Hindi Music Then & Now: Insights from Shikha Jhingann and Gautam Chintamani

I almost bit my tongue for reaching at this public discussion at the time when chairs were being folded and conversations became private over tea. A talk on Hindi music ‘then and now’, four well-informed and passionate individuals came together at Oxford Bookstore to create a discourse on what they termed as a ‘transition period’ of lyrics in Hindi cinema. In whatever little time I had, minus the awkward hesitations, I managed to get few words from the two most interesting and diverging viewpoints – Shikha Jhingann and Gautam Chintamani. 

 

Me: As I see this distinction between ‘then’ and ‘now’, I believe it’s because of the difference in motive behind making music; what was meant to be for engagement before, is made for consumption now. What do you think about that? 

Shikha: I believe music was always made for consumption. It’s hard to imagine commercial production of music without there being a listener for it. 

Me: Let me put this distinction into perspective. By engagement I mean a certain sense of emotional or cognitive relation one develops with the music, while consumption would be a pure non-critical ‘intake’ of music. 

Shikha: That maybe true. But I believe that there’s no need of creating such distinction in the first place. I mean, the sort of music that we have today we had it back then as well, and vice versa. Even today, you have musical pieces with meaningful lyrics being incorporated in the movies. 

Me: Agreed! But don’t you think discussions such as this one require certain sampling? Maybe a little more attention to what is being ‘popularly’ produced these days. 

Shikha: You can do that but I don’t see the need of it. I’m more interested in how music is being used in films rather than what sort of music it is. Earlier, we had musical pieces that existed independent of the main plot of the film and were shown with actors lip-syncing and suddenly breaking into choreographed moves. Now, we see songs getting embedded in the narrative that no longer requires lip syncing and just stoically plays in the background. 

Me: What do you gather from this distinction?

Shikha: I think that has led to further alienation between the listener and the song. We no longer relate to the song or remember the lyrics. Songs are just reduced to a background score. 

Me: But I think I relate more to songs that are consequential to the narrative and are being played alongside the scene. It creates a more holistic and meaningful relationship with not just the song but also the context; taking it back to my point regarding engagement. 

Shikha: Well, some people do relate to the ’embedded’ style of music. But I still feel that the lack of independent space for songs in films affect our connection with not just the lyrics but the song itself. 

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Shikha Jhingann, Professor

Just after my conversation with Shikha, I managed to take Gautam out of what seemed like a lighthearted private discussion, and had a brief talk with him that centered around similar questions. 

Me: Do you see the distinction as one concerning with ‘engagement’ and ‘consumption’?

Gautam: of course there’s consumption. There’s a process in place that sees music as a product and the listener as a consumer. As attention span of public is getting shorter, producers are making music that can catch the fancy of the listener by the earliest. 

Me: So, do you think there’s  some sense of ‘research’ involved in deciding as to what sort of music would be suitable for commercial interests? For instance, psychological studies, market research, etc. 

Gautam: I don’t think so, no. 

Me: Then what is understood as ‘commercially viable’?

Gautam: One that was a major hit last week. 

Me: Shikha pointed out to me that there’s no need for classifying music as ‘then’ and ‘now’ for there are all sorts of music present even today. Do you agree with her?

Gautam: No, I don’t. I believe such distinction is important merely because it is happening. There’s a cultural shift in the way we produce music today and people should have a knowledge of it. Such distinction and its consequences cannot be made apparent if it is not recognised and discussed thereof in the first place. 

Me: Agreed! But as Shikha pointed out, what is the purpose we are trying to serve by creating such distinction? Is it political, cultural, or anything of value? 

Gautam: It may not be political; it may not be of value. But it is definitely significant for critically evaluating the development in musical practices or identifying the best ones of an era. There’s a big change in how Rahman produced music in the late 90s or early 2000s and the way he produces today; same applies to Gulzar and his music. And nothing of it can be understood without sampling and classifying the ‘transition period’. 

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Gautam Chintamani, Writer

My talk with Gautam was ended abruptly by the arrival of his cab and unfortunately he had to leave without answering my further questions. However, whatever little that we discussed, one can gather some insight into how we critically evaluate musical practices, both in terms of as they exist and in relation to their development. On the other hand, Shikha shed some light on an interesting way of looking at our engagement with music; something that is often ignored by the viewer of a film. Apart from their diverging views, I managed to find a single concurring theme – and that – is our engagement with music. Out of the many things debated, both Shikha and Gautam want us to engage with music critically and emotionally and reflect upon such engagement at levels of varying degrees.  

