K. Murthy is taken; One of Guru Dutt standing at the door of the auditorium in a crucified Christ position. The other image is of Waheeda Rehman and Guru Dutt’s soul (or desire) walking towards each other and the beam, famously known as the Murthy’s beam, absorbing the two lovers.

The image of Guru Dutt at the door in a crucified Christ position is considered as the “ideal composition,” by G.S. Bhaskar, another remarkable cinematographer of Indian cinema. It is said that when Murthy composed the shot with the light thrown from Guru Dutt’s back turning the character into a mere silhouette at a very crucial point of the film Pyaasa, people criticized the shot because the hero was not seen properly nor his face nor his emotion. But Murthy answered them as, “How can there be light on his face?” The crucifixion of Vijay was more important, for the film, than the face or the emotion, because more than what Vijay went through the question what was done to Vijay becomes more important and also Pyaasa as a film spoke more than the story of Vijay the poet. Murthy knew the larger meaning of the film and knew how to wrap all of it in an image. He turns the character Vijay into a mere silhouette also in the scene where he loses his mother. An abandoned child now orphaned standing by the river all alone. How can there be light? Pyaasa went on to be understood as a creative cinematic expression stemming out of the disappointment regarding the failure of Nehruvian socialism and the independence of India beyond the story of Vijay a tragic poet.

The second image mentioned earlier was from the film Kaagal Ke Phool, the first cinemascope of India. Shanti and Suresh have known each other for some time now and love is flowering between the two of them and both are withholding each other. “Waqt ne kiya kya haseen sitam…” goes the song and we see the souls (or the desire of the two characters) of the lovers coming close to each other and get dissolved in the light that is showering. The light consumes both of them. The cinematography escalates the emotional tone cinematically achieves what Kaifi Azmi does with words: “Tum rahey na tum ham rahey na hum.”

It seems once Murthy had an argument with Sahir Ludhianvi saying music is more important for a song than lyrics while Sahir being Sahir believed lyrics was more important. Murthy’s argument about music being more important has more to say than just the argument about song. Murthy himself was a musician. Being a musician he knew the importance of rhythm which seeped into the cinematographer in him too. Though he never theorized any of his works one cannot but observe the rhythm in Murthy’s image making.
His belief that music is more crucial than lyrics (words) throws light to his belief that a parallel to word/ language is possible to communicate, especially that which if said in words turns mundane. An image can speak what words can and more than that he seemed to have believed and he proved it successfully in the above mentioned examples. But nowhere did he recreate the words as images but moved beyond and transcended the words and recreated through images, in the visual language, what the words create.

vkm openIn another song from Pyaasa, “Jaane wo kaise log tey jin ko…” Murthy moves the camera mournfully towards and backwards from Guru Dutt and Mala Sinha and thus establishes the emotional distance between the two characters. In another song, ‘Aaj sajan mohe ang lagaa lo,’ the camera assumes the role of desire and moves close and closer to Guru Dutt while the character of Waheeda Rehman is still distant. The song is that of desire. Desire is the dominant emotion. By turning the camera movement into the movement of desire and then enabling the juxtaposition of it with the physical distance between the two characters Murthy creates magic. The absence of a mournful movement of camera in the latter song and the camera not assuming the position of any desire in the earlier song marks the difference between the two relationships and defines the difference in the two relationships too.

Apart from creating great images for the lovers of cinema Murthy’s contribution extends to the different inventions and innovations of Murthy for the art of cinematography which is beautifully documented by Uma Rao in the biography of Murthy sahib. His contribution is also in the various students he nurtured.

During the preview of the film Kagaz Ke Phool at the Maratha Mandir in Bombay, during the interval a joyful Shammi Kapoor came out running asking, “Where is the hero of the film?”Someone pointed out at Guru Dutt and Shammi Kapoor looking in the direction where Guru Dutt stood said, “Na na Murthy kahaan hai? Wo iss film ka hero hai.” [No. No. Where is Murthy? He is the hero of this film.]

An unusual hero of several films has passed away.

At the time of Guru Dutt’s untimely death Murthy sahib told Govind Nihlani, “I cried for myself.” He said so because he felt nobody would bring out the best in him the way Guru Dutt did. Today is the day Indian cinema, cinematography and cinema lovers cry for themselves.

[Written for and published in Vijaya Karnataka 08 April 2014]

[Photo courtesy: 1= FB page of Bangalore A Visual Anthropology. 2 = Open Magazine]

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