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03 February 2018

The Many Moods of Waheeda Rehman

My Waheeda love has been chronicled in these pages many a time. Like Meena Kumari, she’s always been one of my favourite actresses of all time. She holds my attention every time she appears on screen; no matter how bad the film or even her role in it, I’ve never seen Waheeda Rehman give a bad performance. Her presence is riveting, her performances natural and her beauty, well… what need one say about it? To me, she was beauty, dignity, simplicity, grace and talent personified.
When I wrote a post on ‘The Many Moods of Meena Kumari I hadn’t thought of it as marking the beginning of a series. Then I wrote a post on praising Waheeda Rehman, and in the comments, in response to Neeru, I mentioned that someday, I might write up a ‘Many Moods’ post on Waheeda as well. As with many of my intentions, this was also put on the back burner. In the meantime, however, amidst the reviews, I did write a post on Dilip Kumar’s many moods. Unknowingly, I seem to have a series on my hands.

Daer aaye durust aaye, or so they say. So, today, only a year from my initial comment, I once again post a ‘song’ tribute to Waheeda Rehman on her 80th birthday, songs that she sang on screen. Most of the songs on this list do not showcase her dancing, but each one of them depicts her in a different mood and/or emotion.

Kabhi Kabhie (1976) Singer: Lata Mangeshkar Music: Khayyam Lyrics: Sahir Ludhianvi
I don’t know whether it’s because I really lack the maternal gene but this song is not one of my favourites. However, it is pretty apt for the mood and the context. Anju (Waheeda) is married to Amit (Amitabh Bachchan), and they have a teenage daughter, Sweety (Naseem). One day, Anju has an unwelcome visitor – Pinky (Neetu Singh), who has come in search of her biological mother. Anju is torn by conflicting emotions – on the one hand is the dread that her husband will come to know of this child; on the other, is her maternal feelings for the daughter she’s never really known. Pinky is the outsider, both literally, and figuratively – the scene is framed with Amit in an armchair, Anju sitting on its arm, and Sweety at her father’s feet. Pinky is seated on a chair opposite, part of, yet separate from that little family. As Anju sings Sweety’s favourite lullaby for her, she cannot help but look furtively across at Pinky as well, even caress her in passing - daughters both - you can see the conflicting emotions warring on her face.

Banwaari re
Ek Phool Char Kaante (1960) Singer: Lata Mangeshkar Music: Shankar Jaikishan Lyrics: Hasrat Jaipuri
Sushma (Waheeda), dressed in a white sari, her hair left loose and holding an ektara, is singing a bhajan when Sanjeev (Sunil Dutt) lovingly escorts his mother to the temple. Sanjeev is very surprised since, when he had had a run-in with Sushma earlier, she had been dressed in a more modern fashion, and didn't in the least look like a jogan. Puzzled though he is by her change from a fiery virago who let out the air in his tyres to this demure damsel lost in her devotion, Sanjeev is bedazzled by the singer. [Can’t say I blame him. Waheeda makes for an exceedingly pretty jogan.] The mother, however, is properly impressed with Sushma’s serene spirituality. And while I’m not especially religious, I love this bhajan (as I do a few others.)

C.I.D. (1956) Singer: Shamshad Begum Music: OP Nayyar Lyrics: Majrooh Sultanpuri
Waheeda Rehman’s debut in Hindi, C.I.D slotted her as the villain’s moll, the vamp. An orphan, groomed by the villain, Dharamdas (Bir Sakhuja), to be his mistress and associate, Kamini (Waheeda) has turned against him (perhaps because she realises that he’s ruthless and she may be next in line to be sacrificed). In this sequence, an on-the-run Shekhar has arrived at Dharamdas's house to find proof of his innocence (and Dharamdas's crimes). However, he’s interrupted by Dharamdas's arrival, and Kamini strives to distract her mentor so Shekhar can escape. While her expressions are mischievous and her song (on the face of it) seductive, she’s actually warning Shekhar, and describing how he can get to the secret way so he can escape.

A trained dancer, Waheeda was extremely graceful (except for some parts where my husband claimed she had a ‘Nargis-like stiffness’.)