 

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The Nile Hilton Incident: The Struggle for the Land and the Soul

Indeed, no cruel man is so cruel as he whom he has misused believes; the idea of pain is not the same thing as the suffering of it.

– Nietzsche

In The Nile Hilton Incident, I see characters exist outside the debate on moral settlement. What I also see, is space, I see Cairo, in both its making and unmaking; in its residue and revival. 

A police officer (Faris) who discovers a murder of a pop singer in Cairo’s Nile Hilton Hotel soon finds himself in a position where he has been asked, and later threatened, to not to pursue the same by the social and political elites of the land. In between this equation lies a helpless Sudanese maid (Malik), a daily wage worker at the Hotel who is also the only witness to the incident. The plot is set in the Cairo of 2011, just days before the breaking out of the Arab Spring. 

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The characters are unapologetically non-dichotomous, so much so, that they are very much living. The very fact that they have survived in such a milieu, and continues to do so, is because of the certain flaws that they both internalise and resist. Noredin (Fariz) is committed to bring down the man who is backed by a system which has corruption and nepotism seeping through its every possible branch. However, at the same time, he demands bribe from the local sellers, and pockets confiscated money. Salwa (Malik) is aware, to some extent,  of the gravity of what she has witnessed, but still proposes to enter into a financial compromise to stay quite; perhaps forced by her unprivileged socio-economic status. Even in the most insignificant of characters, we see the same characterization being reflected.

The plot seems to be resting on an unsettled bedrock; of many upheavals happened, and waiting to happen. There also exist turning points; moments that changed the pattern of how characters went on to exist and function. ‘Dignity cannot be bought, son’, as said Noredin’s father while aimlessly glaring at the television screen. 

The political revolution of Cairo runs parallel to that of Noredin’s; having a synonymous evolution. What started as a mere sub-narrative, the revolution grows into a climax and finally ends with the only thing left standing. The two narratives, of the revolution and of Noredin, are unaware of each other until  they both find each other engulfed in the agony directed against a common enemy. The development of this relation is slow yet apparent and cathartic. 

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And amidst all this, there is Salwa. Just like the plight of Sudanese refugees in Egypt, she lives in silence and denial until she decides to remain silent no more. She is made aware of both the triviality of her life and the significance of her death. She continues to live under the bridge, both literally and figuratively, until she decides to finally surface and speak up. After an illegal arrest, attempted deportation and an attempted murder, all directed against her, we see her running hysterically in an open field. Noredin asks her to go away and set herself free, but just like the plight of her community and her gender, we see an inconclusive end to her story; or maybe, just the continuation of how it ever was. 

The Nile Hilton Incident is a story of both the people and the land; told in isolation but very much shared and lived together. The multi-layering of  these elements sets up  chaos and uncertainty that gives meaning to life that existed during the Arab Spring; both of the land and the people. As the main character fails and collapses, there is victory of some virtue within;  a virtue that also marked and led the revolution to finally bring down the system in the days to come. 

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‘Lady Bird’ and the Non-Linearity of Life

Human cells live, but not forever. The blood, and what makes it red, dies, exists, and then comes back to life. There’s a life within a life; a cycle of constant birth and death of the same thing, but in a regenerated form. 

Greta Gerwig’s coming of age directorial debut ‘Lady Bird’ is a celebration of the ordinary. Out of many themes, captured and then put in frames of a solipsistic photo album, there’s one that stands out; and oh so bravely and unapologetically.  And that is, we change. 

What we understand of ‘self’ and every extension of the same is a construction; purely hedonistic. We often face flak for not staying ‘true’ to ‘who we are’, and quite interestingly, it always comes from the outside. It’s like all the voids we try to fill in, eventually we tend to outgrow, but somehow still make ourselves ‘fit’ into the same spaces. It is not natural, no, it can’t be. When the elements that constitute your body and make it ‘live’ each day do not remain constant, how can the idea of it remain constant? There is a movement in the understanding of life and the life itself. It may be retrospective, but it’s always moving forward. There is no linear movement, if that may appear from the word forward, rather, it’s the complete opposite of it. 

Saoirse Ronan, in one of the interviews she gave to a talk-show host in LA, mentioned her take on the relatability of  Christine’s (Ladybird’s) character in the film. She said it is not the specificity of Christine’s life but the very abstracted idea of it that makes the movie and the character so relatable; even in a very gender-less way. It’s like having to look at oneself through various costumes until finding one that fits perfectly; and then, maybe, changing even that one, again. 

