Friday, June 05, 2009

Beautiful. Stirring. Moving.

A friend of mine recently introduced me to a song - Chalo Ek Baar Phir Se, sung by Mahendra Kapoor - and I instantly fell in love with it. It's from a 1963 movie called Gumraah, starring Sunil Dutt, Mala Sinha and Ashok Kumar. Before I tell you why I love the song, listen to it below.

The situation in which it appears, from what little I know of the movie, is a very interesting one. One that makes the song all the more poignant and moving. Mala Sinha is in love with Sunil Dutt, and they have big plans for their lives ahead. However, her sister dies suddenly and in keeping with the social expectations of those times, Mala Sinha is forced to marry her brother-in-law, Ashok Kumar, for the sake of his two children. Not very long after the marriage, Sunil Dutt visits their home... and they realise their love for each other has not abated. Yet they both know their love is doomed, and can never be revived...

The lyrics are perfectly pitched and suited to the situation, drawing upon the irony and the pain of the situation, while recognizing the impossibility of any hopes that were held for the future. The words sigh, they scold, they mock, they soar, they hint, they whisper, they caress, they plead... Simple yet stunning lyrics by Sahir Ludhianvi who apparently wrote the poem on which this song is based when he came across a ex-lover of his with her husband at a party.

Here are the lyrics:

Chalo ek baar phir se, ajnabi ban jaye hum dono -2
Na main tumse koi ummeed rakhoon dilnavaazi ki
Na tum meri taraf dekho galat andaaz nazaron se
Na mere dil ki dhadkan ladkhadaaye meri baaton mein
Na zaahir ho tumhaari kashmkash ka raaz nazaron se
Chalo ek baar phir se...

Tumhen bhi koi uljhan rokti hai peshkadmi se
Mujhe bhi log kehte hain, ki yeh jalve paraaye hain
Mere hamraah bhi rusvaaiyaan hain mere maazi ki -2
Tumhaare saath bhi guzri hui raaton ke saaye hain
Chalo ek baar phir se...

Ta'arruf rog ho jaaye to usko bhoolnaa behtar
Ta'alluk bojh ban jaaye to usko todnaa achchha
Voh afsaana jise anjaam tak laana na ho mumkin -2
Use ek khoobsoorat mod dekar chhodna achchha
Chalo ek baar phir se...

For those who don't get all the words, here's one Translation [Source]. (IMO, the English translation is nowhere near as beautiful as the Urdu/Hindi original, but still...)

Come, let us be strangers again, you and I.

I shall no longer hope for any favours from you
Nor shall you look upon me with eyes askance.
And my words shall tremble no more with my heartbeat
Nor the secret of your struggle be betrayed in a glance.

Come, let us be strangers again, you and I.

You too have hesitated to give yourself completely
I too wear disguises, or so I am told
The disgraces of my past are my constant companions
And you too are possessed by the nights of old.

When involvement becomes illness it is best forgotten
When a relationship oppresses it is best to break it
When the adventure you are embarked on cannot be completed
One must find a beautiful way out, and take it.

Come, let us be strangers again, you and I.

I find this among the most beautiful songs I've heard in a very very long time. For some reason, it strikes me very deep in an intensely emotional way. It almost moves me to tears every time I hear it. And I don't know why it has that effect on me.

Part of the reason is the sheer beauty of the lyrics - simple yet conveying a very deep message. And the situation in which this song is sung is very touching, as well. You can feel the pain, the desires, the confusion of the characters. Beyond just the context of the song, there's something undescribably sad about the thought and emotion of loving someone/something and losing that love that moves me. It's an emotion that links inextricably, though to varying degrees, to so many others - longing, obsession, loneliness, anger, lust, depression, despair. Emotions that are among those that lay the human soul most bare. Emotions that we often strive to hide from the world, but cannot help being tormented by within the tortured confines of our minds and our hearts.

The first few times I heard the song and went through the lyrics, I interpreted it as it appears on the surface - a song from a man who has to sacrifice his love and pretend it never existed. A song about the irony/helplessness of the situation and doomed love, as well as their need to move on from it. On repeated listening, though, an alternate interpretation struck me - one that's more suggestive. One where the man ackowledges the hopelessness of the situation, but also hints at the possibility of continuing the affair. I felt, in essence, that he was actually suggesting to her that she should leave her husband (or go behind his back) and reignite their love.

