“‘In the first half of the song, Ganguly’s adlib singing ‘speaks’ of Khairun’s drudgery, loneliness, daily struggle and confinement within the village house. In contrast, the theka/rhythm appearing in the second half introduces movement/motion, which signifies Hassan’s travel and travails in the city. But, he is also suffering from confinement in that city. Both the characters are lonely in their respective worlds – village and city,” writes Shruti Ghosh.
Like many others, I too have been mesmerized and enthralled by Chhaya Ganguly’s unforgettable rendition of Makhdoom Mohiuddin’s famous ghazal, ‘aap ki yaad ati rahi raat bhar’ (Your memories kept haunting me all night), put to tune by Jaidev in Muzaffar Ali’s film Gaman. In the course of watching/hearing the song repeatedly over some years now, the music and picturisation has drawn my attention towards the ‘cinematic’ quality the sequence holds in it which in turn facilitates a deeper reading of this song sequence.
Hassan takes out the notes from his pocket and counts them with eagerness. Does he have enough money to return home? Does he have enough to send some money home? Will he ever have what he can call ‘enough’? The camera draws closer towards Hassan’s fingers and the shot ends, giving way to the next one, which begins with a close-up of Khairun’s (Hassan’s wife) hands. Sitting quietly by the edge of the bed, as she attends her ailing mother-in-law, her deep and eloquent eyes speak of an unending wait for Hassan.
Chhaya Ganguly’s beautifully melancholic voice is heard as she sings the opening lines. The song sequence juxtaposes between Hassan (Farookh Sheikh) driving the taxi on the streets of Bombay at night and Khairun (Smita Patil) performing the routine household chores as the night deepens in their village (near UP). They are thinking about each other (yaad means both ‘remembering’ and ‘memory’ in this case) as they eagerly wait for their reunion. While the opening lines ‘Your memories kept haunting…’ speaks of a particular night, a close look at the sequence reveals that the tune, musical arrangement and the picturisation makes the song speak for countless nights of separation and continuous remembrance of the separated lovers.
The first half of the song is sung in adlib, i.e. without any rhythm or percussion. Ganguly’s earthy voice along with subtle and deep sounding sarod notes and the flute lends both pensiveness and sweetness to the melody. The picturisation shows a distracted Khairun who attends to her mother-in-law, gets up from bed and goes to the pitcher to pour herself a glass of water, goes to the kitchen to sprinkle water over the chulha, runs her fingers over a basket of vegetables not knowing why, and then sits for a while engrossed in some thoughts. Then she gets up again, walks towards the door, locks it and gets back to the edge of the bed. All this while, the camera (through mid-close up and track shot) patiently follows and observes Khairun. She takes out Hassan’s letter and runs her fingers through it. The camera gradually draws closer to her face. The mukhra, ‘aap ki yaad’ is heard (again) and the rhythm/theka (8/16beats) is introduced. The song shifts to Bombay to focus on Hassan. Through a series of mid close-up /close-up shots we see Hassan driving the taxi through the streets of Bombay at night. The rows of neon lights on both sides of the street, glide across the windshield of the moving taxi appearing like a string of pearls or a series of moon and we hear ‘yaad ki chaand dil mein utarti rahi/chandni jagmagati rahi’ (your memory like recurrent moons, kept entering my heart/moonlight gleamed all night). The mukhra is repeated once more. Then the music continues for a brief period and gradually fades away. The well lit high rise, billboards, advertisements, cinema halls and restaurants flash upon the windshield while Hassan drives on, (almost) undisturbed, unmoved by anything.
In the first half of the song, Ganguly’s adlib singing ‘speaks’ of Khairun’s drudgery, loneliness, daily struggle and confinement within the village house. In contrast, the theka/rhythm appearing in the second half introduces movement/motion, which signifies Hassan’s travel and travails in the city. But, he is also suffering from confinement in that city. Both the characters are lonely in their respective worlds – village and city. The tune is repetitive, monotonous yet melodious. The subtle and continuous strumming of guitar, the recurrent notes on sarod appearing as punctuation along with minimal percussion heightens the monotony. The flute adds relief without disturbing the melancholic mood lying at the very core of the song. But what lends the strong its brilliance is the theka and its delayed entry into the song and the corresponding picturisation. Although, admittedly, Hindi film music enjoys autonomy where the song (and dance) sequences can be enjoyed separately, without having the need to watch the entire film, but the music is required to suit the medium for which it is being used. More often than not, most compositions are musically rich but not cinematic. At the same time, it is as much a responsibility of the director and choreographer to ‘picturise’ the corresponding visual in a manner to do justice to the music/song. ‘Aap ki yaad’, remains a classic example of an extremely cinematic song sequence. Unlike the common practice of lip-syncing in Hindi films, Khairun and Hassan do not sing. The song plays at the background. The characters enact quotidian actions as they appear in the sequence. Their gestures do not demonstrate the meanings of the lyrics—a practice that has in many ways passed from Indian classical dance forms to Hindi films, where the performers use expressive hand movements and facial expressions to convey the meaning of the lyrics. In this sequence, it is the contrast between the passionate lyrics and restrained and mundane actions of the performers which intensifies the mood.