From love, music, theatre to Sacramento, we finally see Christine moving forward in the movement of life but finding truths about herself that lie not ahead but in the past. Or maybe, they always existed but never realised. Even though she chooses to be who she never thought she would be, the reason why she still prevails is the fact that she exercised a choice. There’s no defined qualitative and ‘identifying’ element in the movement of life. The forward movement in life may not always be marked with a forward movement in one’s understanding of self. And more so than ever, it is the shooting off from one’s own position, that makes a ‘decision’ what it actually is. 

So, the lesson I learn, or should I say, what I see being a reiteration of something I already knew, in Ladybird, is the idea of being non-linear in the movement of life; and in the understanding of the same. We are always a ‘work in progress’ and never in any moment could we be reduced to an identifiable description of self. And let’s just say, it would be a heinous crime to self, by self, if the self is being seen and understood from the mind of the other. 

 

Film Analysis: How Okja Shows Us Rising Emotional Decadence

Okja is undoubtedly a reflection of Bong-Joon Ho’s evolving auteur. A mouthpiece of environment advocacy shied down by wry humour and avant-garde character design. As any film review would define it, Okja is a story about the journey of a young South Korean girl who fights against all odds to get a genetically enhanced pig which does not belong to her either physically or intellectually. The movie never deviates from its central plot and each shot is quite smartly put to create a fast moving progression of the primary storyline; something which really fuels the existing anticipation. However, despite its strict editorial work, there are few shots in Okja that really stand out for reasons other than the central narrative. These shots are not about Mija (Seo-Hyeon Ahn) or Okja; rather they come across as a didactic commentary on a post-modern understanding of human relationships.  

Hayao Miyazaki, a Japanese anime giant, has given us a dreamlike depiction of Mija’s life in the hills. The sounds of running water and breaking branches engulf the viewer in the serenity and simplicity of a life closer to nature.  In almost all the shots we see both Okja and Mija developing a personal relationship not between themselves but also with the natural bounty around them; whether it be the giant rock or the flowing streams. We hardly see any sign of modern technology but there is contentment abound. There’s a prevailing of a selfless yet a settled sort of a happiness which is not dramatically over joyous or unnecessarily indulging.  

And then we move to Seoul; a city to its every definition. Suddenly, we see panoramic and aerial shots being taken of the herd of people moving towards the railway station – just like the ones showing the hills in the beginning of the movie. These shots sort of reintroduce the viewer to the narrative of the film, maybe emphasising on the shift in the storyline. However, I also see them as a conscious effort on the part of the director to showcase a distinction, and that too of a stark one, between a rural and an urban life. However, this distinction is not just physical but also emotional. The aerial shot of the herd of people moving towards the railway station focus only on the quantity of the subject matter and not the identity. So, we just see a faceless crowd moving uniformly towards a common destination reflecting the growing mechanisation of human activity. This is in complete opposition to the free-moving and unregimented movements of Mija and Okja on the hills. 

This regimented and mechanised ‘city-life’ is shown to have a distracting capability of its own. On one hand, we have a determined Mija trying to find a familiar face and on the other, we have an association of beings spatially so close yet empathetically so separated. This brings me to the second most profound didactic theme – alienation. 

When Mija reaches the Mirando building in Seoul she is met with a surprisingly empty office and a lot of glass walls. One of these glass walls separated her and the receptionist who then asked Mija to use the telephone placed on the other side of the glass wall to communicate to her, ignoring the most obvious of Mija’s signals. That glass wall represented the alienation that has become a characteristic of the urban milieu where people are more comfortable in communicating digitally. This also stands in contrast with the kind of communication and understanding Mija shared with Okja despite not understanding each other’s language. This sign of digitally induced alienation is also visible in the scene where a girl who is running away from Okja in a supermarket chooses to make a Snapchat video rather than actually experiencing the feeling of being afraid. 

Within the scenes of Korea, we see another sign of post-modern emotional deficit – Animal Liberation Front. This sign is very subtle and confusing for it operates in overlapping meanings. Modern day organisations walk the line between being phoney and being relevant. And then sometimes we come across organisations or people who cannot fight a cause until it is contextualised; neither can they connect on emotional levels without putting that connection under a contextualised category. ALF failed to grasp both the emotional simplicity of Mija’s relationship with Okja as well as its own decaying ethos – respecting the animal life. Though their understanding does change in New York when they are faced with some disturbing visuals and an unknown fact from the past, the way they operated as an organisation as a whole does reflect a sort of contextualised understanding of animal rights.  Their faith in non-violence and ecological conservation did become a part of Bong’s wry humour but it also reflected as to how modern day organisations have become increasingly normative; vying for immediate short term impact rather than aiming for long term structural changes. 