Sach hue sapne tere
Kala Bazar (1960) Singer: Asha Bhosle Music: SD Burman Lyrics: Shailendra
This was a refreshing change from the usual Hindi film heroine.Alka (Waheeda), who has already broken off her engagement to Nand (Vijay Anand), comes running to tell Raghu the good news. The latter, so deeply in love with Alka despite knowing she’s engaged to (and in love with) another man, is sitting on a deserted beach, staring gloomily at the sea. Alka can’t resist teasing him, her happiness spilling forth in her dazzling smile and her sparkling eyes. Her happiness is so infectious that Raghu finds himself smiling in response even if he cannot quite believe that his love may be within his grasp after all. Waheeda’s playfulness was in full display as she gambols through the waves, even bending down and splashing the puddles in time with the song. 

Bhanwra bada nadaan hai
Sahib Bibi aur Ghulam (1962) Singer: Asha Bhosle Music: Hemant Kumar Lyrics: Shakeel Badayuni
For such an unassuming, tranquil beauty, Waheeda always gives me the impression of being in motion. I think her very mobile face has something to do with it. The fluidity with which the expressions chase themselves across that visage is amazing. Just watch this sequence if you don’t know what I mean – for most of the song, she’s sitting down. Attracted to the shy Bhootnath (Guru Dutt), Waheeda’s Jaba nevertheless alternately teases and torments him. Here, she’s writing a poem with Bhootnath as her subject – only, she turns him into a bee, much to the hidden Bhootnath’s chagrin. (He knows she’s singing of him.) The range of expressions that Waheeda expresses in this song – teasing, flirtatious, frustrated, mischievous… sublime! (I love the various faces she makes in this song.)

Baat Ek Raat Ki (1962) Singer: Suman Kalyanpur Music: SD Burman Lyrics: Majrooh Sultanpuri
Coming as a twin-version song, the Hemant Kumar-Suman Kalyanpur duet is the version that is the more popular one. However, this solo comes as a flashback as a traumatised Neela (Waheeda Rehman) remembers happier days when she had fallen in love with her co-star, Ranjan (Chandrasekhar). She is dreamily awaiting his arrival, and there’s a shy smile flitting about her lips as she softly sings Na tum humein jaano, na hum tumhein jaane – which, last, is truer than she can imagine then.

The innocence of first love, the shyness inherent in waiting for her beloved, the sheer happiness as she imagines their future together – Waheeda’s expressive face reflected all these emotions, and more.

12 o’Clock (1958) Singer: Geeta Dutt Music: OP Nayyar Lyrics: Majrooh Sultanpuri
Bani (Waheeda) has just joined Ajay’s (Guru Dutt’s) office as his secretary. While Ajay is soon besotted by her, Bani (who’s aware of his feelings for her) teases him, but remains seemingly disinterested. Later that night, they have a tiff in the car about another man (Rehman). About to explain, Bani pretends to an entanglement she doesn't have, and then stumps him by enquiring what right he had to question her. Ajay walks off in a huff. Bani waltzes into her room, a small smile flitting across her lips as she unrolls the portrait that Ajay's friend had made of the two of them. She then begins to sing as she admits – to herself, at least – that she does love Ajay. Her eyes express her shyness, and her wonder at these new feelings. But she's not above teasing Ajay she comes out on her balcony, giving him an earful and driving the man insanely jealous, Yes, she is a minx, but he's drawn to her.   

 Jaane kya tune kahi
Pyaasa (1951) Singer: Geeta Dutt Music: SD Burman Lyrics: Sahir Ludhianvi
Waheeda captivates as Gulabo, a prostitute, who’s initially taken aback to have a strange man accost her. (He hears her reciting his poetry – incidentally, the poem she recites later becomes a song in Phir Subah Hogi – Phir na keeje meri gustaakh nigahi ka gila, Dekhiye aap ne phir pyaar se dekha mujhko.) Then, as she assumes he’s a client, she beckons him to follow her. There’s a sauciness to her smile, as she tosses her head and glances flirtatiously back at him, willing him to follow her home. A song that melded music and voice was brought to life by Waheeda’s expressiveness. She is everything in this song – enticing, entrancing, enchanting… just watch the mischief on her face as she emotes to Geeta’s playfulness in Nain jhuk jhuk ke uthe, Paaon ruk ruk ke uthe...

