There is a scene in Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s 1960 film Anuradha in which the titular character (played by Leela Naidu) is singing a song. She sings for one person only, her husband, Dr. Nirmal Chaudhry (Balraj Sahni), but he ignores her, thumbing through medical literature. The person who has actually asked her to sing is Deepak (Abhi Bhattacharya), the man her father had wanted her to marry, whom she had turned down for Nirmal 10 years ago. He has, in a twist of fate, been brought to their home after an accident so Nirmal can treat him.
And while she has eyes only for her husband, who even leaves the room to go do some work while she is singing, Deepak sees her unshed tears, hears the sadness in her voice as she sings of neglect, of a love that isn’t unrequited so much as unequal.
Those few minutes of song tell the story and take it forward at the same time. Anuradha Roy, a popular singer whose voice rules the radio, had given up her career and city life to move to a small village for Nirmal, a do-gooder doctor who dreams of improving the healthcare facilities in a place that desperately needs it. A decade and a daughter later, Anuradha is a lonely woman, unhappy with how empty her days are and neglected by her husband.
The song acts partly as catharsis, as for the first time in years, Anuradha sings, and sings of what is really eating her up inside. And it is partly a catalyst for her desire to leave Nirmal, return to the city and begin a new life.
For all of this to happen in the span of two or three minutes, the song needs to be just perfect. So it is fitting, then, that the composer is none other than Pandit Ravi Shankar. The sitar maestro composed music for relatively few movies, compared to his otherwise massive discography, but when he did, he made sure they were worth the wait.
Anuradha may not be as well known as some of Mukherjee’s other films such as Chupke Chupke, Gol Maal, Abhimaan, Guddi or Anand, but it made a big impact. It was then Femina Miss India Leela Naidu’s debut, it won the National Award for the Best Feature Film and was nominated for a Golden Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival. And it united Pandit Ravi Shankar’s compositions with the voice of Lata Mangeshkar and the words of Shailendra. It’s an unlikely combination, but it worked like magic.
This week marked Ravi Shankar’s 100th birth anniversary, so it is fitting to spend the weekend celebrating his genius with this subtle, gentle gem of a movie about music.
Music is in every frame
Right from the opening credits to the last few minutes, this is a movie whose very soul is in its music. The movie begins with Anuradha Roy being introduced on the airwaves. She proceeds to sing for her listeners, us included, so one knows straight away that this woman is no wallflower. She has a voice, as strong as it is soft, and she knows her mind. She has talent and she isn’t one to shy away from it. Based on Raag Bhairavi, Saanware Saanware features the use of the tabla and sarangi, giving it a beautifully classical tone.
Jaane Kaise Sapnon Mein is perhaps the most filmy number on this soundtrack, a romantic, happy melody that comes when Anuradha and Nirmal have decided to get married. Singer Shubha Mudgal wrote of this song, “In the arrangement for the sparkling Jaane kaise sapanon mein kho gayeen ankhiyaan, Ravi Shankar ji’s deep involvement with rhythm is in ample evidence. While the song itself coasts along smoothly on a regular rhythm, the rhythm for the musical interludes and introduction is arranged with a series of jumps, tihais, breaks, accents and punctuations that convey the excitement of youthful romance.”
And finally, there is Hai Re Voh Din Kyun Na Aaye, heartbreaking in its fragility. Anuradha has just told Nirmal she wants to leave him, and they have guests for dinner that night who ask her to sing. And so she does sing, of longed-for days that never came.
She pours her heart into this song, using it to tell Nirmal everything she has wanted to tell him for the past 10 years. She tells him that all she ever wanted was to be seen, loved, paid attention to. She tells him that she loves him. And she tells him that she wants a different life for herself. Nirmal’s face through this song is a study in how one jolt can change someone when it comes from someone they truly love, even if they haven’t been good at showing it. He realises what he has done and what he stands to lose.
Once again, then, the song conveys so much in just a few minutes, and changes the course of the story. And once again, we see the assured touch of the only person who could make that happen, Pandit Ravi Shankar.