Okja is not a narrative with explicitly enlarged sub-narratives. These sub-narratives are very subtle and can be subjected to interpretations. However, the use of camerawork at certain shots forces a viewer to delve further into the intentions of the director. The central narrative may or may not promote vegetarianism or at least the abandoning of corporate food processing units, but it sure does try to create an awakening about the rising emotional decadence in the digitally connected urban beings. 

Isabelle

I haven’t lost myself in a life

Called work, not chained

To impersonal commitments, I

Have just shed a skin

Of life, out of many

That I’ve been wearing for so long

I thought I lived once,

A life, a person, an

Inescapable unity,

All this, until

I saw myself no more

And found everything of me

In else

Going Beyond the Forms


It’s seldom that humans become metaphors of their own language. It’s not quite often that we see things being defined in the person itself. However, when it happens, when we do witness a thing being definitive in itself, we see the thing itself and not its representation. We don’t have to concern ourselves with imitations anymore for we, upon such witnessing, reconstruct the constant. We realign the history, mend our explanations, and create this new allegory of essence upon which essence in others thereupon be searched for. And, when we’re done with that momentary reconstruction of truth, the only constant, all that is left is the representation that engenders faith in generations to come.

Feel My Blues

The dreams think of the days,
Of love and it’s longing, the
Broken belongings
Would it all be the same, if
I thought of you, knew you
In ways different
From reality.
Would it be soothing, if
Attraction could’ve smelled the
Smoke of your cigarettes,
Like perfume
What a trajectory!
The marvels of memory laid down
So scantily upon my eyelids, don’t
Know whether to shut them and
Let them touch my skin, or
Live in oblivion, with these
Eyes open
There were days when I thought
I’ll wrap you around,
Will dance upon the losing ground
There were days, when
Stories circled the town with
You and I
Adorning their climax
What would it be if
We could see each other in
People that we are not, and
See what we desired,
In each other.
So much so the love has
Led me to believe,
So much so,
It made me look the other way with
My hands still hung backwards
I am with you, still
From the perils I hold the hills
What if the love was just
A meaning that we just
Got all wrong
Would you not look back,
Would you not stay,
And say,
I had everything but love

Walk On

I don’t know what I’ll
Wake up to, tomorrow.
Don’t know what, or where
Would the sun rays land, what
Would it reveal of mine,
What of mine,
Would it hide.
So, all I have is
This night to take me where
This cold heart would
Never have eloped to.
Break down in the middle of
This empty street
Look back,
Smile a little,
There’ll always be a hoodie on,
And the music,
Would never cease.

Man Music and Melancholy: A Sombred Desire Named Geeta

It was not the zamindari fervour of enclaves in Calcutta, but a humbled dwelling in Dadar, that witnessed the making of Geeta into a playback nightingale. In 1948, the cinematic establishments of Bombay breathed a cultural emancipation of its own. The stories were now unafraid to delve into shadows and the men behind the lens didn’t blink much while visioning. It was this Bombay that had presented itself to the kajal adorning eyes of young and effervescent Geeta Ghosh Roy Chowdhuri who scaled the vastness of the city with the longevity of her dreams.

The journey of Geeta’s career is perfectly dramatic in itself. It’s a reflection of an innate desire, just one, that a woman held and devoted her entire life to it. This roller-coaster journey started with just a ‘two-line’ stint for the movie ‘Bhakta Prahlad’ that proved to be enough for her unconventional style to be noticed by the music stalwart S.D. Burman. The verve of her vocals and the enigma of her experiments made Geeta a sizeable figure in the industry in early 50s. With songs such as Woh Sapne Waali Raat (Pyaar, 1950) and Aan Milo Aan Milo (Devdas, 1955) Geeta was expressing a sea of emotions that was not expected to be sunk into at her age. She had boasted of a splendour that unavoidably moved every heart it touched; a melody that was too personal to be called someone else’s.

