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03 February 2017

In Praise of Waheeda Rehman

She is one of my favourite actresses of all time. Her beauty, her grace, her immense talent, that ability to be completely natural on screen – have all been rightly extolled throughout her career. Unassuming, but known to speak her mind, she has gracefully removed herself from the arc lights, and has no regrets about ‘losing’ fame and recognition. Waheeda Rehman. Immortalised forever as the eponymous ‘Chaudhvin ka Chand’ in a film that was not so deserving of her talent. I have written about her before – a post on what I think are her best roles, a review of her conversations with Nasreen Munni Kabeer, reviewed some half a dozen of her films… she also makes regular appearances on my song lists.

Waheeda has had the good fortune of having some lovely songs picturised on her. A lot of them are her solos – songs that she lip-synced on screen. But as I was listening to Chaudhvin ka chaand ho while driving my son to his choir rehearsals the other day, I realised that she had quite a few songs that are songs that are paeans to her beauty, praising her charm and her loveliness, while some of the others are sheer romance, in verse.

So today, on her 79th birthday, here’s a collection of songs some sung to Waheeda, some of her, all male solos, all lovely.

Chaudhvin ka Chand (1960)Singer: Mohammed Rafi
Music: Ravi
Lyrics: Shakeel Badayuni
The song that inspired this list, it has always been one of my favourite Mohammed Rafi numbers, from way back when I was an impressionable pre-teen and had heard it for the first time. If there’s one song that expresses almost reverential awe at a beloved’s beauty, it is this one. Rafi’s voice was sublime (and that’s no exaggeration), and each verse ramps up the compliments to her beauty and the love she inspires in him.
Chehra hai jaise jheel mein hansta hua kamal
Ya zindagi ke saaz pe chhedi huyi ghazal
Jaane bahaar tum kisi shaayar kaa khwaab ho
Guru Dutt looked suitably awestruck (who wouldn’t?) and Waheeda… sigh! Ethereal and sensuous, there’s an adorable confusion in her eyes when she wakes up to such naked adoration.

Singer: Hemant Kumar
Music: Hemant Kumar
Lyrics: Shakeel Badayuni
I dithered between Beqaraar kar ke humeinyun na jaayiye and this one, both of which I like, and finally closed my eyes and picked this. A quiet song, gentle and teasing, not the more rumbunctious teasing that Shammi Kapoor indulged in, but a sweet one that approaches the woman he's fallen in love with, with a gentleness and serenity. You can 'hear' the smile in Hemantda's voice, a smile that is replicated on Biswajeet's face, and in Waheeda's eyes as he sings:
Kitni masoom lag rahi ho tum
Tumko zaalim kahe woh jhootha hai
Ye bholapan tumhara, ye sharaarat aur ye shokhi
Zaroorat kya tumhen talwaar ki teeron ki khanjar ki
Nazar bhar ke jise tum dekh lo wo khud hi mar jaaye
 She is no pushover, but she is not immune to his charm either, and there's amusement as well as a lingering attraction in her look.

This must perhaps be the only song where a sugarcane is such an important prop. 

Kaun Apna Kaun Paraya (1963)
Singer: Mohammed Rafi
Music: Ravi
Lyrics: Shakeel Badayuni
It's a rather obscure film, starring an obscure hero (Tony Walker, brother of the esteemed Johnny, billed here as Vijay Kumar). It's a lovely song, however, and one that expresses his love for her, and his appreciation for Nature that seems all the more beautiful for her being in it.
Tere husn se jo sanwar gayi 
Wh fizaayen mujhko azeez hain
Teri zulf se jo lipat gayi 
Mujhe un hawaaon se pyaar hai... 
And that's not all; he hasn't had a moment's peace since he fell in love with her... 
Hua jab se dil mein tera guzar
Mujhe chain hai na qaraar hai

Kohra (1964)
Singer: Hemant Kumar
Music: Hemant Kumar
Lyrics: Kaifi Azmi
What's a girl to do when the man she's married is cold and dismissive one minute and romantic the next? What's she to do when the mansion she lives in is populated with the strange people, where she's forbidden to visit the west wing, where even strange men make stranger pronouncemens? Can one blame her for being scared out of her wits? It so happens that this is one of the times that her husband is feeling solicitous towards her... at least, he notices her eyes, filled with fright, and tries to reassure her: those eyes are intoxicating; will she allow him to drink deep? 
Raat haseen ye chand haseen
Tu sabse haseen mere dilbar
Aur tujhse haseen
Aur tujhse haseen tera pyaar
Tu jaane naa
Ye nayan dare dare, ye jaam bhare bhare
Zara peene do
His gentleness towards her, the love in his voice and in the words he's almost whispering, chase the fright away. Slowly, a smile begins to form, and her eyes sparkle with delight as she looks shyly at him. It's a lovely song, and like the one from Bees Saal Baad, a gentle, satisfying one. 

Solva Saal (1958)
Singer: Mohammed Rafi
Music: SD Burman
Lyrics: Majrooh Sultanpuri
This song is not being sung to Waheeda, as much as it is, of her. Of course, Kashyap (Dev Anand) hopes she's listening. Having had an heirloom necklace stolen by the man she had eloped with, Laaj (Waheeda) just wants to go home, but how can she, without her mother's necklace? She's forced to rely on Kashyap, a man whose sense of humour nearly makes her want to kill him. Their conversation makes the taxi driver suspicious, and he stops the car to ask Kashyap just who the girl is. Yahi toh hai woh... says Kashyap. Hasn't the taxi driver ever read fairy tales? 
Sunaa hoga aap ne, kissa ye chaupaal mein
Ek raja phans gaya tha ik pari ke jaal mein
Woh pari aayi hai phir naye jalwe liye
Dekhiye dekhiye gaur se phir dekhiye
Yahi to hai woh yahi toh hai
And while Laaj sits fulminating in the car, Kashyap goes on to add that she's the one for whom Farhad sacrificed his life; in whose memory, Majnu wandered through the jungles; for whom Romeo killed himself... it is she.  