For example:
Tumhen bhi koi uljhan rokti hai peshkadmi se
Mujhe bhi log kehte hain, ki yeh jalve paraaye hain
Mere hamraah bhi rusvaaiyaan hain mere maazi ki
Tumhaare saath bhi guzri hui raaton ke saaye hain

I first thought this was in line with the whole let-us-get-over-it theme, but now I feel he's actually makng a case for their affair, talking about how they cannot and should not give it up. The peshkadmi mentioned seems to me a reference not to their (Sunil Dutt, Mala Sinha) romance, but Mala Sinha's forced marriage - he says she's unable to give herself completely to that life.

Also, the last stanza:
Ta'arruf rog ho jaaye to usko bhoolnaa behtar
Ta'alluk bojh ban jaaye to usko todnaa achchha
Voh afsaana jise anjaam tak laana na ho mumkin
Use ek khoobsoorat mod dekar chhodna achchha

This too, I earlier interpreted as a reference to their earlier love (the ta'arruf), but I now feel refers to her marriage. The afsaana jiska anjaam nahin hai is her marriage, not their affair. The bojh is her marriage, not their love. And the khoobsurat mod is him offering a way out.

Even the main line - Chalo ek baar phir se ajnabee ban jaye hum dono - seems to indicate not a closing of the door on their past, but refreshing, reigniting, restarting what was there earlier.

Several people I have spoken to - all with significantly greater appreciation of poetry and Hindi music than I have - have disagreed with this interpretation. I realise I'm probably wrong, twisting the words in a way they were meant to be twisted... but some part of me wishes there could be some hope, some possibility of success and mutual happiness in a situation such as this. And so that part of me will continue to believe in this point of view...

Many songs move me, some more significantly than others. Most that do, do so in a happy way, celebrating human emotion and bringing a smile to my face and a song to my lips, getting my feet tapping and fingers clicking. But Chalo Ek Baar Phir Se... it hits me in a wholly different way. And I feel all the richer for it.

[Update: Some lyrics corrected. Thanks, Sid!]


Mercury said...

Perhaps your (more knowledgeable) friends feel this way because your viewpoint may not coincide with the context that the movie provides.

But I like your interpretation. I had a sense of that too. That by saying 'we should become strangers again' he's almost daring her to not to give up their love.

And I think that if you consider this a work of poetry rather than a song describing a slice of life, then perhaps you will free to interpret it in alternate ways.

Sid said...

beautiful song and another deadly piece of poem by Sahir... Although I never thought the way you interpreted it, I liked it despite the hazy exact fit.

May be, Sahir was indicating your interpretation only through his last stanza - he had been in love with Amrita Pritam forever, even after her marriage with Imroz. Their story is one of the most fascinating and moving ones of modern times.

Lastly, I hope you're not getting so moved due to the 'feel' and the 'situation' applying to you and someone 'taken' :P

P.S. - In the line "rusvaaiyaan hain mere maajhi ki", the word is maazi (past) and not maajhi (boater).

AC said...

Mercury: I guess you're right - the song (as a song and not a poem) is too tightly bound with the movie it is part of, and that could stifle interpretation.

AC said...

Sid saab: Thanks a lot, really value the comments of someone as learned in this field as you! I know it might not be an absolutely perfect fit, but I feel that interpretation is too strong to be ignored, or wished away.

And thanks for the correction, have updated the lyrics.

As to whether this is personal... well, no comment :) All I'll say is that art and life tend to imitate one another more often than one expects!

Srilakshmi said...

I fell silent for five minutes after I hear to this... The meaning captures my present mood. Thanks for the introduction!

I have nothing to say! out of the world..

Paresh said...

The first time I heard that song, my interpretation was exactly like yours and it still is!

meera said...

ok...if i may say so..iwould probably have to say its quite unbelievable how romantic so many of you can be...its kinda funny actually to listen to all you guys swoon about the lyrics and the plot...guess i just can't accept such a plot as logical..but i believe as poetry it is beautiful albeit a tad too romantic for me..but thats just me!! and i had to read the english translation as i still dont get all the words and meanings after two yrs of dealing with the folks of the north!! :)

Nandini Vishwanath said...

You should ask Raja Mama. He sent this song to me once.

Mahendra Kapoor was such an underrated singer! The song brought back memories of Antakshari at home. Remember? :)

AC said...

@Srilakshmi: My first reaction, exactly :) I was just very very quiet, drinking in the feeling of the song...

@Paresh: Finally, someone who agrees with me :) I don't see why others aren't open to this possibility too!

AC said...

@Meera: Oh come on, we all need a little romance :) The plot is probably not logical in today's times, but the song, the poetry... sigh...

@Nandu: Yeah, Raja Mama's views on this would be worth listening to :) I'm going to ask him.

meera said...

haha..ok...agree...a little love never hurt anyone!

