Rabindranath Tagore’s Influence on S.D. Burman

Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941) and S.D. Burman (1906-1975)

Due to my upbringing in a Bengali household, I am intimately familiar with Rabindra-sangeet: the genre of songs written and composed by Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore. As a composer, artist, novelist, playwright, poet, and philosopher, Tagore has left a lasting legacy on Indian culture through his vast collection of works in a variety of mediums. Although the purism and simplicity of Tagore’s style might suggest that Bollywood is an inappropriate forum to celebrate his art, several music directors from the Golden Age of Hindi cinema have been known to use Tagore songs as inspirations for their musical compositions. The music director who is most well-known for this practice is none other than the illustrious S.D Burman. S.D. Burman is one of the most succesful music directors in the history of the Bollywood industry, and his songs from films such as Bandini (1963), Guide (1965), Jewel Thief (1967), and Aradhana (1969) are still considered all-time classics today. His filmi compositions tend to draw upon inspiration from Bengali folk traditions (e.g. bhatiaalii, saari, etc. ), but here I’d like to draw your attention to a collection of S.D. Burman compositions that are derived from Rabindra-sangeet:

meraa sundar sapnaa biit gayaa (Do Bhai, 1949): From one of S.D. Burman’s first hit scores in the Bollywood industry, this song is considered to be Geeta Dutt’s breakthrough as a playback singer in Hindi films. The mukhDaa of this song is inspired by a Bilaaval-based Tagore composition called “radono bharaa e basonto.” Geeta does an excellent job of expressing the sorrow and pain of this song with her voice, and it is truly unfortunate that the lyrics here would become a reality for her during her tumultuous marriage to Guru Dutt in the next decade.

Playback singer Geeta Dutt (1930-1972) with her husband Guru Dutt (1925-1964)

nain diivaane (Afsar, 1950): This Pilu-based composition is skilfully rendered by Suraiyya, a leading singer/actress who became a huge sensation in Bollywood during the 1940s. Bollywood as we know it today relies on actors and actresses lip-syncing songs sung by playback singers; however, in its very early days, actresses like Suraiyya used to sing their own songs for films. In spite of their dual talents, singer-actresses were not able to survive the onslaught of the Mangeshkar monopoly in the 1950s, and the playback singing paradigm became the standard that is still maintained today in the industry. In any case, this song is based on an extremely popular Tagore composition called “sediin duujane duulechhiinuu bone.” S.D. Burman literally did a copy-paste job here, as the melody of the entire Hindi song is identical to the Bengali original. While loosely basing a mukhDaa on a previous composition is somewhat acceptable, recycling a whole song written by another composer begs the question: should S.D. Burman have given credit to Tagore for this composition?

Singer/actress Suraiyya (1929-2004)

 

 jaaye.n to jaaye.n kahaa.n? (Taxi Driver, 1954): S.D. Burman won his first Filmfare Award for Best Music Director for this song from Taxi Driver in 1954. As is often the case, the male version of the song (sung by Talat Mehmood) is more popular than the female version (sung by Lata Mangeshkar). Although S.D. Burman modified the raga of his composition to more closely resemble Jaunpuri, the first line of the mukhDaa is instantly recognizable as the main phrase from Tagore’s Bhairavi-based classic  “ he khoniiker otiithhii.” Note that the Tagore original that I have provided here is sung by Hemanta Mukherjee (a.k.a Hemant Kumar), who, in addition to achieving fame as a Hindi playback singer/music director, was known for his beautiful renditions of Rabindra-sangeet in Bengali.

jalte hai.n jiske liye: (Sujata, 1959): This probably qualifies as my favorite “telephone song” from a Hindi film. Here, Sunil Dutt woos Nutan over the phone with this gem as he croons to Talat Mehmood’s silky vocals on playback (notice the characteristic quiver that we know and love!). Although this composition is often considered an all-time classic song of romance, fans of this song may be surprised to know that the mukhDaa is taken directly from a Tagore composition named “ekodaa tumii priye.”

Sunil Dutt serenades Nutan over the telephone with “jalte hai.n jiske liye” in Sujata (1959)

meghaa chhaye aadhii raat (Sharmilee, 1971): Out of all the compositions listed here, the inspiration from Tagore is the most difficult to hear in this song because it does not involve the mukhDaa. Rather, S.D. Burman seems to have inserted a small segment of  laho laho tuule laho (0:26-0:40) into the antara of this raga Patdeep-based classic from Sharmilee. What a trickster, huh?

tere mere milan kii yeh rainaa (Abhimaan, 1973): By far, this is the most famous example where  S.D. Burman has been inspired by Rabindra-sangeet.  In his last hit film score (for which he won his second  Filmfare Award for Best Music Director), S.D. Burman recycles the mukhDaa from Tagore’s Mishra Khamaj-based “jodii taare nai chiinii go sekii?” in this evergreen duet of Lata Mangeshkar and Kishore Kumar. Burman’s antaras are a beautiful addition to the original composition, so we won’t give him too much trouble for his rehashing of Tagore here. Note that the Bengali original that I have linked to here is sung by Kishore Kumar, another Hindi playback singer who was famous for his renditions of Rabindra-sangeet in Bengal.

