Not just froth and fun: Excerpt from Akshay Manwani’s book on Nasir Husain
Here, the author looks at Husain’s close relationship with lyricist Majrooh Sultanpuri and music director RD Burmanbooks Updated: Nov 05, 2016 17:32 IST
A point needs to be made here about Majrooh Sultanpuri. There is no denying that Husain and he shared a great affinity. Mansoor said as much, ‘Majrooh uncle enjoyed working with my dad immensely because my dad would give him examples with a sher or a phrase or some anecdote from a literary point of view.’ And in every one of these songs, Majrooh was able to give the right expression to Husain’s narrative requirements through song. He enjoyed his working relationship with Husain. ‘While working with Guru Dutt, I used to feel that I was working with a colleague. I’ve had the same feeling when working with one other director, Nasir Husain. The feeling is that you’re working with an equal, that we were both on the same level. With other people I felt employed by a producer/director and that I am his songwriter. There is a feeling of distance, which was there with everyone, but not with Guru Dutt. With him there prevailed an atmosphere of friendship. And because he was a decent man there was no cheap humour, forced laughter, the kind of thing one got used to later. He was not that kind of man. Like my friend Nasir Husain, I mentioned his name because as I talk of working with Guru Dutt, Nasir also comes to mind.’
There is another interesting aspect at work in the Husain–Majrooh collaboration. Majrooh often took grammatical liberties to cater to the demands of song-writing. For instance, for Aar Paar’s title track, he wrote, ‘Kabhi aar, kabhi paar, laga teer-enazar’. The words ‘aar-paar’, like the film’s title, are always used in tandem, but Majrooh conveniently used them separately to come up with a very popular song. In the same film, he also wrote, ‘Sunn sunn sunn sunn zaalima, pyaar humko tumse ho gaya’. This is incorrect because as Javed Akhtar explained to me, ‘When you are saying “sunn”, you can’t say “tum”. It should have been “tujh” or it could have been “suno”. But he [Sultanpuri] felt that “tujh” would not sound correct musically. He took liberties with grammar for the sake of better phonetics.’
Majrooh’s liberties for the sake of phonetics or for narrative purposes are visible right through his work with Husain. In Yaadon Ki Baaraat’s ‘Chura liya hai tumne jo dil ko’, he writes the line ‘Sajaoonga lutkar bhi tere badan ki daali ko’ for Vijay’s entry into the song. The hummable nature of the melody allows us to waft past this line, but a more careful examination reveals Majrooh’s comparison of a woman’s beauty, more specifically her body, with the branch of a tree (badan ki daali). In the very next line Majrooh writes, ‘lahu jigar ka doonga haseen labon ki laali ko’, meaning ‘I will douse your beautiful lips with the blood from my heart’. It’s a very graphic description, one that Majrooh gets away with given the lilting nature of the song. The only reason one can guess Majrooh used these words – ‘daali’ and ‘laali’ – or such imagery – ‘badan ki daali’ and ‘lahu jigar ka doonga’ – is to get the meter right. He was too much of a thoroughbred for such lyrical ‘adventurism’ to be assigned to his naiveté.
There are more such instances. In the Yaadon Ki Baaraat title song, the opening lines are ‘Yaadon ki baaraat nikli hai aaj dil ke dwaarey…’ The use of ‘dwaarey’, a rather non-poetic word, in an isolated manner sounds funny. It, however, makes perfect phonetic sense when used in the context of the lyrical meter of the song, which has words like ‘pukaarey’, ‘pyaarey pyaarey’ and ‘sang humaaraey’. For Caravan’s ‘Piya tu’, Monica sings, ‘Tann ki jwaala thandi ho jaaye, aisey galey laga ja’. What is to be debated is whether ‘tann ki jwaala’, a rather crude expression, remains true to the idiom used by Monica in the film. The scene which introduces Monica in the film has her use lines like ‘Stay there, you blooming rascal!’ and ‘tum mere jism se khele ho’. The only reason for her to use ‘tann ki jwaala’ then is that the carnality of the song is perhaps best expressed with those three words. Also, as music expert Manohar Iyer explained to me, Majrooh’s lyrics ‘tann ki jwaala thandi ho jaaye aisey galey laga ja’ are not very different from Sahir’s ‘Aaj sajan mohey ang laga lo… hriday ki peeda, deh ki agni, sab sheetal ho jaaye’ for Pyaasa. But while Sahir’s song is for a baul singer in Pyaasa, it is Majrooh’s vocabulary that makes it perfect for the cabaret in Caravan.