1.0 A Voice To Unexpressed Emotions
Cinema that floated in the 50s adorned diverse narratives of reviving romanticism. Filmmakers were embarking upon a journey to find love in the Indian society and bring it out from below the quilts of moralistic obligations. Since the stories contained flavours of fantasies, the music didn’t hold back to complement the charm. The love and longing, as experienced by an independent state of mind, was imbibed in artistic creations and then presented to an audience that unknowingly witnessed the magic of their own lives.
If cinema imitated life, music led that life to celebration. As it comes to Geeta’s renditions, the definition of celebration was given a gendered twist. In Tadbir Se Bigadi Taqdeer Geeta gifted a melody to women for celebrating their playfulness; to unhesitatingly be the forbearer of a romantic involvement. On the other hand, in Hum Aap Ki Ankhon Main Geeta brazened the beauty of moonlit nights and made women believe that such pearl glistened nights are not meant for dropped eyelids of longing but for held up chin, ballroom dancing and lengthening the man’s chase with tantrums.
The era which dwelled in mysticism of ghazals and sufi music, Geeta’s space on Earth was like a concealed getaway for Indian populace across genders and age. She didn’t want to sing love, she wanted to treatise it. In Babuji Dheere Chalna, she caramelises her voice in a perplexing progression of music which subtly slips across a wise tip about love and betrayal, wrapped in flattering lyrics. It was like a spectrum of emotions that displayed its lights by passing through the prism of Geeta’s vocal sharpness. She was able to wear many hats and could easily voice the feelings of varied moods and fantasies.
The most notable display of Geeta’s vocal versatility would be her outreach to every shade of womanhood. In doing so, she did a major service to manhood as well. She was unafraid in unveiling the treasuries of female sexual desires and sang her heart out for letting these wants get the tone it deserved. In Piya Aise Jiya Main, Na Jao Saiyyan Chuda Ke Baiyan and Kaise Rokoge Aise Toofan Ko, she emboldens women desires and wanting by resorting to high pitched vocals, soothing melodies and melting metaphors. She does the same in Shola Jo Bhadke but in a more coming of age, playful and, quite literally, Hawaiian suave. Sailing across the river, she also channelled reprised shores of love; aching through the notes of unreciprocated feelings. In Mera Sundar Sapna Beet Gaya a grieved heart sings in retrospect of the things that were loved immensely but now are nowhere to be seen. Moreover, the motherly care in Naa Yeh Chand Hoga melts every human heart to softness of the symphony. Geeta has traversed the most intimate and vulnerable sides of love as well. In Hum Aap Ki Ankhon Main she surrenders herself to that one look of her lover’s that she had urged for ages, and in Aaj Sajan Mohe Ang Lagalo, an ultimate cry of trust and belief is vented out that just wants to be held close with love and nothing more.

2.0 Humanism and Realism of an Imperfect Voice

Unlike Lata Mangeshkar, Geeta’s musical credentials aren’t boastful of some seasoned training. It was her natural talent, coupled with the range of her uniqueness, which captured the fancies of many music directors. Despite her imperfections, Geeta continued to produce hit after hit. She snowballed into a songstress that almost nobody dared to reckon with. So what was the reason behind this unconventional trend of fame? Well, the answers lie in the question itself.
It was the unconventionality of Geeta’s renditions that bewitched her audience. The masses were wooed by her unmatched ability to soothe the deepest of human pains with the softness of her voice. In fact, her songs were so closely rooted to the humanness that people couldn’t help but feel themselves being swayed by this personal perspective that they thought was their own. It was this realist element in Geeta’s music that made her flow into the lives of Indian populace. Decorated with the beauty of consequential music and situational lyrics, Geeta’s songs became anthems that showcased a commoner’s dealings with concepts such as love and loss.