12 O'Clock (1958)
Singer: Mohammed Rafi
Music: OP Nayyar
Lyrics: Majrooh Sultanpuri
Once again a song that is sung of her, Main kho gaya is also sung in the hopes that she will overhear him. (He lives in the flat below.) Bani (Waheeda) has just left her cousin's home after another squabble with the latter's husband, and has managed to find herself a job as a solicitor's secretary. Her boss, Ajay (Guru Dutt) is soon besotted by her beauty and personality, and has fallen head over heels in love with her. Coincidentally, she comes to stay in the flat above, and Ajay is hoping against hope that she reciprocates his feelings. This is his way of tentatively sounding her out: 
Yun kisi se hua saamna 
Dil ne awaaz di thaamna
Jaane kya keh gayi woh nigaah-e-naazneen
Main kho gaya yahin kahin
Jawaan hai rut sama haseen
Kahaan hai dil kise pata
Kahaan hoon main khabar nahin
Main kho gaya
One look from her beautiful eyes, and he's lost his heart and himself. (She's not as disinterested as she pretends, either.) 

Dharti (1970)
Singer: Mohammed Rafi
Music: Shankar-Jaikishan
Lyrics: Rajinder Krishan
He is so enamoured of her beauty that he is sure even the Creator would  be mesmerised by her, and wonder who made her so... the angels will want to kiss the earth where she stepped... he cannot think of how best to describe her; there has been no one like her, there never will be anyone like her...
Zamaane bhar ki masti ko nigaahon mein sameta hai
Kali se jism ko kitni bahaaron ne lapeta hai
Hua tumsa na pahle na doosra hoga
Nahin tum sa koi pahle na koyi doosra hoga

The costume and the hair style do her no favours, and Rajendra Kumar was a bit too long in the tooth to play a romantic hero, but this is a beautiful song for all that, even if, by the 70s, Shankar-Jaikishan had begun to lose steam as a music duo. 
Prem Pujari (1970)
Singer: Kishore Kumar
Music: SD Burman
Lyrics: Neeraj
A man, caught up in an espionage ring, forced to leave his beloved behind... a young woman, who is waiting anxiously for news of her lover, who had promised to write to her every day. There's no way to communicate, since she has no idea where he is. While she's hoping against hope that no news is not bad news, he's far away in another land - but he has not forgotten her. Like her, he's also writing incomplete letters, letters that he dare not send lest it fall into the wrong hands and blow his cover. He remembers her beauty, their unding love for each other, and the memory of her beautiful face will never fade.
Saanson ki sargam, dhadkan ki veena,
Sapnon ki geetaanjali tu
Man ki gali mein, mahke jo hardam,
Aisi juhi ki kali tu...
Prem Pujari did not fare well at the box office, but the music was a hit. Incidentally, though Dharti was released the same year as this film, Waheeda looked so much better here.

Shagoon (1964)
Singer: Mohammed Rafi
Music: Khayyam
Lyrics: Sahir Ludhianvi  
This is one of those films where the songs are better heard than the film seen. Based on superstitions and how one must not let them wreck lives, the plot went beserk with over-the-top performances from Achala Sachdev, and Waheeda was consigned to being a wet mop. It didn't help that her hero was the man who would eventually be her husband ten years later. He had all the screen presence of a rotten egg. However, this song, one of the many lovely ones composed by Khayyam for this film, is certainly worth listening to. A romantic number that earnestly begs her to reconsider leaving him, because if she does, her shadows will remain. That's how much he loves her. 
Ghul ke reh jaayegi jhonkon mein badan ki khushboo
Zulf ka aks ghataaon mein rahega sadiyon
Phool chupke se chura lenge labon ki surkhi
Ye jawaan husn fazaaon mein rahega sadiyon
Tum chali jaaogi parchhaiyaan reh jaayegi
Kuchh na kuchh husn ki raanaiyaan rah jaayegi
She can't but be overwhelmed.  
Dil Diya Dard Liya (1966)
Singer: Mohammed Rafi
Music: Naushad
Lyrics: Shakeel Badayuni
Film adaptations of books rarely stand up to the original, and when the plot goes haywire, it's even worse. An adaptation of Wuthering Heights, the film milked melodrama to the last groat. However, a beautiful Waheeda, a slightly over-the-hill Dilip Kumar (who could still act) and a nasty Pran makes it worth a one-time watch, especially if, like me, you watched it on Doordarshan at a time we were so starved for entertainment that we watched the news and Krishi Darshan as well. Dil Diya Dard Liya had some decent songs, however, and I like this one because, romantic though it is, it is not just about her beauty - it is about her love for him, and how it gives him strength. (A premise that will undergo a trial by fire before dross turns into gold.) 
Pyaar ki jaan hai tu, dil ka armaan hai tu
Kaun duniya se dare jab nigehbaan hai tu
Apni kashti ko sahaare pe tere chhod diya
Dil diya dard liya...
Happy Birthday, Waheedaji. 

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