Hoton pe beeti baat aayi hai

Film: Angoor (1981)

Lyricist: Gulzar

Producer: Jai Singh

Director: Gulzar

Singer: Asha Bhosle


Filmdom is replete with adaptations of the great Shakespeare’s enduring classics. From Hollywood remakes to Hindi cinema, the prolific stalwart’s amazing work has supplied the yarn for literally thousands of rewrites. More recently, we have enjoyed a Maqbool or an Omkara trying to capture that elusive essence of English literature’s biggest giant. But on the extensive canvas of Hindi films, none will have done him such justice as Angoor – Gulzar’s wink at his creation, The Comedy of Errors. That movie is a true classic in its own right, and my personal favorite!


Not any less memorable are Angoor’s brilliant songs; indeed, they form the most beautiful and utterly essential portions of the movie. If Gulzar is a unique storyteller, poet/lyricist and director, his talisman definitely was the singularly gifted Pancham – an insatiable genie who fulfilled his every wish. Either, being a very dear friend and a selfless individual, allowed the other that rare gift of space and artistic freedom to encourage a rare flight of heightened creativity that an artist so craves.


But even by their lofty standards, Angoor‘s “Hothon pe beeti baat aayi hai” is perhaps one of the finest demonstrations of artistic liberty and creative collaboration rolled into one.


To begin with, a lesser director wouldn’t even think of a song for the sequence in question. Moreover, for a composer to clearly contribute to the screenplay thereof is truly unheard of… but this was indeed a unique confluence of two great minds…

Why then, is this song so special, so timeless?

The setting seems to be a content, mildly warm night with Ashok (the incomparable Sanjeev Kumar) and Sudha (wonderfully portrayed by Moushumi) having retired to their bedroom at the end of the day. Sudha – a slightly pampered and slow-witted but beautiful housewife – leads a life of relative ease, needing to exert neither mind nor muscle for either day-to-day sustenance or for the occasional indulgence. This song at the start of the movie reveals her latest craving – a diamond necklace – as being the bone of contention between husband and wife, causing mild strife to either.


However, a feeling of spousal affection hangs lightly as we enter the sequence. Sanjeev Kumar, with brilliant timing, effortlessly portrays an Ashok caught between love and a cautious avoidance of the unsavory topic, slowly revealed through the song for the first time. Sudha, on the other hand, is shown taking the more assertive approach through the song and its enticing lyrics, calculated to reveal the underlying plot, albeit through subtle hints of unspoken romance.

All in all, it is the kind of intimate, beautifully sweet affair in the lives of the characters that only a director would be privy to…

But with his composer and dearest friend, Gulzar ventures out to make something way more memorable than any scene would have been… the scene is thus turned into song, the song becomes the scene; the screenplay and music merge, the roles of the two are magically reversed… and an incredible song-situation, worth savoring for the ages, manifests itself on screen. From the entire film’s perspective, the moment is pivotal, lying at the root of all the confusion and hilarity to unfold later.


It all begins with the camera focussed vaguely on Sudha’s bangles, about to come off her wrists. They spill onto the floor – or maybe she lets them – as the camera steadily follows their movement. On the sidelines, you almost do not notice as a lovely, sweet little prelude piece starts! As the bangles wobble softly to a halt, the vibraphone accompanying their motion slows down to stop near Ashok’s feet, from where the camera pans up his image with a beautifully played flute piece that ends the little prelude with a lovely flourish. It is hard to judge whether the scene was inspired by the opening prelude, or whether the latter was dictated by the scene. But it feels as though the falling bangles and vibraphone signify her impatience, the flute his calm, detached and underplayed demeanour. The prelude also brings in the song unheralded, stitched seamlessly into the scene without a wrinkle showing anywhere, just as a scene would cut to another. The music merges into – or derives from – happenings on screen.


Asha starts slowly, haltingly… “Hothon pe beeti… baat aayi hai“… what a singer! With just the right allure in her voice and a glint of mischief, she turns what seems an easy rendition into a memorable, saccharine-sweet beauty.


You hear the first guitar strums and sink back into your seat, cradled by sheer melody, ready to relish another assuredly beautiful Pancham delicacy. The percussion starts too, deliberately slow, woven together with the bass guitar that keeps company throughout. The accompaniment is purposely sparse, with no instrument jostling with another for space. The music is never overbearing on the scene but keeps pace with a private, intensely beautiful sequence.


