The God of all things

Meeting pointA still from “Jodhaa Akbar”

Meeting pointA still from “Jodhaa Akbar”  

It’s not easy to say why you like a song. Transferring an aesthetic experience is the impossible task of making the intangible, tangible. Let me try this. There’s a song in the film Lagaan , “Radha Kaise Na Jale” (Javed Akhtar). A beautiful song composed by A.R. Rahman, rendered most beautifully by Asha Bhosle and Udit Narayan. I also feel that in a good song many things come together – which is more than just music, in this one, the lyrics and the choreography too. The song is about Krishna-Radha love. It starts on a combative, emphatic angry high, to the background of beats on a frame drum. Radha asks Krishna (Radha Kaise Na Jale?) in a refrain: “How can Radha not be enraged? You have a roving eye – you indulge every Gopi who you come across,” she accuses him. “That’s the reason why Radha is incensed,” (Is Liye Radha Jale) she adds.

While the song invokes all the images from the epic, it is however about a village couple (played by Aamir Khan and Gracy Singh), who discuss the problems of their love raising it to mythical heights, to the life of Krishna-Radha. After the initial strident notes, the song has a predominant flute track, invoking more of Krishna and Vrindavan. The flute passages are ethereal, in fact, they talk. The background score is minimal, soft with no electronic sounds. If the use of human voices sets it in the present and the past simultaneously, the veena and the flute transport you to a transcendental realm, and this contrast created within the melody is not without a purpose. The song is conversational – Radha has doubts, Krishna responds: the nature of their dialogue is a tussle between the physical and metaphysical. For instance, Radha says, “Krishna is always out with the gopis”, “he’s distracted” etc. Krishna, on his part, replies, “Radha is the moon and the gopis are but stars”, “Morning to night my heart is pining and calling out only to Radha”, “Love has a different language, Radha is supposed to understand the unsaid”, and finally, “The love for Krishna may blossom is many hearts, but why should that anger Radha?” – it goes on. So, the landscape of the song, is also that of the poem — from time now to a timelessness. The choreography of the song is equally sensitive, it is lilting, gentle and has a folk innocence. In reality, the people of the village may have a problem if their protagonist has a roving eye, but as he dons the role of Krishna and speaks of his eternal love in enduring terms, they enjoy it, and playfully tease Radha about her baseless anger. The song is one of A.R. Rahman’s best.

In the film Jodhaa Akbar , there is “Man Mohana”. The song begins as a prayer by Jodha to her god Krishna: eventually it turns into a song of love, after all Krishna being a symbol of it. There is an interesting reversal in this song from the previous song, as also the use of the passion loaded refrain, Man Mohana which is not merely a turning point in the song, but also in the life of Jodhaa as the film portrays it. She speaks of surrender to the eternal master, however, in the spirit of Krishna, both Jodhaa and Akbar submitting to their love. From the devotional plane it moves to the real. Invoking the Krishna imagery, the song ultimately speaks of love for her beloved. The song has two parts as far as Jodhaa is concerned — the second half clearly moves to a tenderness — but for Akbar it is the call of love from the beginning. By the end of the song, like the unconventional God Krishna for whom love is above everything, the protagonists transcends barriers of religion, and also merge it in love.There is a haunting song in the film Geet Gaata Chal composed by Ravindra Jain, “Shyam Tere Bansi”, sung by Arti Mukherjee and Jaspal Singh. The central metaphor of this song is the flute. The manner in which Radha and Meera respond to it, also makes for the difference in how each listener perceives the flute. The song finds fault with this world that takes the name of Radha and Meera in the same breath, while their love actually constitutes two different realms. Therefore, the song becomes a platform to discuss human misunderstandings, but it does so on a grand scale, invoking mythological characters and saints.

Let us look at “Yashomati Maiyya Se” (Narendra Sharma) from Satyam Shivam Sundaram with music by Lakshmikant Pyarelal and rendered by Manna Dey and Lata Mangeshkar. The song is almost an answer to the Indian fetish for fair complexion. Written in the folk vocabulary, Yashoda says, ‘Nandalala, you are such a charmer, what has colour got to do with it!!’.

There are any number of Krishna songs that one can list from the films, and it is fascinating to see how flexible this God is in lending himself to a whole range of issues. “Bada Natkat Hai Re” ( Amar Prem ), “Mukunda Mukunda” ( Dashavataram ), “Krishna Nee Begane Baro” ( Paris Pranaya ) and hundreds more. There is perhaps no other God, from any other religion, who ignites popular imagination like Krishna does. Various episodes from his life are picked up, juxtaposed with real life situations, and answers are sought through the mythical route.

What then is popular art doing? Popular art, like any art form, produces a rasanubhava (aesthetic experience). In the cases that are taken up in the current column, the aesthetic experience is however of a different order — it juxtaposes two worlds together. On the one hand it achieves a fluidity between these two worlds it invokes, as a result of which it heightens your aesthetic experience. This is an alternate route, something that the Kavya world or Indian poetics and aesthetics believed in. The responsibility of a work of art is to broaden, elevate and deepen the responses of its audience. It needs to restore the moral order, and have a healing effect on the inner self, the antahkarana . This is the route that great literary masters like Shakespeare, Bhavabhuti, and Anton Chekov walked on. Popular imagination is close on the heels.

It is fascinating to see how flexible this God is in lending himself to a whole range of issues

Dynamic duo

Jodhaa Akbar was AR Rahman’s third collaboration with Ashutosh Gowarikar after Lagaan (2001) and Swades (2004). The duo teamed up again for Mohenjo Daro (2016).

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