Geeta’s role in Hindi Cinema is translated as “disguised reality”. She, along with many of her contemporaries, walked upon a journey to make Indian cinema mirror the society it emanates from. Songs symbolized a culture of celebration, and if not surreal, they surely reminded people of the existence of a latent truth that they never cared to resort to. In one of her Bengali melodies Tumhi Je Amar she yearns to give an identity to a plethora of complexities that run inside our head during the diverse phases of love.
If not songs, singers often get straight jacketed to a generation. Their music and a sense of intelligence behind it seem to fade away with the progression of time and advancement of technology. However, very few of them are able to maintain a legacy, an impact, that persists through generations. One may also call it ‘perennial genrationalism’. The way Geeta nuanced her songs and the emotion she constructed through the intelligently assembled lyrics is something that still flows in the contemporary generation. There has been a humongous social progression in the lifestyle as well as the status of women in India. Multiple economic, political and even cinematic forces have ensured women a right to choose and express themselves in a more liberated manner. Even though it’s not ideal, it has come a long way from the time Geeta used to mike up in the studios. However, it is quite astonishing to see the situational importance remain intact across generations.
It is the context of Geeta’s songs that have resisted the winds of change for long. This speaks volumes about realism of her music style. It is that intrinsic emotional chord that is intransient for which Geeta designed most of her melodies. She gave us a voice that resonated and still continue to resonate within the frames of our heart and soul.
There are surely songs that are perfectly crafted, and then there are songs that just seem right. Geeta’s songs may not be the perfect examples of a classical music ensemble but they surely fulfilled the purpose they were made for. A critical mind would undoubtedly proclaim Lata Mangeshkar’s Lag Ja Gale as one of the best expressions of a lover’s honest yearnings. However, a heart that is actually dwelling under the spell of the given emotion, songs such as Waqt Ne Kiya Kya Haseen Sitam by Geeta would be the only desired escape. The major reason behind this is the common human tendency to look for emotional fodder; a subject matter in which they can see their own reflection in order to understand themselves better. Or probably just in search of a relief that can be garnered from someone else’s suffering that is a result of the same malaise. It is this craving for personalization, that imperfection of Geeta’s music to. The songs are so relatable that the normative change in the circumstances does not affect the central outplay of the human emotions involved. So, no matter if it’s the 50s or the 2020, a broken heart of a common Indian girl would wail her time away while being consumed in the darkness of some of Geeta’s renditions.

3.0 A Life Lived in Ironies
Despite a career that speaks for itself, Geeta has been translated as a ‘tragedy queen’ of Indian music industry by many. History has been kind to her in many gestures but has also dived deep into her personal wreckages. One would not like to recall her forlornness to an account that primarily deals with her legacy, but if the world is anything but a perception, this involvement is artsy in its own right. The paths she traversed in her love life are quite conjectural to her professional engagements. Hence, it becomes extremely significant to look at Geeta from an objective perspective and understand her journey as dramatics of fame.
Geeta’s encounter with love was just like her encounter with music – quite cinematic. She met the love of her life, Guru Dutt, during the recording of Tadbir Se Bidgi Hui Taqdeer and the blooming chemistry between the two young and thriving visionaries became undeniable. After tying the knot in May 1953, the careers of both the artists also got wedded to a meteoroid rise in the film industry. There collaborations like Jaa Jaa Jaa Bewafa, Hoon Abhi Main Jawan and Ye Lo Main Haari Piya gifted a series of masterpieces to the Indian audiences decorated with the velvety vividness of Geeta’s vocals. Such was the popularity of the Dutts that the newly wedded Geeta Roy got immortalised in public conscience as Geeta Dutt.
Many critics say that Geeta’s sublime musical prowess was best displayed when she became ‘Mrs Geeta Dutt”. With movies such as Aar Par (1954) and Mr. and Mrs. 55 (1955) the splendour of Geeta’s versatility got a contemporary context by the coming of age vision of her husband, Guru Dutt.
The destiny started to turn its face away quite early from this wedlock. The charm of Geeta Dutt that resonated within the four walls of the recording studio started to get camouflaged by the on screen effervescence of a new and young actress, Wahida Rehman. In 1956, when Wahida was casted as Guru Dutt’s new lady in the movie C.I.D, Geeta started to feel bugged by this rumoured involvement and that got reflected in her work too. In 1957, when Guru Dutt wanted to launch her wife with the movie Gauri, she chose to dump the project showing her agitation against the floating rumours.
When the liaison rushed to rough weathers and the love was clinging to a rope, a marriage that promised greatness got briefed by a tragic divorce. This downfall trajectory of her personal life, dragged along with it, a voice that dwelled in celebration. Such was the degree of grief that Geeta delved into that she became a close companion to alcoholism. Many music directors of the last 50s and early 60s started complaining about her growing unprofessionalism which was displayed in her delayed appearance on rehearsals, frequent postponements and refusing to practise or riyaz. SD Burman, one of the most loyal patrons of Geeta Dutt had accounted that watching her in studios now was such an estrangement as compared to her early days. The studio that once liberated her now began to smother her by someone’s sweet nothings.
The fading lights of Geeta’s career finally stopped to flicker in 1964 when Guru Dutt breathed his last, succumbing to his third suicide attempt. A woman left to the peril of unfathomable tragedy, Geeta suffered from severe nervous breakdown where she even refused to recognize her children. Her spirit was shattered; her passion withered away. A resplendent voice and a vivacious aura were now tailored to tragedy. Most unfortunately, unlike the films she sang for, her tragedy had no happy ending.
The climax of Geeta’s life has given her disciples some sensational observations of ironies. A woman that gave all of us a voice that healed all our pains forgot to listen to that voice herself. A woman that rendered renditions celebrating women taking control of their lives and their love was helplessly dwelling in her own unresolved maladies. And most ironically, she continued to sing songs of love and longing for an actress that allegedly was somewhat there in the theatrics of her tragedy.