Raza Mir laughed when I discussed Majrooh’s inventiveness in these songs and said, ‘True, true. But kya karein? (What to do?) This is Majrooh.’ Raza then drew me back to the same comment about the playful nature of Husain’s cinema and added, ‘That is why Majrooh’s lyrics are a little more playful than normal. I guess there is a little bit of instruction and a little bit of freedom.’
Freedom or instruction, music was at the core of Husain’s film universe. Majrooh probably understood this given how his heartbreaking words are trumped by RD’s bubbly composition in ‘Kya hua tera waada’. Or that in the ‘Aa dil kya’ segment of the medley, the mukhda plays out almost disjointedly – ‘Aa – dil kya – mehfil hai tere – kadmon mein aa’ – alongside RD’s changing musical notes. The last bit, ‘kadmon mein aa’, is even sacrificed each time the song heads into its antara, ‘Duniya ki bahaare tere liye’, leaving the mukhda somewhat incomplete the second time round. But Majrooh’s ability to match this buoyancy, this peppiness, while playing an active part in furthering Husain’s screenplays and taking his cue from the music is what perhaps made him special to Husain. He may not have written a ‘Hum bekhudi mein tumko pukaarey chale gaye’ (Kala Pani, 1958) or ‘Jaltey hain jiske liye’ (Sujata, 1959) for Husain, but his willingness to bend the odd grammatical rule, use unconventional words (‘chulbula’, ‘qibla’), be innovative, funny and also make compromises in terms of imagery and metaphors, show a pliant but master technician at work.
But to return to RD, the composer certainly enjoyed pre-eminence among Husain’s technicians. ‘He fell in love with Pancham,’ Bhanu-da told me. ‘They were indeed very close. Like family. For no rhyme or reason he would come and sit in Pancham’s house. Anything Nasir sa’ab would do, any occasion, Pancham had to be there.’ Homi Mullan spoke of Pancham’s fondness for Husain, ‘He had a special affinity for Nasir sa’ab. He used to work very hard for him.’ Both Bhanu-da and Homi also confirmed both men’s shared love for food, be it biryani or Bengali cuisine.
Husain, possibly, even exploited their relationship to his advantage when he cast RD in Pyar Ka Mausam. RD plays Jhatpat Singh’s (Rajendra Nath) secretary, who regularly uses the phrase, ‘Very true’, sounding cuckoo-clock like, to humorous effect. RD had acted only once before in Hindi cinema, in Mehmood’s Bhoot Bangla (1965). There, too, he had a regular taqia-kalaam, ‘Main khaa raha hoon (I am eating)’. Husain had seen RD and was, probably, convinced of his composer’s comic timing. But RD was apprehensive. ‘Kahaan phansa raha hai? Yeh gadbad cheez hai (Where are you involving me? This is fraught with trouble),’ Bhanu-da recalled Pancham telling Husain. Homi Mullan confirmed RD’s trepidations, remarking, ‘He said, “Am I a music director or an actor?” But he couldn’t say no to Nasir sa’ab. It worked well.’
Aamir detailed Husain’s relationship with RD vis-à-vis the film-maker’s association with Majrooh. ‘With Majrooh sa’ab, Nasir sa’ab’s relationship was more of an equal, age or seniority wise. Majrooh sa’ab was someone he would call “Majrooh sa’ab”. And if I am not mistaken, Majrooh sa’ab would call him “Nasir”. I never heard Nasir sa’ab calling him Majrooh. With Pancham uncle, who was younger than him, Chachajaan would call him “Pancham”. He never said Pancham-ji or Pancham-da. And Pancham used to call him Nasir sa’ab. With Pancham uncle it was more playful. Pancham uncle used to look up to him because he was part of the initial stage of his career. Between Pancham uncle and Chachajaan, it was like Pancham uncle was his younger brother. And they have created mad stuff. If you look at Caravan,’ Aamir paused, took a deep breath and then started singing ‘Daiyya yeh main kahaan aa phansi’. ‘I mean what a song!’