With film-based books, our enjoyment is two-fold. We enjoy the memories in the book. And we enjoy our own memories that rise from these memories
In Nasreen Munni Kabir’s Conversations With Waheeda Rehman, the actor talks about a problem with a costume she had to wear for the ‘Kahin Pe Nigahen’ song sequence in C.I.D. But before we get to that, let’s recall how memorably the lyrics aid this stretch where a woman uses dance to distract the villain from finding the hero, who’s hidden in a room upstairs.
As the villain climbs the stairs and nears the room where the hero is hiding, we get the lyrics, ‘Aayaa Shikaari O Panchhi Tu Sambhal Ja / Dekh Jaal Hai Zulfon Ka Tu Chupke Se Nikal Ja’. Loosely speaking, the lines speak to a ‘bird’, cautioning it that a hunter is approaching, and asks it to look out for long locks of hair — a clue. Sure enough, the hero finds a painting of a woman with long hair. He slides it to one side and a trapdoor opens. He escapes.
It’s always nice to encounter a song situation that’s useful and not just a tension-breaker that’s brought on because there’s been too much dialogue and drama and some relief is needed. It’s nicer still when every element — along with these lyrics, the music (playfully seductive, as the woman is trying to be) and the choreography (that positions her around the villain, impeding his progress, even while providing her the abhinaya to go with the lyrics) — uses into an organic whole.
Later in the book, Rehman, who played the dancer in this song, recalls the numbers in Pyaasa. “In the 1960s, I remember some of my directors asked me how the song ‘Ye Duniya Agar Mil Bhi Jaaye’ was shot. They tried to film a scene in that style, but it did not work because that song came out of a situation, which worked perfectly in Pyaasa and could not be applied to another film.” Came out of a situation — that’s got to be the cardinal rule behind every song.
Coming back to ‘Kahin Pe Nigahen’, Rehman remembers that she had to wear a long skirt with a long-sleeved lace blouse. “The problem was the blouse I was given to wear had no lining and I refused to wear it. [The director] Raj Khosla was most irritated. The choreographer Zohra Sehgal tried convincing me: ‘There’s nothing wrong with the blouse. You’re just a kid. In the scene, you’re trying to seduce the villain’. I said I didn’t know anything about seduction, but what I did know was that I had no intention of wearing a see-through blouse...”
“Then they called [the producer] Guruduttji who was writing Pyaasa with Abrar Alvi somewhere in Khandala. The phone lines were terrible in those days. Somehow Raj Khosla got through to him and said: ‘Your girl is too demanding. She is not coming on the set and Dev Anand is waiting. He has to leave for Switzerland and has no time to waste — you know his wife, Mona, is about to give birth.’ Dev’s son Suneil was in fact born in Switzerland in June 1956.”
This stretch, right here, encapsulates all the reasons we like reading books about celebrities. For one thing, there are all the memory triggers. It’s been a while since I watched C.I.D., so I looked up the song on YouTube and didn’t find the blouse all that objectionable — but that was the mid-1950s. Imagine, then, how scandalous it must have been when Meena Kumari, a few years earlier, took a bath in Footpath — stripping, soaping, showering, and singing ‘Kaisa Jadu Dala Re’. And think, too, that Rehman, who was so opposed to bold clothing, would prove to be far less rigid when it came to bold characters — such as Rosie in Guide.
Then there are the sub-memories, about other characters around this book’s protagonist. Zohra Sehgal was the choreographer (Isn’t it fun imagining her issuing one-three-four orders?). The immortal Pyaasa was being written as this song was being filmed. And what do you know, the legendary Suneil Anand was born in Switzerland a little after this shooting was completed.
Mock all you want, but Suneil Anand is something of a legend — not because of his films such as Car Thief, where Vijayta Pandit shook off her virginal image from Love Story with an alfresco lovemaking moment by a lake, but because his first film, Anand Aur Anand, is possibly the only latter-day Dev Anand movie where the senior actor, who liked nothing more than to co-star with really young heroines, actually acted a senior. For the sake of his son, he played a father — with greying hair.
In these books, our enjoyment is two-fold. We enjoy the memories of the subject. And we enjoy our own memories, our own flashbacks that rise from this reading. We are reminded of the countless times we have sighed at the Censor Board’s cluelessness when Rehman talks about reshooting the title song of Chaudhvin Ka Chand in colour. “The Censor Board wanted the song re-censored and asked us to remove a close-up where I am seen turning my face towards the camera. They said my eyes looked too red and sensual. Guruduttji said my eyes were red because of the strong lighting and explained the characters were husband and wife, and so where was the problem?”
Another nugget that I found really interesting had to do with lip-syncing songs, something I usually don’t buy in the movies. Rockstar was the rare film where an actor convinced me that he was singing. I wrote in my review: “Ranbir Kapoor is exceptionally good as this shattered songster... his depiction of a singer is one of the truest in the movies. When he strives for a high note, his eyes scrunch up and the cords in his neck jut out like jumper cables. At other times, he delivers a line and then steps back, eyes closed, mimicking an artist who is in the zone, possessed by the music, and sometimes he nods appreciatively, knowing that he’s pulled off something great. He shows us the strain of creating music and then he shows us that he savours it.”
Rehman says she strove for something similar, actually singing along with the playback track. “I may be singing out of tune, but you can see the neck veins protrude slightly — that’s how you know I’m singing.” Too often, songs are considered a make-believe aspect of our films, but we have to be convinced about the emotion behind the song and the fact that this actor is experiencing that emotion while rendering this song. That’s as good a measure of an actor’s skill as his felicity with dialogues. After all, aren’t songs simply dialogues wrapped in a tune?