In our country, our whole existence, our lifestyle, our cultural fabric is wedded to music. Our life, our birth, is wedded to music. Our death is wedded to a lament, which is also music. Our rituals, our gods, our goddesses, our festivals, our harvesting, everything is music, music, music... Where words fail, it is music that conveys much more than all the words put together- Raj Kapoor in Raj Kapoor Speaks
I have written off and on on this blog about my fondness of Raj Kapoor - a man introduced to me by my father's passion for his cinema, and who soon became an extremely important part of my cinematic exploration. Soon after my first love, Amitabh Bachchan, I'd fallen down the slippery slope of cinematic infidelity with Shammi, Raj's brother, and Dev Anand, his contemporary. With Raj, the love was twin-fold. It was as much his on-screen persona that attracted me, especially the rakish Raj in Awara, as much as his stories, his way of telling them on screen, his attention to detail, his partnerships and collaborations with various other talented artistes, and above all, his sense of music. Not just in his songs, of which we had the expectations of a certain standard, but also in how he used them. Raj Kapoor's 'song sittings' were famous.
Raj Kapoor had always been interested in music. His childhood, steeped in theatre, encouraged that interest. When his father moved the family to Bombay, Raj Kapoor was enrolled in Narayan Rao Vyas's Academy of Music, where he trained in classical music. He learnt to play the tabla, the harmonium, the sitar, etc. Patriarch Prithviraj Kapoor had no ideas of nepotism (his eldest son's stated intention to enter the world of films had resulted in a scene worthy of the best Hindi film) - and so the young lad worked as clapper boy in Bombay Talkies, assisted composer Anil Biswas, was man-of-all-trades at Prithvi Theatres, where he received a stipend of Rs10 from his father, etc.
But at Prithvi, after the shows, the young Raj would spend his time composing music in the company of Ram Ganguly, and Shankar and Jaikishan who were the tabalchi and harmonium player respectively. Little did any of them know then that in a very short time, the Kapoor scion would make a name for himself in the pantheon of the greats of Indian cinema. In fact, Raj's ambition, when he entered films, was to become a music director. And even though his path diverged from that initial ambition, his interest in music remained.
Laxmikant-Pyarelal once mentioned in an interview how they composed songs for RK movies - Raj Kapoor would explain the situation, the preceding scene, the following sequence, the impact of the scene, etc. Shankar-Jaikishan had once confessed that they composed five tunes for each melody required - Raj was a very exacting master. Songs in RK films were never just 'there'; they were seamlessly woven into the fabric of the film, used intelligently and sensibly to complement the narrative. Raj Kapoor was one of the few directors then who visualised his songs before he picturised them. For him, songs in his films were meant to be audio-visual experiences.
Raj himself confessed that he was fortunate in working with musicians and singers who were on the same wavelength - all of them passionately interested in the perfection of the final outcome. In a speech he gave before his death, he spoke emotionally and affectionately about his inspirations - Mukesh, Lata, Shankar-Jaikishen, Shailendra, Hasrat Jaipuri - the heart and soul and body of his music.
In Raj Kapoor Speaks, written by his daughter Ritu Nanda, he mentions how Barsaat heralded the entry of Lata Mangeshkar into RK territory. "It was as if I was waiting for her to enter to make Raj Kapoor and his music what it is today." Lata Mangeshkar, whom Raj Kapoor thought of as his 'prerna', in her turn, remarks how the Raj Kapoor stamp pervaded all of RK's music. She vouches for the fact that whether the music for RK films was by Shankar-Jaikishen or Ravindra Jain or Laxmikant-Pyarelal, "...all of RK music is in the ultimate analysis Raj Kapoor’s own creation.”
Sometime back, I'd written a post on the music of Shammi Kapoor; Raj, his elder brother, classically trained and capable of playing several instruments reasonably well, had an even better understanding of music. Like Shammi, he too played many different instruments on screen. Once again, a mild curiosity to discover just how many instruments he's shown playing on screen, led to this post on Raj Kapoor and a dozen instruments. (If only all research was so pleasurable!) So here, on what would have been Raj Kapoor's 91st birthday, a heartfelt tribute to a man who lived and breathed music as well as films.