Teesri Kasam (1966) Singer: Asha Bhosle Music: Shankar Jaikishan Lyrics: Shailendra
One of the few songs in this list that actually show Waheeda dancing. A typical nautanki number, Waheeda (as Heera Bai) is at her come-hither best as she entices the all-male audience with her adaas. There is a comfort with who her character is – as far away from the genteel Waheeda of real life as could be possible – Heera Bai is obviously used to (and seemingly likes) the lascivious gazes of her male customers, even if one of those men is visibly uncomfortable with both the unabashed sensuality she projects, or his fellowmen's reaction to it. Asha’s spirited singing was complemented on screen by Waheeda’s emoting.

Chaudhvin ka Chand (1960) Singer: Lata Mangeshkar Music: Ravi Lyrics: Shakeel Badayuni
What’s a woman to do when the husband she adores suddenly turns away from her? And won’t even tell her why? The bewilderment that Jameela feels when Aslam (Guru Dutt) spurns her is reflected in Waheeda’s despairing gaze. This is the husband who had serenaded her with the worshipful Chaudhvin ka chaand ho. Now, she’s at a loss to understand his feelings. The pain in Lata’s voice is mirrored in Waheeda’s face, and her tear-filled eyes breaks the fourth wall and pulls us into that crushing feeling of confused despair as well. 

So beautiful. So bleak. This is, I think, Lata’s only song for a Guru Dutt production.

Kaagaz ke Phool (1959) Singer: Geeta Dutt Music: SD Burman Lyrics: Kaifi Azmi
Were I to have a ‘top ten favourites’ list (I love too many songs for that to be a possibility), Waqt ne kiya would definitely find a place on it. This song, coming as it does at the beginning of Shanti’s and Suresh’s (Guru Dutt) association, is a wistful song of ‘if only’.  When Suresh comes in to the studio, he’s startled by an unexpected sound. Turning around, he spots Shanthi sitting quietly, knitting. He’s amused. Why is she here? She smiles. Why is he? He always comes early, he quips. She nods, smiling. She knows. What? Everything. He moves away, disquieted; she follows. They are both lonely; they are both attracted to each other – and they both know it. But… he’s married. And she knows that too. If only… 

Rangeela re
Prem Pujari (1970) Singer: Lata Mangeshkar Music: SD Burman Lyrics: Neeraj
I have often considered Waheeda Rehman and Nutan to be the best onscreen pairs with Dev Anand. Small wonder, then, that half this list is populated by songs from Waheeda-Dev films. This one, coming nearly twenty years after their first film together, still showcases the fantastic chemistry that the two stars shared. Waheeda, drunk (or pretend-drunk?), sings (and dances) out her betrayal at seeing her lover in another woman’s arms. Nothing – not even the shock of those watching, or the other woman's searing contempt, can stop Suman’s emotions from breaking the bounds of social conventions. It’s a bravura performance, the anguish so real, so natural. And drunk or not, Waheeda’s dancing is amazingly graceful.

Guide (1965) Singer: Lata Mangeshkar Music: SD Burman Lyrics: Shailendra
I love everything about this song – the music, the lyrics, the way Rosie dances with abandon; the sheer feeling of freedom from the shackles of an emotionally-abusive marriage and the joy of living that is evident in Waheeda’s transformation always brings a smile to my face. Raju (Dev Anand) watches amazed (even though he was the catalyst) as the dutiful wife of the previous day transmogrifies into this joyous young girl just discovering the wonders of life. One of my favourite dance sequences of Waheeda’s is also from this film but it is not to a song – she’s just dancing – no, reacting – to the music. It is the snake dance sequence – you can watch it here.

So, that’s it – a baker’s dozen songs that never fail to enchant me. And a very happy birthday to Waheeda Rehman. Thank you for brightening up my life through your films.  

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