Movie: Phir Wahi Raat (1980)
Producer: N.N. Sippy
Director: Danny Denzongpa
Lyrics: Majrooh Sultanpuri
Singer: Lata Mangeshkar
Hindi movie’s fascination with the “woman in white” theme has been very prolific and has served thrilling moments over the decades – surprisingly it still reigns. I guess nothing is spookier than the lady in a white saree, which also symbolizes the morbid mood of death and mourning. From Mahal, Madhumati, and Woh Kaun Thi to Phir Wahi Raat, Jal Mahal and Jaise Ko Taisa – it has usually been the woman who has haunted the lead hero/heroine and the audience alike.
Another interesting aspect of this genre in Hindi cinema has been the consistent (almost a lion’s share) use of Lata Mangeshkar to provide the playback for such situations.
Phir Wahi Raat was actor Danny’s directorial debut (in fact the only movie he directed) and he promised thrills galore in this venture that included all the elements of a horror movie – black cat, a perennially traumatized Kim, Shashikala with long nails, various ladies in white, murder, a maali kaka played by A. K. Hangal, Rajesh Khanna playing the investigative doctor, and good old thrilling soundtrack by good friend Rahul Dev Burman.
Pancham designed the soundtrack to cater for all the twists and turns in the movie – from the haunting title music to songs that have Rajesh Khanna romancing Kim with his traditional nod and dance steps, the haunting Lata score, the fun-filled Rafi song and a party song to provide relief from the suspense. For the soundtrack, Pancham uses the piano as the signature instrument – its keys effectively bring forth all the elements of suspense and horror.
“Bindiya tarse” is designed as the main (and only) “suspense” song and Danny effectively uses the song in at least three situations within the movie. This also demonstrates the over-complexity of the script, which muddles and ends up breaking the momentum.
Lata Mangeshkar has been the choice for playback each time Pancham has scored for the “lady in white” scenario – be it for south Indian actress Sri Vidya in Jaise Ko Taisa or Rekha in Jal Mahal. (Note: Interestingly, Lata Mangeshkar is usually seen wearing white (sari) in real life). Lata’s vocal range effectively traverses the high notes that end up sending shivers up the spine. At the same time, her vocals also provide the melodious and serene mood to the proceedings.
The song starts ominously with the three notes on the piano, which end up as the signature sound throughout the movie when a thrilling moment occurs. Pancham employs the 4-beat cycle with the percussions delivering his signature dhin-chak rhythm that we have heard in many of his compositions. Violins, guitars, congas, tablas, bass and the piano are the key instruments – besides various small percussion instruments that provide the necessary startling sounds. Just like Lata Mangeshkar’s vocal range, one can term the orchestration for this composition to be lavish.
For vocals, Pancham uses the twin-vocals/echo sound effect (to chilling effect), which he has patented and perfected to a fine art – from Baharon Ke Sapne to Ijaazat. Over the years, he has employed many technical and composition-based experiments to deliver some stunning artifacts of dual vocal overlaps – usually with the same singer.
For “Bindiya tarse,” Pancham introduces the second (ghostly) vocals gradually, ratcheting up the suspense or thrill. The initial presence is felt at the end of the first antara – as the second voice echoes Lata’s “Na na na na....” It is amazing to note the aural separation of the two vocal tracks in the published recording, which unfortunately is in Mono.
One quickly forgets about the second voice (ghost) as the piano takes over in the following interlude music – with the familiar 3-bar start but that ends with an interesting variation/pause. In the second antara, the spooky factor is ratcheted as yet again the second vocals joins at the end of the antara. However, this time the second vocal remains present throughout the linking mukhda line (“Bindiya tarse kajra barse”) to deliver an alaap in parallel.
One can say that the ghost (second vocal) has not taken complete possession and is an equal partner to the main vocal track in the third antara. But wait – there is still one thrill remaining. This time around at the end of the antara – the main vocal fades into the same “Na na na…,” but it fades into the ghostly alaap. And the ghostly second vocal track leaps into singing the main vocals – the linking mukhda line (“Bindiya tarse kajra barse”). In an interesting twist, the transformation is complete and now one is left wondering about the identity of the lady in white.
When it comes to picturization, Danny splits the song and employs the parts in three distinct instances in the movie. The initial instance is aesthetically directed – as Danny sets up the spooky ambience by having the camera explore the dimly lit interiors of the lavish bungalow/palace. The camera pauses at the piano (to indicate it might be playing on its own), at the clock (when Lata sings, “Dhal gayi raina”) to indicate the advent of night, at the switched-off chandelier and burnt-out fireplace (when Lata mentions “Bujh gayi baati”) to indicate the end of light and advent of darkness. The camera moves up the elaborate stairs and approaches the individual rooms where Rajesh Khanna, Kim and Aruna Irani (respectively) are in deep slumber. As is required in a suspenseful thriller, Danny employs start-and-stop to the song (to elicit the startling gasp from the audience) and slick editing to move from one character to the other – focusing on their unique reactions (contemplative, enchanted and horrified, respectively).
The second version of the song is interestingly used as a reverse scare technique. In one of the biggest mysteries (perhaps also one of the weak choices of the script), Danny prefers to end the suspense halfway through the movie – revealing the shenanigans behind the plot. And thus the second half of the movie becomes an investigative drama. And the song is now used to spook/scare Aruna Irani – one of the partners in crime. The movie ends predictably with an action-filled climax, thus diluting any lingering impact of the suspense and thrill established in the first half.
It must be said that Pancham was the favorite of ambitious movie makers who had the drive and vision to create definitive cinema (successfully or otherwise). Songs such as “Bindiya tarse” not only deliver a popular song but also a movie-defining catalyst that carries the director’s creation well beyond his or her vision.