Dil ka haal sune dilwale
Shree 420 (1955)
In what is one of Raj Kapoor's best-known films, Raj plays Rajkumar, a small-town man who has come to Bombay seeking his fortune. When the money he receives after pawning his 'honesty' is stolen, the young man is in dire straits. A chance reunion with a kindly banana seller who had fed him a couple of bananas earlier in the day, introduces him to the folk who have made the footpath their home. After a hard day's work, they relax with song and dance. Raj joins in, cheekily satirising the state of affairs in contemporary society, much to the amusement of his new found friends, and annoying the wealthy, dyspeptic Seth who is trying to sleep. The humble daph complements his song. Shailendra adds the requisite pep with his sly lyrics.
Aansoo bhari hain
Lyrics: Hasrat Jaipuri
It's not for nothing that I associate the sarangi and the violin with dirges. Doordarshan had a lot to do with that feeling actually, since the only time I heard the sarangi was when some VIP died and DD decided they had to mourn. Here too, the mood is that of mourning. Perhaps the song itself had become the anthem of doomed youth everywhere - it certainly had the requisite pathos. Considering this is one of those 'I'll sacrifice my love for my brother's sake' songs - especially when said brother is not even in love with the heroine (who actually has the gumption to state that she will only marrying pining hero and none other), the song itself is beautiful. So is the picturisation; it's only the context that makes me go, eh, what? (It was however, an unusual film in that it made no efforts to sort out who was the 'real' heir.)
Main dil hoon ek armaan bhara
Singer: Talat Mehmood
Lyrics: Satyendra Athayya
Just so we can have someone other than Mukesh... No, I'm kidding. I love this song. It is justifiably known as one of Talat Mehmood's best. Piano songs were quite popular then, and it doesn't surprise me that there would be one picturised on Raj Kapoor as well. Unlike quite a few heroes of the time, he could actually play the piano, and the picturisation didn't look like a bunch of bananas were being deployed by an orangutan gone mad. The song is also quite interesting in that the first two antaras follow the same tempo; after which, there's a snatch of dialogue where Om Prakash pointedly 'jokes' that perhaps the singer should give up his job as lawyer and take up singing instead. Whereupon, the quite-annoyed Raj speeds up the last antara considerably, playing loud dissonant chords on the piano in his annoyance.
Mujhe kisise pyar ho gaya
Singer: Lata Mangeshkar
Lyrics: Jalal Malihabadi
This was the beginning of the musical mystique of Raj Kapoor - the beginning of the 'group' that would see RK's musical flag flying high for the ages. Barsaat saw the birth of Shankar-Jaikishan as music composers, it heralded the arrival of Lata Mangeshkar into the RK camp, it introduced Nimmi to Hindi cinema, and it firmly established the star pairing of Raj Kapoor and Nargis, their love for each other to be forever enshrined as the RK logo. Unlike the earlier songs, Raj Kapoor does not sing here - he only plays the violin (played by Van Shipley, whom Raj heard play at St Xavier's and coaxed to play for him) to complement Nargis's song. Watch the ease with which he wields the bow, and notice how the movement of the bow and his hand seems to mimic the notes - Raj ensured that his 'playing' looked realistic on screen.