Amitabh and Jaya Bacchan sing the duet “tere mere milan kii yeh raina” on stage during the climax of Abhimaan (1973).

Although S.D. Burman was often inspired by Tagore in his compositions, he never recorded or sang a single piece of Rabindra-sangeet throughout his career. The reason behind this is, of course, family feuding–an unavoidable staple of all things related to Indian culture. Here’s the story: S.D Burman’s father Nabadwip Chandra Dev Burman was set to be the direct heir to the throne of Tripura when the current king passed away in 1862. However, the crown went to Nabadwip’s paternal uncle Birchandra Dev Burman due to some dirty palace politics. Because Rabindranath Tagore had a very close relationship with Birchandra Dev Burman, S.D. Burman avoided meeting Tagore throughout his lifetime and refused to perform Rabindra-sangeet out of principle. Nevertheless, in spite of this tiff, it is undeniable that S.D. Burman had a great deal of respect for Tagore as a musician given the influence of Rabindra-sangeet on his compositions.

–Mr. 55

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Waqt Ne Kiya Lyrics and Translation: Let’s Learn Urdu-Hindi

For our next song, we discuss the lyrics and English translation of Waqt Ne Kiya, an evergreen song by Geeta Dutt from Kaaghaz Ke Phool (1957). Although nearly everyone has grown up watching movies, few people have an understanding of what the production of a film entails. I don’t mean just the technical aspects of constructing a shot—I refer to that way of life, to the tinsel-lined world of glamour and infamy, of triumph and ruin, and of the battle for self-respect that challenges a director. Guru Dutt’s final film, Kaaghaz Ke Phool (1957), is an intimate and haunting tragedy that shows the audience just that—a glimpse into the vanished studio era of 1950s Bollywood.

Waheeda Rehman pays a price for her fame in Kaaghaz Ke Phool (1957)

Following in the mesmerizing footsteps of Sunset Boulevard (1950) and The Blue Angel (Der blaue Engel, 1930), Kaaghaz Ke Phool reveals another side to the world of show business through the rise and spiraling downfall of a great director.  It examines the price of the soul of an artist, and is a harsh critique of contemporary values (even including the social condemnation of divorce!). In an ironic twist, the film was a flop at the box office when first released, leading to events in Guru Dutt’s personal life that mirrored the story of his own film. Eerily autobiographical, the film has now achieved a cult status in the history of Indian cinema.

The famous song “Waqt Ne Kiya” comes at a time in the film when the hero and the love of his life both come to an unspoken understanding that they must let each other go. As for the picturization, it is a cinematographer’s dream. Look at the lighting in these shots—at the rich blacks of the shadows, and how the dust from the overhead spotlights is captured floating ethereally in the air. The camera dollies in slowly to each character as they stare at one another and at their unfulfilled dreams enacting before them in the spotlight. There is actually very little movement by the actors—the real player is the camera itself, gracefully gliding through the empty set like a spectre of their own shattered hopes.

Enjoy the lyrics and full English translation of the masterpiece “Waqt Ne Kiya” below:

Waqt Ne Kiya Lyrics and Translation:

Waqt ne kiya kya hasee.N sitam
What a beautiful tragedy time has wrought
Tum rahe na tum
You are no longer you
Hum rahe na ham
I am no longer me
 
Beqaraar dil is tarha mile
Our restless hearts met in such a way
Jis tarha kabhi hum judaa na the
As though we were never apart
Tum bhi kho gaye
You became lost
Hum bhi kho gaye
I was lost too
Ek raah par chalke do qadam
As we walked a few footsteps on the same path
Waqt ne kiya…
 
Jaaye.Nge kahaa.N sujhta nahii.N
We cannot see where we are going
Chal paDe magar raastaa nahii.N
We set forward despite there being no path
Kya talaash hai
For what do we search?
Kuch pataa nahii.N
I do not know
Bun rahe hai.N dil khaab dam ba-dam
With every breath, my heart grows another dream
Waqt ne kiya…

Glossary:

Waqt= time, sitam= tragedy, torture; beqaraar= restless; tarha=manner judaa= apart; qadam= footsteps, talaash= search; dam ba-dam= with every breath

For anyone interested in gossip, the song is sung by Geeta Dutt—wife of none other than director and actor Guru Dutt himself. A major star on her own right, Geeta shot to fame at the age of sixteen when she wowed audiences with her uniquely rich and emotional voice (becoming S.D. Burman’s favorite!) But she too later suffered a personal tragedy from the well-known affair between her husband and his favorite actress, Waheeda Rehman—who actually lip-syncs “Waqt Ne Kiya” and plays the role of “the other woman” in the film! As I said, talk about life mimicking art. For more on Guru Dutt’s films, check out our earlier post on Pyaasa!

-Mrs. 55