Raja Swaminathan said...

Hey, fantastic song, absolutely brilliant lyrics (Sahir saab, who else ?) - and an interesting "different" interpretation too.

Good case of "the mind sees what it wants to see". :-)

I do remember briefly flirting with this interpretation long back when I analysed this song. There is this "leaving the door ajar" sense you do get if you mull over the song for too long. But then the reality of Hindi film and society kicks in and you feel the safer interpretation, in the context of the film, would be the more popular one. That Sunil Dutt is conveying his wish that they become strangers again since there is no point in continuing from where they left off.

But then, BR Chopra was quite iconoclastic himself, taking on society through his films. (Not just this one but also movies like "Saadhna", "Dhool Ka Phool" and "Dharmaputra"). He may have just encouraged Sahir to play with his words a bit and leave the rest to the viewer.

Talking of Sahir, even by his amazingly high standards, he excels himself here. He has long been my favourite poet/lyricist. His cynicism and disillusionment with society is probably the quality that comes through most in his writing (from personal experience, no doubt) but it is still writing of the highest standard. (For the record, another poet/lyricist of yesteryear that I like a lot is Neeraj who used to write for Navketan (Dev Anand)).

A couple of other Sahir songs that evoke strong romanticism through poetry are "kisi patthar ki moorat se" and "tum agar saath dene ka vaada karo". Both from Hamraaz, both Mahendra Kapoor. Another BR film.

Very nice post, this one. My type. ;-)

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AC said...

Indavao, Thank you so much for your concern. I'll be sure to get in touch with you if I'm ever in Davao City.

AC said...

Hi Mama! It's awesome awesome awesome to have you comment on this :)

I think the point Meera made - that one's interpretation of the song will differ depending on whether one looks at it from the point of view of a film song or a independent poem. Given that I'm a bit of a romantic, I'll go for the latter :)

I don't think I've heard too many songs/poems of Sahir - but I think I'm really going to enjoy them. I'll try to hunt down as many as I can over the next few months, starting with the two you've mentioned.


cyclo said...

I was going for VVSACP even before I had read through the entire post!

AC said...

It's just that kind of song :)

Anonymous said...

If by 'illogical' it is meant that this cannot happen in real life - forget it. It can happen both literally and figuratively. I can testify for both.

Interpretations are shaped by what you want to interpret for. If you are interpreting to create meaning for yourself, you are completely at freedom to do what you want to do with it.

I woke up this morning with the line chalo ek baar phir se ajnabee ban jaayen hum donon, playing over and over in my mind. gradually as the day progressed, i started recollecting the rest of the words, i remembered my youth when i discovered the strange magic of these words and was too embarrassed to admit what it meant to me. yet i could not not hum it every now and then. so i used to twist the words, playing on the word 'baar' so that no one would suspect that i had any serious involvement with the song. Then a few minutes ago, I googled to find the entire lyric and hopefully an mp3 and found this blog.

i dont have the time to elaborate, but just think of the song as speaking to you when you are in a place where it becomes necessary to practice the art of - holding the emotional maelstrom at an arms distance; of reinfusing tenderness into words that have grown coarse due to misuse; of being under intense public gaze and yet managing to do something delicate, precious and private; of finding your way out of a twisted emotional logic so that you can find your flow and grace once again.

All these may or may not involve a lover. but they are realistic life contexts. contexts that challenge you to reach into your inner resources, into your creativity.

AC said...

I really like (and agree with) your penultimate paragraph ("holding the emotional maelstrom... find your flow and grace once again")

I think these are definitely real life contexts, most people do experience this or some parallel form of this at some point or the other...

Arc Lamp said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Arc Lamp said...

oh.. I was looking for this translation for so long. Thank you so much for sharing with us.

Would like to add more about the writer... Hope you would understand his moods when I wrote this poem..

God Bless

Ahmad said...

Really Amazing!!! Its wonderful to find people who still listen and appreciate such beautiful poetry :)

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Hemant said...

Hi Arvind,

I heard this song on radio today and it hit me suddenly that the song is way more melodious and heartfelt than any other old song I've heard till date. Sahir Ludhianvi is at his best here. The words are simple yet profound. The voice of Mahendra Kapoor has made this melody unforgettable. I cannot stop singing it.

Suresh said...

I came upon this blog by chance, while looking for the meaning of the song and was struck by the interesting (re-)interpretation that has been boldly attempted by you. Yes indeed, poetic license is for both the poet and the reader and that's only how poetry can transcend the written words.

I hadn't thought of the alternate interpretation you have provided and therefore would like to thank you for this.