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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Chalo Ek Baar Phir Se Lyrics and Translation: Let’s Learn Urdu-Hindi

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Sunil Dutt sings about the pain of heartbreak at the piano in Gumraah (1963)

In my opinion, I think one of the best parts about being a fan of old Hindi music is that it gives you a fun opportunity to brush up on your Urdu-Hindi language skills. From time to time, Mrs. 55 and I have decided that we will share some of our favorite song lyrics here and provide a glossary and translation so that everyone can follow along!

Our first song is “chalo ek baar phir se,” which is an absolute gem from the 1963 film Gumraah directed by B.R. Chopra. Arguably the best song of his career, this composition was rendered by Mahendra Kapoor, an excellent singer who ultimately carved a niche for himself in the industry after emerging from his initial fame as a Mohammed Rafi clone. The real star here, though, is Sahir Ludhianvi, who was truly one of the most gifted poets that has ever written for Hindi cinema. Known for his cynicism and disillusionment with society, Sahir Ludhianvi wrote lyrics that reflect a great deal of emotional complexity and maturity. In contrast to his contemporaries, Ludhianvi chose to remain unhindered by the constraints set by the prototypical Bollywood love song; many of his songs are refreshing to hear for their expression of biting political satire, heartfelt grief, or outspoken anger.

Sahir Ludhianvi, poet (1921-1980)

In “chalo ek baar phir se” Ludhianvi writes about a situation in which unfortunate societal circumstances prevent two lovers from fulfilling their romantic desires and building a life together. Supposedly, Ludhianvi was inspired to write this song when he encountered an ex-lover of his at a party with her new husband. The encounter must have been incredibly painful for him because these lyrics are devoid of the typical romanticizations of pyar and muhabbat that are often found in songs from this period. Instead of praising love as an ideal, the protagonist of the song suggests that he and his lover should return to becoming strangers because the emotional separation will make it easier for both of them to heal from their pain. The last stanza of the song is especially powerful: the protagonist posits that it is counter-productive to invest energy into doomed romantic relationships when they have become a burden. Ludhianvi’s words here suggest that it is sometimes in everyone’s best interests to put an early end to the love stories that simply cannot have happy conclusions. His eloquence and nuanced use of language to express the pain of unfulfilled love is sublime, and this type of  poetic talent is sorely missed in the Bollywood industry today.  For those of you who haven’t heard this song yet, it’s definitely worth a listen. If you follow along with the glossary below, I’m sure you’ll learn a couple new words that will impress ALL your Urdu-speaking friends (yes, all 2 of them).

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Sunil Dutt masks his internal anguish with a coy smile in Gumraah (1963)

Chalo Ek Baar Phir Se Lyrics and Translation:

chalo ek baar phir se, ajnabii ban jaaye.n ham dono.n
Come, let us become strangers once again.

na mai.n tumse koii ummiid rakhuu.n dilnavaazii kii
I shall no longer maintain hopes of compassion from you
na tum merii taraf dekho ghalat andaaz nazaro.n se
Nor shall you gaze at me with your deceptive glances. 
na mere dil ki dhaDkan laDkhaDaaye merii baato.n me.n
My heart shall no longer tremble when I speak, 
na zaahir ho tumhaari kashm-kash ka raaz nazaro.n se
Nor shall your glances reveal the secret of your torment.

tumhe.n bhii koii uljhan roktii hai pesh-qadmii se
Complications prevent you from advancing further,
mujhe bhii log kahte hai.n ki yeh jalve paraaye hai.n
I too am told that I wear disguises. 
mere hamraah bhi rusvaayiaa.n hai.n mere maazii kii
The disgraces of my past are now my companions,
tumhaare saath bhii guzrii huii raato.n ke saaye hai.n
while the shadows of bygone nights are with you too.

taarruf rog ho jaaye to usko bhuulnaa bahtar
Should knowing one another become a disease, then it is best to forget it. 
taalluq
bojh ban jaaye to usko toDnaa achhaa
Should a relationship become a burden, then it is best to end it. 
voh afsaana jise anjaam tak laanaa na ho mumkin
For that tale which cannot culminate in a conclusion,
use ek khuubsuurat moD de kar chhoDna achhaa
it is best to give it a beautiful turn and leave it be.

chalo ek baar phir se, ajnabii ban jaaye.n ham dono.n
Come, let us become strangers once again. 

Glossary:

ajnabii: stranger; ummiid: hope; dilnavaazii: compassion; ghalat andaaz nazar: deceptive glance; laDkhaDaanaa: to tremble; zaahir: noticeable; kashm-kash: torment, struggle; uljhan: complication; pesh-qadmii karna: to advance; paraayaa jalva: disguise; hamraah: companion; rusvaa: disgrace; maazii: the past; taarruf: mutual acquaintance, knowledge of one another; rog: disease, afflication; taalluq: relationship; afsaanaa: tale; anjaam: conclusion; mumkin: possible; khuubsuurat: beautiful; moD; turn. 

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The expressions on the faces of Sunil Dutt, Mala Sinha, and Ashok Kumar  reflect the pervading tension of this situation from Gumraah (1963).