Movie: Abdullah (1980)
Producer and Director: Sanjay Khan
Lyrics: Anand Bakshi
Singer: Manna Dey
An aged character in the script is an unusual choice for a film title. But that perhaps was Abbas (Sanjay) Khan’s tribute to the thespian Raj Kapoor. Raj was Abdullah, the benign, the protector. In his desert dwelling, his aging body incubates the young Krishna, the would-be deliverer from the evil Khaleel. Abdullah knows his natural end is not far ahead. And the potential slayer of the child, Khaleel (played by Danny Denzongpa), is just a few steps behind.
Vulnerable and unprotected in the open desert, helpless and unarmed, Abdullah points out the guiding stars in the night sky to Krishna (played by Rajeev Bhatia), placing destiny in the Almighty’s custody.
Abdullah attempts to induce sleep into Krishna’s disturbed eyes. So “Lalla allah tera nigebaan” was technically a lullaby. But the deep cello and string notes in the intro conveyed a sense of foreboding. The dulcimer was inevitable, given the middle-Eastern background of the story.
The soft fighter sings. The future listens.
“Lalla allah tera nighebaan” wafts across the warm sands like a prayer.
Doel Gupta, daughter of Pancham’s friend and confidante the Late Badal Bhattacharya, in a discussion with the authors, says, “Pancham kaku was a great raconteur. I was a child when he told me the story of Abdullah. During the storytelling session, he gave me almost visual details of Abdullah’s life – how he brought up Krishna, his pain, his sufferings, culminating in his
crucification – and how the song ‘Lalla allah’ fits into the scheme of things. I was literally in tears.
His visual sense, as I see it now, was quite stunning. Maybe that is why he was such a great composer.”
The song – part devotional, part haunting, part melancholic, part lullaby – is a work of art, crafted using composing acumen that can be defined as object oriented, quite some time before C++ became a household name. Pancham used phrases he had created before. A fan might not miss the reuse of the meter of “Jaan-e-jana jao kal phir aana” (Samadhi, 1972) in the first line of the mukhda. However, Pancham then does digress. “Jaan-e-jana” finds him almost repeating the first line of the mukhda in the second. The second line of the mukhda of “Lalla allah” is in no way similar; here Pancham breaks the phrase into smaller components, but closes the melody using Komal Re – Sa, as used in “Jaan-e-jana.” Use of Komal Re sounds like a Pancham trademark; one hardly finds this note being used in popular songs in this manner.
Cometh the antara, Pancham changes the key of the song to A (from E). And goes back to another road song, the Kishore–Bhupinder duet from Double Cross (1972) “Dekho hum dono ki yaari kya kehna,” for the first line. The similarity here is less evident, as, in the second line of the antara, the chord changes from minor to major. From this juncture, Pancham transforms the delicate-to-the-point-of-being-almost-fragile melody to a cry of yearning. It is no longer a lullaby. It takes the form of a prayer where he seems to reach out to the almighty for divine help.
Interesting is the way in which Pancham returns to the mukhda, as he jumps directly from A to E. The two notes being fourth apart, it does not sound very discordant, but is perhaps not the manner recommended by purists. By circumventing the rules of the book, Pancham gives vent to the theory he espoused, “what sounds good to the ears is grammar.” Not to mention that this movement is a treat for the ears, a pleasure surely aesthetic and beyond any norms of definition. One needs to feel it rather than understand.
The Pancham trademark key shifts, the alternating group violins, dulcimer, flute, and guitar tell the tales of a thousand Arabian nights of compassion.
This is a genre that Manna Dey was always comfortable with, having delivered classics from time to time. Also, his tuning with Raj Kapoor remains one of the high points of Hindi film music. One would believe that Manna Dey modeled the exaggerated voice oscillation at the end of the word “Lalla” and in the first word of the antara along the lines of his all-time classic “Ae mere pyare watan” in mind. Pancham punctuated the score with barely audible notes of temple bells to support the context of a devout Muslim looking after a Hindu boy whose mother had been killed.
And, as on a few occasions, Anand Bakshi’s lyrics are a summary of the film. He demonstrates his effortlessness with words, the delicate syllables augmenting the melody.
Pancham keeps the percussion to a minimum, expectedly. One does hear sharp and clutter-free strokes on the leather and assorted instruments though. But the overall mood of the melody carries the rhythmic thumping sound of one’s own heartbeat.
We hear it when we are in a state of acute anxiety.
Anirudha Bhattacharjee and Balaji Vittal