Muzaffar Ali’s Umrao Jaan (1981) is one of Bollywood’s most treasured films in the courtesan genre. With Rekha in the starring role, this film narrates the tragic story of Umrao Jaan Ada, a poetess and tawaif from the Urdu novel of the same name written by Mirza Hadi Ruswa. In addition to Rekha’s touching performance of this role, this movie has been immortalized in the history of Hindi cinema for its music. The soundtrack composed by Khayaam and penned by Shahryar is almost exclusively filled with ghazals sung by the evergreen Asha Bhonsle. In a previous post, we discussed and translated “in aa.nkhon kii mastii,” on of this film’s unforgettable ghazals. Today, on the request of one of our readers (shoutout to Vasuki!), we will be taking a closer look at another gem from the same soundtrack: “justajuu jiski thii.”
While “in aa.nkhon kii mastii” showcases the playful and proud side of Umrao Jaan, this song takes a different route and depicts the tragedy that Umrao has endured as a fallen woman. The song “justajuu jiskii thii” is found in the film when Umrao is called upon to perform a mujra at a birthday celebration for the son of the begum of Kanpur. In an ironic twist of fate, the begum turns out to be Ram Dei, the girl who was kidnapped and sold at the same time as Umrao when they were both young. Deemed the less attractive of the two, Amiran (who would later become known as Umrao Jaan) was sold to Khanum’s brothel while Ram Dei was sold as a slave to a wealthy family. As the two women share a moment together recalling the tragedies of their past, Umrao is greeted by a painful surprise: Ram Dei is actually married to Nawab Sultan, the man that Umrao fell in love with during her younger years. In the presence of the couple, Umrao sings “justajuu jiskii thii,” a ghazal whose lyrics beautifully express the tragedy of unfulfilled love.
Musically, the tune for this song is probably my favorite among all of the ghazals found in Umrao Jaan. I think it must have been the favorite of music director Khayyam as well–if you listen carefully, you’ll hear snippets of this melody used as background music at various points in the film. In fact, before the proper song starts, Umrao recites a shair for Ram Dei in the same tune: “gardish-e-vaqt kaa kitanaa baDaa ahsaan hai aaj/ yah zamii.n chaa.nd se bahtar nazar aatii hame.n.” The lyrics and tune of this song are remarkably beautiful, but the real star of the show here is Asha Bhonsle. Asha excels throughout this soundtrack, but I feel that her rendition of this song is particularly outstanding for its emotional depth and maturity. Asha was 48 years old when she recorded these songs in 1981, but her voice sounds impressive and fresh as ever. An interesting tidbit about the songs from this film is that Khayyam had Asha sing them at a half-step lower than expected (in the key of C) to create a deeper, fuller sound. Regarding her renditions on this soundtrack, Asha has said:
‘I was skeptical about the results when Khayyam lowered my pitch by half a note. But I have always believed that the composer calls the tune, so I sang just as Khayyam wanted me to do.’
There was nothing to be skeptical about here! The Asha-Khayyam collaboration for the music of Umrao Jaan has been cherished ever since this film was released, and the songs are remembered today as some of the finest examples of ghazals in Bollywood cinema. Enjoy our translation of “justajuu jiskii thi” with the glossary below, and remember to send in any requests for future posts!
Justiju Jiski Thi: Lyrics and Translation
justajuu jiskii thii usko to na paayaa ham ne
I did not get whom I desired,
is bahaane se magar dekh lii duniyaa ham ne
Yet, on this quest, I have seen the entire world.
tujhko rusvaa na kiyaa khud bhii pashemaan na hue
I did not disgrace you, nor did I bring shame to myself.
ishq kii rasm ko is tarah nibhaayaa ham ne
In this manner, I fulfilled the vows of our love.
kab milii thii kahaa.n bichhaDii thii hame.n yaad nahii.n
I do not remember when we met or where we departed.
zindagii, tujhko to bas khvaab me.n dekhaa ham ne
Life, I have only beheld you in my dreams.
ai adaa, aur sunaaye.n bhii to kyaa haal apanaa?
What more shall I tell you of my state?
umr kaa lambaa safar tai kiyaa tanhaa ham ne
I have resigned myself to traveling the long journey of life alone.
justajuu jiskii thii usko to na paayaa ham ne
I did not get whom I desired.
justajuu: search, quest; bahaana: excuse, pretext; rusvaa: disgraced; pashemaan: ashamed; rasm: ritual, vow; bichhaDnaa: to separate, depart; adaa: pen name for Umrao Jaan; safar: journey; tai karnaa: to settle; tanhaa: alone.