What are the ingredients of an unforgettable song in the sense of the genre of prolific Bollywood music? In the field of Hindustani Classical music, it is the raag and the way each artist (vocal or instrumental) expands and expounds the notes and innovates the interpretation and a lot of importance is given to the raag, the time of the day that is central. Lyrics are really of secondary importance (Bandish).
Bollywood music consists of three must have features: a) great lyrics, b) a good composer, c) great vocals. When all the three boxes are checked, you have a wonderful song. The movie/ actors are really of secondary importance. It does help of course if in the old times the movie has been a commercial success, the songs became popular in that way. However there are innumerable examples of very popular, unforgettable songs which featured in movies which bombed, absolutely sank to the bottom of the pool without raising a ripple, like a heavy stone put into a lake gently. The situation is all too frequent where one has to scratch one’s head about the origin of a well known song and not be too sure of the movie.
The 70s saw the emergence of the genre of a very vibrant parallel / alternative/ art films. Some of these are absolute gems, albeit not generating enough revenue to pay the bills so to speak, but was still a very satisfying experience all around. They seemed to merge with Basu Chatterjee’s films entering the mainstream and later sadly disappeared almost in its entirety with the scatophilic D Company driven tons of trash that is regularly dumped on our mind spaces by an increasing lobotomised industry that only serves regular fixes of skin flicks, cacophony that masquerades as music and voyeuristic storylines that would be scratched out by any teacher if a kid were to write it as an essay. The saddest part is an utter and complete lack of imaginativeness and a recurring tendency to recycle stories, movie titles, songs from already dubious sources. Every kind of insult is perpetrated on the audience’s “intelligence”.
A huge difference to this recurring carnage is this set of 3 movies made by Basu Bhattacharya in the 70s. All three movies were introspective, centred around marital discord and although complete by themselves, have a common thread that make sense when seen as a set, one after the other. Anubhav was made with Sanjeev Kumar (the best actor on show in my teens) , Tanuja (one of my favourite actresses) and Dinesh Thakur (such an underrated and under-utilised actors in Bollywood, his panoply of talents would have been undoubtedly better handled by Hollywood) . The second Avishkaar had Rajesh Khanna and Sharmila Tagore in rather deglamourized roles. The third movie saw Sharmila Tagore with Sanjeev Kumar (in a comeback into the trilogy) and Sarika as the third angle of the triangle. Griha Pravesh made towards the end of the decade dealt with adultery in a sensitive, non lascivious manner.
If I am asked to name a single movie I would like to remember Rajesh Khanna by, it would not be the series of 19 Jubilee hits he gave in a row (unparalleled run of success in the history of Bollywood), but rather by Avishkaar. To me this one movie is all about Rajesh Khanna’s unquestionably very impressive acting ability. Overshadowing the very skilled Sharmila Tagore in frames or sequences that have the two of them is no mean task, and he does this all the time. Amar and Manasi as they are called own the movie. Rajesh Khanna is the disillusioned husband in all senses of the word. There is nothing glamorous about the way he treats the role, and all you get to see is Amar with all his frailties, warts, skin tags and all come alive on the screen. It must have been an extremely difficult for the top Superstar to not just accept a role where he was not the hero in the conventional sense but also pull it off with consummate ease. He gave himself a huge paycut to enact the role, as Basu Bhattacharya was the Producer/ Director and could surely have not afforded the megabucks Rajesh Khanna commanded at the time (and commercial producers lined up outside his door with moneybags, virtually begging him to sign up for their movies) .
Avishkaar is unquestionably the film of/for Rajesh Khanna’s Amar. Through a smokescreen/ pall of thick cigarette smoke, Amar’s fixed gaze with very expressive eyes communicates the sense of loss, defeat and emotional fatigue after his mind, heart and inner peace is shattered to smithereens. When he speaks, his voice is low almost a whisper, a soliloquy, and in two absolutely memorable flashbacks with his hostile father-in-law which to me are THE HIGH POINTS of the movie, Kaka’s emotive skills truly peak. This movie shows him as a director’s actor, somewhat deglamourized but utterly relatable and therefore so much more loveable, somewhat like Vinod Khanna in Achanak and Jeetendra in Parichay/ Khushboo all three by the master Gulzar who successfully transformed glamorous stars into really good actors.
The amazing lyrics for Avishkaar are by Kapil Kumar and the soul stirring music by Kanu Roy. Manna Dey is as soulful in the song as only he can get. In that sense the song (and the movie) checks all the boxes and the song and the score are an utterly unforgettable tribute to the classic era of Hindi films, when every aspect had lasting value.
After seeing this movie I was so impressed by the entire experience, I remember insisting that our college festival (which I helped organise for the very first time ever in G S Medical College) be named Avishkaar. Sharad Iyengar agreed and I am so happy and proud that the name has stuck in the ensuing decades. It has become a huge brand now and kids from the alma mater call me occasionally for guidance and help with it. Great to be reminded of the past that is now sepia toned and wrapped in layers of experiences and events that have happened in the 40 plus years in between.
Go watch the movie folks, tonight on YouTube and you won’t be disappointed. Excellent movie that’s a great model and subject even for those who wish to learn the craft of filmmaking.
Stay safe, stay healthy folks, beat the Wuhan Virus and the criminals who made and unleashed it on an unsuspecting humanity