Film: Jeeva (1986)
Director: Raj N. Sippy
Singers: Asha Bhosle and Amit Kumar
The luxury of having a poet as a lyricist is only afforded by a composer who has the musical riches to match the poet’s versatility. A poet, like a free bird, soars and dives as per his will; while the composer, quite akin to a wildlife photographer, has to adapt with alacrity to capture that exact moment, for a perfect picture. Having lyricists to coin words or phrases for a tune, is the established norm in Hindi films. Crafting a tune around a prewritten, free-verse poetry − and making the composition immortal − calls for immense skill. A skill Rahul Dev Burman possessed in abundance. The best of his soulful, critically acclaimed output came to the free-flowing creations of poet extraordinaire Gulzar.
Pancham−Gulzar, the self-contained fellowship of two mavericks, has held us mesmerized by their astounding, sometimes bordering-on-the-audacious, creativity. They shared a camaraderie that allowed them to indulge in a creative banter − often prompting one to spur the other with a musical/cinematic challenge. The Times of India-esque challenge by Gulzar to Pancham for “Mera kuchh samaan” or the “Qatra qatra milti hai” counter poser by Pancham for Gulzar, during the making of Ijaazat (1987), are instances that every Panchamite likes to quote, sometimes with a dash of showmanship, to lesser mortals who aren’t in the know.
I have always been drawn to “Roz roz ankhon taley,” a rather under-celebrated achievement of the duo. Probably since it featured in a nondescript, insipid movie − Jeeva (1986), probably since it is picturized on the none-too-exciting jodi of Sanjay Dutt and Mandakini , probably since it is not from a movie written or directed by Gulzar, OR probably because of all of these, “Roz roz ankhon taley” has remained largely under the radar.
I would like to believe that this song too has a background story of a friendly challenge between the duo. I can almost imagine Pancham, on seeing the length of the poem, in genuine innocence, asking – “baaki gaana kahan hain?” and Gulzar smiling and saying – “Yehi hai. Ab dhun banaa.”
So, Gulzar’s challenge is a small poemlet, which can be easily transcribed on the back of a matchbox. Pancham’s stunning riposte is an 8-minute- long (yes, it is thaaat long) composition of heart-touching romance. The length of the song is not on account of long-winding musical preludes or interludes. It is an outcome of Pancham’s detailed deliberation over every verse of the poem, with unhurried passion and through multiple iterations. Each antara line is repeated and the hook line of the mukhda is revisited a record number of times (13 times, for the statistically minded) through this delectably long musical essay.
The hallmark of the song is in the way Pancham handles the iterations, adding an element of pleasant surprise to every repetition. You await the next repeat of the hook line, with a sense of longing, and Pancham’s variation in executing it, blows you away … every time.
The song kicks off with a mood-setting prelude, around the centerpiece of the enigmatic French horn riding on a layer of vibraphone, synth sounds and violins. The magical soft flute staccato ends in a wave of electric strings, welcoming the rich, golden voice of Asha Bhosle as she launches into the mukhda. The soft flutes, now beautifully relegated to the background, get the bass guitar for company as the tabla−maadal rhythm takes over fully in the next repeat. Asha’s vocals, punctuated by the flute notes, traverse the mukhda again, this time with a fantastic variation at “sapanaaa chaley ee ee.”
The mood of the song is definitely not that of a light, frothy love song. It is decidedly poignant, even bordering on the tentative, in keeping with the events to unfold on-screen. Pancham builds the aura through his instrumentation – French horn, flute, bass guitar and the flowing violins.
An observation about the structure of the poetry – while later verses of the poem (antara, if you please) have a meter of almost equal bars, the first few lines (mukhda, per popular parlance) has a meter with unequal bars. Sample this:
Roz roz ankhon taley
ek hi sapna chaley,
raat bhar kajal jaley,
aankh mein jis tarah, khwab ka diya jaley
Any regular composer would have just asked his lyricist to change the last verse to fit the meter bars. Pancham’s genius does not let this interfere with his melody. Just observe how he breaks the last line such that “aankh mein,” “jis tarah” and “khwab ka” are sung as a repeating pair, in the same tune.
The first interlude is a rich bed of melody crafted by the violins − with plucks of the electric guitar − and the flutes. “Jab se tumhare naam ki misri honth lagayi hai” goes the first verse of the antara and it is a dead Gulzar giveaway. Pancham matches the intensity of the poetry with a composition that is strong on melody and harnesses the singing prowess of the singers. On screen though, the subtlety of the emotion is entirely lost on the director who actually has the leading lady suggestively point at the honth (lips) when she lip-syncs the song! The repeat of the antara again has pleasant variations by Asha, with a fabulously loving pickup of “roz roz” at the crossover.
The second interlude, quite like the first, is brief and built around flowing violins and flutes. Asha’s singing for the next antara “Chhoti si dil ki uljhan hai” is a revelation. She brings forth the pathos and the longing, on the sheer strength of her singing. Her achingly beautiful rendition of “marna seekha do tum” is a standout. Pancham’s bass guitar and the flute notes do the rest.
At this point, if you believe that the song has peaked, you are in for a pleasant surprise. In true Pancham tradition of late entries by male singers, comes the magical and stunning entry by Amit Kumar. The rhythm dies, the staccato soft flute notes take to the background and Amit’s vocals take over. He sings the mukhda − and it’s an amazing repetition − in a manner that makes the song one of Amit Kumar’s best.
“…raat bhar kaajal jaley … eeeyyy” sings Amit Kumar and you know it is a Pancham touch. One can almost hear Pancham singing, adding these touches to the song, during the rehearsals and the studio recordings.
The last antara − following another brief and beautiful flute and French Horn-laced interlude – “ankhon par kuchh aise tumne” has wonderful voice modulation by Amit. Again the subtle variations during the repeats keep you hooked, until you reach the aahaa! moment in the song … a gasp-inducing variation of “ek hi sapna chaley eyy eyy” by Amit, at the very end.
The soundtrack continues − however, usually at this point I have zoned out. The only voice I hear is Pancham’s. Singing this song … trying one magnificent variant after another of “roz roz aakhon taley” and “ek hi sapna chaley.” Constantly improvising … continuously reinventing.
And along with his singing what stays back is that enigmatic French Horn … the haunting bass guitar … the poignant soft staccato flute notes … and that inexplicable lump in the throat.