4.0 What Do We Mean By Geeta Dutt?
It is unquestionable that Geeta Dutt is one of the most revered and loved singers of all time. Generations have patronized her music and related to the emotions she embarked upon to express in her songs. However, Geeta is also synonym to a life that is very important for us to understand.
Geeta Dutt, a life, is an open book to study the scourge of fame. She is a life that should never have been poignant, but it did. We can understand, to some extent, the outplay of love in a person’s life and its profound effect on her devices. We can decipher the ruthlessness of emotions and the merciless mind of fate. Geeta Dutt herself displayed a shade of humanness that quite painfully exists. The depression she succumbed to was unaffected by the ideal or somewhat normative standards of human virtues. She was expected to be strong, she was expected to still be famous, but she never ever realised those expectations. Maybe because these were the same expectations that had made her vulnerable to the devices of a man she loved more than anything in her life. Geeta wrapped her life in a song that she could not understand, but she still kept singing.
The curtailing of an act called Geeta Dutt saw a final valedictory display in a 1971 rendition – Mera Dil Jo Mera Hota (Only if this heart would have been mine)
And like the dramatics and ironies that ruled her life; the man, music and melancholy that shaped her discourses, her lost song, and the very rendition of 1971, just summed up her entire life story before the curtains were finally drawn.
In 1972, Geeta said the final goodbye. She left that music studio and the film industry with a void that can never be filled. However, the traces of her legacy and her gifts still, and would always, home the answers of unexplainable emotions of a human heart.

The Poignancy of Justice

 

  –  Deconstructing humanism of Hossien Shahabi’s The Bright Day

 

One might brand this movie as a reflection of Iran’s fringe filmmaking culture. A quintessential offbeat screenplay intertwined with adequate cultural offerings. Perhaps, a movie that is oriented towards an audience which considers itself to be a learned lot on morality debates of the non-western societies. When, however, this 96 minutes long motion picture met my eye, I preferred to think the other way.

A directorial debut of a cinematic prodigy, The Bright Day is like a universe packed in a small cab. Like the theories of everything human about this world presented through the unravelling of two beings. Yes, this is how brief the world can get. At least in the same head that is perplexed by the vastness and vagueness it forms for itself.

Despite its strong fringe characteristics, I would call the narrative an inward shift of mirror to face the Iranian society itself. It’s a social commentary on the tragic manipulations of the nation’s criminal justice system by the far reaching hands of the rich and powerful. What could have been an old wine in a new bottle came across as a flavour that has not been favoured before. Yes, the sub narratives involved in the script opened up dilemmas surrounding individual morality and the feeblish character it practically possess.

The story revolves around a kindergarten teacher, Farhoudi (Pantea Bahram) who is taken a taxi to scale the city in order to find possible witnesses who can testify for Pousan, a man who is charged for the murder of his colleague who is also supposed to be the son of his boss. So, what withers the abstractness? To some extent, it is the fact that Pousan fathers a young boy who is a student at Farhoudi’s school. The other half of abstractness, the one which deals with Farhoudi’s overzealous attempt to save Pousan’s life, is a plot that dominates the major part of the film.

On her journey to find witnesses, Farhoudi is joined by a cab driver Kiani (Mehran Ahmedi) who too becomes extremely passionate about Pousan’s case and endeavours to do every possible thing to help Farhoudi fetching the right witnesses. Farhoudi has been informed by Pousan’s lawyer that the witnesses (more than 1) must be brought before the court within six hours otherwise the accused would meet a deadly fate. It is this period of six hours that serves the central screenplay of the movie.