Kehta hai joker saara zamana
Mera Naam Joker (1970)
Raj Kapoor's magnum opus, Mera Naam Joker stretched for close to four hours of reel time, and played with two intervals. He had put his heart and soul and even gambled his studio on this film, so close to his heart. Unfortunately for him, he was no gambler. (Wife Krishna once mentioned how he liked to bet on horses. A doctor friend and he always bet together; Raj Kapoor would pick up the phone to his bookie, and say '10'. Everyone assumed he was betting ten thousand rupees; truth was, he was actually betting only ten rupees - five for himself and five for the doctor. If they won Rs15 or Rs 20, the two of them were thrilled.) Mera Naam Joker flopped, and flopped badly. What was worse as far as Raj Kapoor was concerned was that his dream team was also collapsing - Lata and he had had a falling out over Sangam (both over the double entendre present in the Main kaa karoon Ram number, and over the question of her royalties) - she didn't sing in Mera Naam Joker; there were cracks within the Shankar-Jaikishan team - both of them had already begun composing separately; the death of Shailendra a few years previously had already hit Raj Kapoor hard; and even though he did not know it then, this was the last RK film for which his 'soul' would sing. Raj Kapoor himself would set aside his acting after this film to concentrate on direction.
6. Penny Whistle
Pyar hua iqraar hua
Shree 420 (1955)
Singers: Manna Dey, Lata Mangeshkar
Shree 420 cemented Raj Kapoor's place in the pantheon of cinema greats, which he had carved for himself with Awara. An iconic song in an iconic film, Pyar hua iqraar hua is probably seen as the quintessential rain song. The picturisation, showing the rainswept streets of Bombay, the two lovers sharing a cup of tea and an umbrella, the three raincoat-ed children (Raj's children - Ritu, Randhir and Rishi) splashing through the puddles... it was the stuff dreams are made of. Raj and Vidya have plighted their troth - Shailendra's words spoke of love and happiness, a hope for the future, contentment in the present... their love was enough. And in the midst of it all is Raju (not yet Rajkumar), not with a classy guitar or a sophisticated piano, just a humble penny whistle with which he plays a simple melody - as simple as he is, as simple as Vidya is... And there is a yearning in Vidya's voice as she sings ...phir bhi rahengi nishaaniyaa...
Sun bairi balam sach bol re
Bawre Nain (1950)
Lyrics: Kidar Sharma
From the penny whistle to the flute. It helps that Raj Kapoor seems to know what he's doing with the instrument. Once again, he's only complementing his heroine's song. (A few years later, he would help his younger brother marry her.) Veteran director Kidar Sharma is known as Raj Kapoor's mentor - the latter's cinematic journey began under the veteran's tutelage; Raj Kapoor was his clapper boy. And before he gave the young lad a break as hero in Neel Kamal opposite debutante Madhubala (in her first adult role), he is also known to have slapped him - hard. Kidar Sharma also mentored another person - Roshan Nagarath. The young music director had been hit hard by the failure of his debut film Neki aur Badi. On the verge of packing his bags to leave, it was only upon Kidar Sharma's persuasion that he remained - to give some stupendous music for this weep-fest of a film. Kidar Sharma stepped in to write the lyrics. The rest, as they say, is history.Ye toh kaho kaun ho tum
While not being one of his better known films, being a Hrishikesh Mukherjee film meant that the usual love triangle got a slightly more realistic treatment than it usually did. A very pleasant tune, it had Raj Kapoor play the dholak like he was born to it, and Padmini did what she does best - dance up a storm. While Nanda is in the audience, smiling bashfully as she misinterprets Raj's words as being meant for her. Of course, it's painfully obvious to anyone who's watched Hindi films before that he has no eyes for anyone other than Padmini. Among the ruling triumvirate of the time, both Raj and Dilip had an advantage over Dev Anand - they could both dance, and very gracefully too. And both of them could fit into a rural milieu without standing out like a sore thumb. Perhaps it is just as well that Dev played to his strengths.
Tera dil ka makaan
Do Ustad (1959)
Singers: Asha Bhosle, Mohammed Rafi
Music: OP Nayyar
Lyrics: Qamar Jalalabadi
Another rustic instrument, only this time, the venue is not a village ground but the stage. A lovely folk-ish tune, with Raj Kapoor playing the been though his heroine is not quite a snake, or anything like. Raj Kapoor reunites with Madhubala in a convoluted tale about separated brothers, and umpteen misunderstandings before everything ends well. If you are a fan of cross-referencing in movies, you will have fun with this one. It's genuinely watchable and Raj Kapoor seemed to be having the time of his life. While Mohammed Rafi has sung for Raj Kapoor in non-RK productions, it was rather strange to discover that the baton was wielded by OP Nayyar. I hadn't been aware that Nayyar had ever composed for RK at all.
