There are two kinds of songs in Hindi movies – one that you hope ends quickly so you can get back to the plot and one that takes the plot further. And then you have the third kind – it may tell the story or it may not, but you never, ever want it to end. And every song in 1942: A Love Story is that third kind of song.
It is also a testament to the old saying: Form is temporary, class is permanent.
The 1980s were not a good decade for Bollywood. Revenge dramas, kitschy masala, garish clothes and even more garish tunes defined the era. And the man who bore the brunt of this was, in many ways, music composer R.D. Burman.
The man who had churned out hundreds of soulful gems, flirtatious frothy hits, party and wedding favourites suddenly, in the mid-80s, found himself cast aside by commercial filmmakers in favour of newer composers, like disco favourite Bappi Lahiri.
Even when directors wanted to return to melody, like Mansoor Khan did for Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak (1988), they opted for newcomers like Anand-Milind, even though Burman had expressed interest. Subhash Ghai, in fact, had even promised Burman he would sign him on for Ram Lakhan (1989), but eventually, he went with Laxmikant-Pyarelal. Gulzar’s Ijaazat (1987) did garner critical acclaim, but it wasn’t a mainstream film.
It was Vidhu Vinod Chopra who gave Burman a lifeline. First came Parinda (1989), which had hints of vintage Burman, but didn’t quite give him the comeback he so desperately wanted. Then, after a string of utterly forgettable films, came 1942: A Love Story.
Chopra has recalled on numerous occasions how no one wanted to take Burman on as composer anymore — to the point where HMV, the music label, told him that if he signed Burman for 1942, they would not pay. But Chopra just knew that Burman was the perfect choice for his pre-Independence love story, and he persevered. The result, as we know, is pure magic.
The movie that gave a new generation their very own Pancham proved to be his way of saying, perhaps, that we didn’t deserve him. R.D. Burman died on 4 January 1994, before the movie released on 15 July. But the tunes he created for this movie remain favourites to this day.
In the week of his death anniversary, there is perhaps no better movie to remember him by than this one.
Love in the times of revolution
Set in the hill town of ‘Kasauni’, the movie follows the love story of Naren (Anil Kapoor) and Rajeshwari (Manisha Koirala). They exchange long gazes, flirt in a library and dance in the rain.
It all sounds idyllic — except this is 1942, when the freedom movement was at its frenzied peak and cries of Quit India rent the air. It was also, as shown in the movie, when the British, to contain the rising tide of nationalism, relied on more and more brutality. Shoot-to-kill and indiscriminate firing punctuate the movie’s plot, and it is in this atmosphere that Naren, the son of a Raj loyalist who only wants to become a Rai Bahadur, meets Rajeshwari, the daughter of a revolutionary plotting to kill the British General.
One of the lovely scenes is where Naren’s family driver and friend Munna (Raghuvir Yadav) asks him: How can you think of love while Hindustan is burning? He responds that if everyone thought about love more, perhaps Hindustan wouldn’t burn. And then, of course, proceeds to describe the wonder that is Rajeshwari in words that have become an iconic example of young love and all its metaphors — Ek Ladki Ko Dekha, a song that shows Koirala and Kapoor at their freshest-faced and most exuberant.
In this movie, the songs don’t so much further the story or distract you as take you deeper into a scene, a thought, an emotion.
So Naren’s terror when he thinks Rajjo has left him, his relief when he realises she hasn’t, and the sheer need with which he clings to her needed a song that would allow the audience some room to breathe and mellow, but also be passionate and yearning.
The result? Only one of the most gorgeous love songs ever made — Kuch Na Kaho. This, by the way, was the first song Burman composed for the movie, and his first version, a jaunty, horribly chirpy number, was apparently so bad that Chopra, even while trying to be nice, couldn’t help but tell him it was s**t. Burman, so insecure, only asked if he was still signed for the film, and if he could get one more week. Chopra told him to take a year. He didn’t need a year. Within a week or two, he had created this slow-burning heat of a song.
In a year when the Bollywood box office was dominated by movies like Laadla, Raja Babu, Mohra, Krantiveer, Suhaag and Vijaypath and, of course, Hum Aapke Hain Koun, 1942: A Love Story stands out precisely because it isn’t big and loud (despite being a patriotic movie). It prefers to rely on a pair of young lovers dancing to the tunes of the master of love.