Album: Pooja Album (1975)
Lyricist: Swapan Chakraborty
Singer: R. D. Burman
The sad songs of Rahul Dev Burman (Pancham) stand out for their simplicity and subtlety. The sorrow is never overdone and the songs lend dignity to both the singers and, in the case of films, the characters they were meant for. His mastery over orchestra always ensured that the instruments complemented the mood of the song perfectly.
One of the better songs written by Pancham’s associate Swapan Chakraborty, modhumas jaaye is a great example of how Pancham employed subtle musical effects to heighten the effect of melancholy and sadness. The song also proves what a great singer Pancham was.
As he did with many of his Bengali songs, Pancham used the tune to create another classic pyar hai ik nishan qadmon ka in the 1977 Hindi film Mukti. However, he asked the great Mohammad Rafi to sing the song, probably knowing that Rafi’s voice would be perfect for a song played in the background. More about that song later.
Returning to modhumas jaaye—the song has no prelude music, which is a bit surprising, but no…it was probably meant to be like that. The listener is immediately won over as Pancham starts singing modhumas jaaye after only a solitary stroke of the guitar. Does this single stroke of the guitar reflect the loneliness of the singer?
The song is about separation from a loved one. Pancham sings about what he experiences after parting from his beloved. The words are simple, yet extremely effective, as we shall soon see.
modhumas jaaye modhumas nai go bodhu
banshi aar taan dhore na ei kanone
jaage na haaye jaage na dheu jomunaye
jete nahi chaye bohiya aar ujane
Modhumas refers to the season of love, that is, spring. And it can also mean the time spent in the company of the beloved. That time has gone and there is no more of that togetherness—modhumas nai go bodhu. And what effect does this separation have on his world? In his garden of love (kanone), the flute (banshi) does not play the lovely tunes (taan dhore na) any more (probably the reference to Krishna playing his flute in the company of Radha?). Pancham’s singing is masterly—the way he lengthens dhore-e-na ei kano-o-ne to heighten the feeling of desolation! The next lines intrigue me the most. Reference is made of the river Yamuna, which no longer experiences waves (dheu) and has fallen silent, and the waves no longer want to flow against the tide (ujane). Here, Pancham is probably referring to overcoming obstacles in the path of love, saying that he no longer wants to fight those difficulties, and has given up. The river could be, and most probably is, a mirror of his heart, where there is no joy, only emptiness. However, something tells me (as I visualize it) that the song is more than that—it might be the story of Shahjahan looking out at the silent Yamuna and mourning the death of Mumtaz. Pay attention to Pancham’s rendition: the way he sings jaage na haaye again proves how much immersed he was in the soul of the song.
First interlude: Accordion followed by flute and violins, leading to the first antara. Noteworthy is how the same four notes are played repeatedly on the accordion, with gradually increasing speed, before being quietened all of a sudden. Why would Pancham want that sound? Is it because of what he will sing in the antara?
jhore jaaye shukno pata hawar saathey
chomoki uthey bhabi bodhu elo
bodhu-bin eka aami boshe aachhi
bohichhe shudhu hawa aaj dokhiney
The antara is about the end of the good season and the arrival of fall (here, referring to his broken heart). The dry leaves detach from the branches, float in air and are finally blown away (jhore jaye shukno pata hawar saathey). The accordion now makes perfect sense—relate the way the accordion plays with the movement of the dry leaves. The leaves float and then the breeze blows them away – the accordion plays the four notes, first slow and then fast, and suddenly dies out! The flute takes over with a melancholic phrase, relating to the sadness of the singer, and finally the violins echo the loneliness. Amazing! This interlude alone makes this a classic composition.
Meaning of the antara: As the leaves are blown away, I suddenly wake up from my stupor thinking that she has come. But no, that’s not to be. Loveless I sit alone and watch (or feel) the wind blow across.
An atmosphere of utter despair is created by the words and the music. Pay attention to how he sings (rather, breathes out) hawa in the last line of the antara—it nearly simulates the sound of the breeze!
Second interlude: Time for acceptance and time to see that all around the world is the same, with her absence being the only difference. That’s what the second interlude and antara are about. And what better than to have the peaceful santoor to replace the tormenting accordions! And then the melancholic sarangi and violins lead to the second antara:
aager-i moto moyur pekhom mele
aaj chand sudha-makha jochhona dhale
laage na haaye laage na kichhui bhalo
chahina jete je aar kunjo-boney
The peacock dances (the santoor of the interlude being the perfect complement) showing off its colorful feathers, just like in the past…and like before, the moon pours its cool (sudha-makha jochhona) rays even today. But alas, nothing can make me happy (laage na kichhui bhalo); I do not want to return to that garden of love! I think the words kanone used in the mukhda and kunjo-boney used in this antara both mean the same thing—the garden of love. No more treading that path.
Note how Pancham’s voice breaks, but ever so subtly, when he sings haaye in this antara. We have heard the great Kishore Kumar do this with perfection in a few sad songs, and that has an amazing impact on the listener. Pancham too mastered this technique and has used the voice break excellently in this song.
The composition and rendition create a picture of sadness and loneliness in the listener’s mind, which is a triumph for the composer who had only the medium of sound (with no visuals) for expression. Pancham, however, got a chance to translate his sublime tune into visuals when he composed music for the Raj Tilak-directed Shashi Kapoor–Vidya Sinha starrer Mukti in 1977. Rafi’s song in Mukti is more philosophical than Pancham’s original, which was more personal. And the use of certain sounds—for example, bells and the tanpura—to start the song, and a prelude of two lines by Rafi (mil jaati hai sansar mein sansar se mukti, milti nahin marke bhi magar pyar se mukti) make this a new song altogether. The prelude is followed by a fast spread of violins, most probably announcing of the titles in the film. The song is about loss, again, although here we see that Shashi Kapoor is falsely incriminated and his wife Vidya Sinha is made to believe that he is hanged. Vidya Sinha always feels his presence in her life, even after the separation, as expressed in the mukhda lines:
pyar hai ik nishan qadmon ka
jo musafir ke baad rehta hai
bhool jaate hain log sab lekin
kuchh na kuchh phir bhi yaad rehta hai
The purport of the second antara is more or less similar to that of the original—Anand Bakshi, who wrote the Hindi song, seems to have borrowed heavily, and rightly so, from Swapan Chakraborty’s lyrics. Pancham retains the interlude music of modhumas jaaye even in the Hindi version. It will be interesting to see how the film-maker interpreted the accordion and the santoor for the film’s situation. I probably now need a screening of Mukti!