10. Piano Accordion
Har dil jo pyar karega
Singers: Mukesh, Lata Mangeshkar, Mahendra Kapoor
This is one of those contextual songs where the three angles of a love triangle all end up singing their hearts out, and one of them is remarkably obtuse. It doesn't help that there is always an audience to this sort of thing. Raj Kapoor emphasised the geometry of relationships by actually placing the three protagonists at the three corners of the room, forming a physical triangle as well as an emotional one. One has to admire his ability to play the piano accordion even as he does a nifty two-step; it's a feat he will duplicate in Manmohan Desai's Naseeb, where the film-maker invited the who's who of the film fraternity of the time to take part in a song sequence. What works for me, here, is the oblique confession of Vyjayanthimala's emotions, along with Rajendra Kumar's deflection - he appears to made a statement that at least she understands. And all the while, Raj Kapoor has his heart hanging on his sleeve.
Bol Radha bol
In an interview with Simi Garewal for her BBC documentary, Living Legend - Raj Kapoor, Raj Kapoor talks about the difficulty he had signing Vyjayanthimala for Sangam. Repeated phone calls had not succeeded in contacting the very busy heroine. Finally, in a last ditch effort, he cabled her while she was shooting in Madras: Bol Radha bol sangam hoga ke nahin. Days passed, but there was still no reply. One day, he was sitting with Shailendra, when he received a telegram. It read: Hoga, hoga, zaroor hoga! When he showed Shailendra the telegram and narrated the story behind the response, the latter was inspired and immediately wrote the lines: Mere man ki Ganga aur tere man ki Jamuna ka, bol Radha bol sangam hoga ke nahin? For some odd reason, Raj Kapoor is shown playing the bagpipes in this song. (I mean, there's no particular reason why he should be.)
Mud mud ke na dekh
Singer: Asha Bhosle, Mukesh
Nadira often jokingly complained that Raj Kapoor ruined her career - after Shree 420, she was only cast as the vamp. However, as vamp, she had quite a role in this film, and she also admitted that her rakhi brother had given her one of her career best roles. (Her other complaint involved the gown - it was stitched so tightly to her figure that she couldn't sit down until after the shooting was done.) And much like all of RK songs, this one too pulled the narrative forward - Rajkumar has 'Vidya' behind him and 'Maya' in front - the latter informing him - charmingly - that it wasn't wise to look back, that life doesn't wait for anyone to catch up. In the context of the film, Rajkumar's choice to remain makes perfect sense, even if he has to lose his lady love in order to attain success. The picturisation, as with all of Raj Kapoor's song picturisations, was beautifully done, and Raj 'plays' the trumpet just as well as any other instrument in this list. For trivia lovers: see if you can spot Jaikishan in the song. (Watch from 5.35 to about 5.48.)
Raj Kapoor was many things - actor, director, producer, singer, editor, story-teller, showman... he lived and breathed films and music; his films were imbued with his passion for music and story telling. Whatever posterity might think of his overall contribution to the cause of cinema, it cannot be denied that Indian cinema is the richer for his participation.
Raj Kapoor left this world on the 2nd of June 1988. Just a few weeks before his demise, he had been awarded the Dadasaheb Phalke Award, the country's highest honour in cinema. And somewhere up there, he's reunited with his soul, Mukesh, and the rest of his group, whom he vowed lent life to the music in his films - Shailendra, Jaikishan, Shankar, Hasrat Jaipuri, Manna Dey... and they are all up there making music once again. Or perhaps, he's here, laughing at the idea that as long as films continue to be made on this earth, he would go anywhere else...
Swarg yahin, nark yahan
Iske siva jaana kahaan
Jee chaahe jab humko aawaaz do,
Hum hain wahin hum thhe jahaan...