Focusing on the abstractness of Farhoudi’s extremely selfless endeavour, the awkwardness of the same is realised by each and every possible witness she goes ahead to approach. Most of these people are Pousan’s co-workers who were present at the time of the questioned event when a brief scuffle between Pousan and his boss’s son led to the latter’s accidental fall from the staircase. Everybody knows this act to be an accident but nobody wants to testify the same due to the financial baits and physical threats advanced by the prosecuting party. When Farhoudi questions these people about the falsity of their decision making, she’s met with counter questions that doubt her intentions behind getting involved in the case. While Kiani’s support is purely on humanitarian and moralistic grounds, the story maintains a convenient silence about the true intentions of Farhoudi. Such is the genuineness of her efforts, that one shall be forced to put her intention under the humanitarian context only.

The movie is mostly shot in real time which contributes to its realism credentials. Every minute of those six hours is impregnated with sheds of anxiety and corresponding hope. The intelligent absence of background score from the climactic moments of the film provides a better insight into the psyche of the characters. We are rather exposed to surrounding sounds of chirping birds, passing cars and government healthcare announcements. Such closeness with the entire context of a particular plot presents the emotional gravity of the characters involved and the urgency of the situation in the most accurate way possible. It also hints towards the fact that no matter how big your problem is, the surrounding world is unaffected of its maladies.

One of the briefest sub themes of the narrative deals with the issue of gender roles and resulting sexism in the society. The widely occurring instance of this assertion can be the aspersions associated with Farhoudi’s interest in saving Pousan while no such image is built around Kiani. Such is the pressure of this doubt, that along with continuing tiredness, it leads to an unexpected outburst from Farhoudi where she screams that ‘I can be his anything. His sister, mother or daughter. It’s not about me though. It’s about a man who may face resistance for an act he has not committed.’  The other instance of such gender inequality can be seen from the fact that one of the most promising witnesses, who happened to be a woman, was unable to help Pousan because women are not allowed to testify in criminal cases involving intentional homicide.

The movie is devoid of any cinematic pretence. The frames are kept as raw and insightful as they would have been in a realist outplay of such an incident. And that is what imbibes a viewer to the depth of the existing problem. Probably, we don’t need that artificially induced rush of emotions to understand the gravity of a situation. Sometimes, the act of making us see the reality as it is can stir up deepest compassion for these are the realities we often seek to ignore in our daily processes. Processes that seek convenience of everything good, expected and under our control.

It is not just the bleakness that the director wants to portray through his narrative. It is the regrettable apathy that people have developed towards this bleakness that amuses his cause. Farhoudi’s failure to move the possible witnesses by invoking the possible plight of Pousan’s son and ailing mother shows the receding morality of people in a materialistic context. Even the most religious of beings conveniently choose to forsake religion’s offerings on piety and truthfulness by building a bubble around their conscience that somehow moulds their action to suit the ‘broader’ sanctions of their religion. This can be seen in the counter argument raised by one of the witnesses who said that ‘I would not support a murderer’ even after knowing the fact that the person he’s referring to is actually innocent.

So, I would say that The Bright Day was so inhumane that it felt too human. It exposed me to the realities I’m somewhat aware of but I would still be shocked by the visual representation of the same. The only humane aspect of the narrative, Farhoudi’s selfless humanitarian effort, also tends to retreat in the later part of the movie. As the story takes a desperate turn, we get exposed to the humanness of Farhoudi. And if the movie’s definition of humanness is anything to go by, this exposure did hurt a lot. All this while, I wanted Farhoudi to be that one shred of idealism that as a visionary I can cling to; that one fault of the narrative that could divorce me from the realism of the situation. ‘Oh, it’s just the fiction’! I wish I could exclaim. But it didn’t. Farhoudi is also a human and that too in a society that she’s done fighting against. As a human, her demeanour is also colourable by shades of emotions and feelings; a sense of attachment to the subject matter if not selfishness. And we see just that. Sigh! But so artistic, indeed.

The Bright Day is nothing short of desperation; or anxiety. It’s like a visual display of emotions where humans just get to be there. While watching this film you’ll be forced to forge certain dilemmas within. The debates you were always running away from. But it all comes down to convenience. It all comes down to that perverseness the elimination of which you started this entire fight for at the first place but ended up succumbing to the same to avoid a larger or broader harm. That’s why we see Kiani, after being rattled by the last minute hostility of a promising witness, asks Pousan’s lawyer to present him as one of the witnesses.

So, is change a utopia that the society would be done thriving for? Perhaps, it is. However, what’s more important is that how you twitch the status quo to make a little sense of circumstances around you. We may be doing it a wrong way, but we aren’t heading towards the wrong.