As the interlude begins, Pancham pulls out his biggest weapon yet, and leaves you spellbound! Another mind-blowing fusion of music into screenplay – and vice versa – is witnessed, and is skilfully persisted with throughout the song… each time Moushumi appears on screen, the santoor plays, whereas the flute accompanies Sanjeev Kumar’s appearance. The combination is pure opium, utterly hypnotic! You wonder how someone could have edited a scene to a made-to-order, carefully designed musical piece, right down to the wonderful, goosebump-inducing electronic piece that plays just as Sudha pulls the curtains open in the middle of the antara a bit later. But such is the delight that can only be felt in a Pancham composition for Gulzar!


In fact, both interludes are mainly staged using the santoor-flute jugalbandi, with Sudha and Ashok alternating on the screen before us. Either instrument seems to suggest the underlying mood of its corresponding character, the response thereto from the counterpart, the light banter between the two. Pancham speaks the unspoken throughout the song, literally “expressing” with music what words cannot envelop… it is this abstract ability of his to ventilate our innermost feelings that makes him such a personal part of our lives – it is beyond melody, beyond all artistic finesse. There are just no words to describe it.


He uses the santoor to highlight Sudha’s light mood and alert, assertive role, whereas Ashok’s slightly cold attitude and passive reticence is so beautifully underscored by the flute. The flute’s rather cold response seemingly causes Sudha to assume a tone of entreaty, wonderfully covered by Pandit Ulhas Bapat’s rendition of the aching, drawn out meend on the santoor – a continuous tweak rather than the single, staccato notes the santoor normally plays. (The meend was Pandit Bapat’s invention, but the keenness of Pancham’s sense of sound is evident in the way he uses it so beautifully for just the right depiction!)


Gulzar’s lyrics are other-worldly… if the music they made together was delectable, the lyrics were always equally so. They seem to evoke memory of a similar, softly beautiful night in the not-too-distant past, when Ashok, in a state of disarmed naivety perhaps, must have made his now inconvenient commitment of love to Sudha… but the words Sudha uses to play it all back to him are just surreal!!!


Yaad to hogi, kuchh bhooli bisree,

Aise hee barsee thee, ‘chaand ki misree’,

Chaand ko chabaane ki raat aayi hai…”


Chaand ki misree” – what a beautiful, beautiful thought! Your mind fleets back to “Jab se tumhaare naam ki misree” from that utterly mesmerizing number from Pancham–Gulzar, “Roz roz aankhon taley.” Asha playfully holds the words in a mouthful and savors the juice in them – “chab-baane ki raat aayi hai…” – sheer genius all over! Gulzar’s numbing sensitivity, the abstract feel of his words leaves you flabbergasted.


The scene moves to the open terrace, as Ashok attempts to escape the congestion, and the second interlude begins. For the first time, the flute – or Ashok – finds release and expression in a small solo. It is a soothing melody with a smooth bass tone, making you feel the slow breeze, the open air that Ashok suddenly breathes, being blown into the flute as if…


Sudha comes on to the terrace now, following Ashok, glass of milk in hand… the meend plays again, the entreaty in its note enraptures you once more… the second antara plays…


Yaad hai us din, baarish bhee thee,

Chhat pe bheegi, khwaahish bhee thee…”

Bheegi khwaahish…” – once more, you are numbed by the use of words!

The attention to detail is so complete in each respect. Every sound mirrors a screen event, like some beautifully synchronized ballet. Instead of running through the crossover lines in both antaras, Pancham introduces a deliberate, teasing pause, abruptly breaking the lines, filling in a piece on what sounds like the sarod, thus letting the moment linger, then making Asha pick the lines again. Together, these geniuses fill that space in a way that it never occurs to us that it is a scene engineered to perfection, not just coincidence. In a masterstroke, the first antara fills the visual void with a sudden extinguishing of the table lamp, whereas in the second, the glass of milk drops in passing through the couple’s hands to the same effect.


As the second antara now draws to an end, and Sudha’s persuasion wanes, Asha ends the song like some sweet lullaby putting the night to sleep… the song recedes as Pancham makes it step gently away from the cradle of his creation, with the same soft feet of the vibraphone that brought it in… and an entire epic is played out in a small capsule of time, in less than four minutes of an unhurried, non-prosaic and “musical” narration…


Dazed in admiration, Gulzar’s own lines vaguely play at the back of my mind… there are possibly no better words to highlight the immortality of Pancham’s music:


Bas, itni si jaan hoti hai gaane ki, ek lamhen ke jitni…

haan, kuchh lamhein barson zindaa rehte hai…

Geet boodhe nahi hotey, unke chehron par jhurriyaan nahi girti,

wo palte rehte hai, chalte rehte hai…”


 Shirish Prabhudesai