Sunday, May 8, 2011

Stellar Soundtracks: Bombay Talkie

Shashi Kapoor and Jennifer Kendal

When the Washerman’s Dog was but a pup the most handsome Bombay actor around was Shashi Kapoor.   This was an era before television, the net, CDs and dare I say, an era before blogs!  To get our fixes of music, heaving breasts and beefcake we had only the movies down at Rialto or Picture Palace. Rs 2 bought you a seat close to the front. Another Rs 2, a drink and some mango papar. The lights would dim (and sometimes in the rainy season go out completely for 10 minutes in the middle of the show) and the crashing bashing title music would explode like a series of bombs as the screen came alive with dancing light and shadows. For two or three hours (counting intermissions and those rain interruptions) we surrendered our senses to the magicians who hailed from that fabulous city of Bombay and who turned a young boy’s boredom into gold.

Sashi Kapoor, Rajesh Khanna and Amitabh Bachchan  were our idols. Hema Malini, Zeenat Aman and Dimple Kapadia our imaginary lovers.  And the some of the most deeply rooted melodies in my subconscious came from the soundtracks of all those epic titled movies.

Over the years the Dog’s appreciation of what is now called ‘Bollywood’ culture has only deepened. The depths, diversity and beauty of the music in particular is simply breathtaking, covering all shades from ribald to sublime, spiritual to hilarious and back many times.

So what better way to introduce another stream of  wonderful music than to post a classic from 1970, when the Washerman’s Dog was barely into his teens: Bombay Talkie.

Lucia Lane (Jennifer Kendal), an English writer by way of the US, arrives in Bombay to watch the filming of one of her novels. She's nearing middle age, she's had several husbands, she's lonely and self-absorbed. Hari, a screenwriter, offers to show her around. She's interested only in the film's leading man, Vikram (Shashi Kapoor), younger than she, married, and building a career as a matinee idol. Lucia takes every opportunity to be near "V," making scenes in front of Mala (Aparna Sen) his wife, demanding his attentions. Hari is long-suffering, carrying Lucia's messages to V, helping her out when the affair gets out of hand. Meanwhile, V's career suffers, with unpleasant repercussions. Who will bring things to a halt?

To find the answer to this tantalizing question you’ll have to rent the DVD from your favorite outlet. But this film is interesting in a number of ways beyond the story.  Directed and produced by the famous Indian-American duo, Merchant-Ivory, which has made its reputation as producers of ‘serious’ cinema,  Bombay Talkie finds them handling a story for the first time in and about the anything-but-serious world of Bollywood.  And to lend them street cred they brought in one of the other absolute dynamic duos of Indian cinema: the music/soundtrack -composing team Shankar Jaikishan.  The cast was stellar with the real life husband-wife team of Shashi Kapoor and Jennifer Kendal playing the star crossed and entangled lovers.  And with such fine artistes as Zia Mohiudeen and Aparna Sen adding support, the film was bound to be a smash hit. It wasn’t. But it didn’t necessarily flop either. It was too good for that and today remains a connoisseurs’ favorite.

The soundtrack is delightful. Shankar Jaikishan bring their deep musicality to the whole set but add wonderful and fun splashes from the best playback singers of the era: Mohammad Rafi, Kishore Kumar and Asha Bhosle. But an extra treasure, especially for long time readers of this blog, are three English ‘nightclub’ songs from the fantastically talented Usha Uthup.

I’ll conclude with a few words about the composers of this great soundtrack.  Shankar-Jaikishan's compositions broke new ground in Hindi film music. Apart from relying upon their knowledge of Indian classical music, they also employed western beats and orchestration. Shankar-Jaikishan were the pioneers in establishing the role of the orchestra in song compositions as a medium to express and enhance the meanings and feelings of songs rather than using it just as a `filler' as per the prevalent practice before their advent on the scene. They made use of the orchestra and musical instruments (often dozens or hundreds of them) in their songs which consisted of the following format: The song starts with a `prelude' (preparatory music to create and introduce the environment and mood for the beginning of the song), then the mukhda starts and is followed by `interlude' containing music pieces on the orchestra. With very few exceptions (Chal Mere dil; Ye mera deewana pan hai are good examples), they always used different interludes before each stanza. `Multi-layered' music studded with counter melodies' played by the orchestra accompanied while the mukhda or the antara of a song was being sung and finally came the `epilogue' - the music with which the song ended after the singer(s) had finished their singing. (Wikipedia)

This is music for that mid morning potter around the house with a cup of tea. Enjoy the melodies and the fun and go get a copy of the film to find out what happens.

            Track Listing:
            01 Title and Theme
            02 Tum Mere Pyar Ki Duniyamen (Mohd Rafi)
            03 Incidental Music
     04 Devotion
     05 Rajput Suite
     06 Now I Shall Call You Ma
     07 More Incidental Music
     08 Hari Om Sat Tat (Usha Uthup)
     09 Hari Om Sat Tat (with Orchestra) (Usha Uthup)
     10 Picnic in the Cave
     11 Birthday Party 1
     12 Typewriter Tip Tip Tip (Asha Bhosle and Kishore   Kumar)
     13 Meeting and Birthday Party 2
     14 Good Times Bad Times (Usha Uthup)
Listen here

1 comment:

litlgrey said...

Damn it, I had this soundtrack, lost it, AND forgot to see the movie! Thanks for the reminder.