A masterstroke is the use of raag Bhairavi in some parts of the song. (It would be wrong to conclude that the entire song is solely based on this raag.) Bhairavi, generally identified as a morning raga is used in this sequence foregrounding the happenings of a night. Also, Bhairavi is said to arouse a feeling of reverence and love when one feels close to the Supreme Being, who can also be interpreted as one’s beloved. Khairun and Hassan are seeking this closeness, but they are separated. Bhairavi, in this sequence, adds sombreness to the tune and intensifies the sense of longing and waiting. In doing so, it points towards that much awaited dawn, when the wait would be over, when the lovers would be reunited. Hence Bhiravi’s association with morning is not denied, but is delayed, much like the theka.
Let us return to the ‘theka’. The ‘theka’, a commonly used term in Hindustani classical music and dance, literally means a support. It is the rhythmic pattern which runs continuously along a musical/dance composition to show the cyclical movement of time within that musical piece. It is a beat played at a consistent tempo where the first and the last (or the beginning and ending) beat is the same, thus engendering a cyclical pattern. It is repetitive, simple, and mathematically precise in a manner such that it turns itself into apparently a boring thing, something insignificant and almost self-effacing. One gets drawn towards the lyrics, tune and other adornment, gradually moving away from paying attention to the theka. The song plays upon this repetitive nature of theka as the cyclical time movement exudes sense of perpetual confinement and longing of both the characters. The cyclical pattern, which in musical terms refers to movement of time, signifies a ‘space’ in the film, a space of confinement for Hassan (city) and Khairun (village). Hassan drives a taxi from one end of the city to the other with an aim to earn enough money so that he can go back to his village. The more he travels, the more he tries to gather money, it seems, the more he realises the difficulty of returning. He keeps on moving/travelling but only within the city.
Also noteworthy is the manner in which the theka moves. In my opinion, it evokes reminiscences of Muharram celebrations, the drum playing of Tasha party in particular. Although the historical and political context of Muharram and this song sequence is different, but the theka forges a connection through themes of (Husayin’s) suffering, longing, displacement and the continuing remembrance of Husayin’s martyrdom in Karbala battle.
The theka serves dual function. Along with expressing confinement, the theka signifies ‘transcendence’, in the sense of crossing over. Trance is born out of repetitive actions. Trance causes change or a shift from one to the other. The song does not stop at a specific beat or a word. It continues even after Ganguly’s singing stops. The theka and the music linger on and gradually fade away with images of Hassan’s lone taxi ride filling the screen. The lingering music induces the monotony and melancholia to transcend the borders/limits of a particular night, a city, a couple. The theka, the sarod notes, the mukhra, the strumming of guitar— each of these keep coming back (aati rahi), reminding us that yaad/memory— as things/objects, is sustained through memory as habit or repetitive actions. It is through continuous remembrance that memories are formed, enlivened and sustained. ‘Yaad’ seems to recur for Khairun and Hassan, each night, every night. Instances of this recurrence are hinted through the visuals as mentioned earlier. Khiarun’s solitary actions in the house or Hassan’s relentless work in the city are part of their habitual experience, within which ‘yaad’— both as remembering and things/objects—form an integral part. Thus it no more remains the story of a particular night.
Confinement and transcendence go hand in hand. The flowing notes of the flute acts like a message coming from a far off land. It is a message travelling between distant spaces and separated hearts who are seeking (re) union with their beloved. Thus with each recurrent note, theka, and mukhra, the names of the lovers change, their homes change, their villages change. Along with Khairun and Hassan, several other faces gather up amidst neon lights, winding city streets and yellow taxis, as we see several migrant labourers being continuously displaced from their homes and families in search of livelihood. The flickering flames of sorrow, the recurring moon, the gleaming moonlight, the glistening tear-filled eyes, the memories which keep haunting Khairun and Hassan all night make ‘aap ki yaad’ a beautifully evocative composition which tells the tale of the agonising voices of those who are trapped between continuous ‘living’ and ‘leaving’.
Shruti Ghosh is a trained Kathak dancer, teacher and choreographer. She has a Masters Degree in Film Studies from Jadavpur University, Kolkata, and has published on dance and film-music/dance in journals and anthologies. She has collaborated with dance, theatre, and film artists in India and Australia, and performed in India, Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra, London and many parts of Kazakhstan. Currently, she is working as a dance teacher and performer at Swami Vivekananda Cultural Center, Embassy of India, Kazakhstan.
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