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Fantasy and Reality

I was reminded of this song first up today morning. The song is central to the movie Navrang made by V Shantaram in the late 50s. It was based on a story of a poet obsessed with an imaginary muse (entirely modelled by him on a glamourised version of his loving, but rather plain vanilla wife). The original story was by the great poet / writer from Maharashtra, Ga Di Madgulkar, who with Sudhir Phadke gave us the immortal and amazing creation that is virtually part of every Marathi Speaking person’s psyche: The Geet Ramayan. The original kernel of the story was adapted as a screenplay by V Shantaram himself who also produced and directed the movie. The final form clearly shows his wanting to display the dancing skills of Sandhya, his long term companion who he married after many years (decades) of companionship. She became his third wife.

Mahipal is the poet Diwakar, the poet who is hopelessly in love with his wife (Sandhya) . He however tends to live a Walter Mitty like existence and fantasizes about his muse – that he calls Mohini. His all consuming obsession with Mohini leads his wife to suspect that he is having an affair with the lady. On his part, the husband is just not able to allay her fears and suspicions and the wife leaves home with their infant son. Meanwhile the poet gets into trouble with the officials and patrons as he keeps on writing pro-Independence verses. The denouement is very dramatic with the truth finally revealed that Mohini exists only in his imagination and that he is very much in love with his wife, whose absence has led to his pitiful condition : in the absence of creative inspiration from her presence as a muse in his life, the flow of his poetry has dwindled to a mere trickle. In the course of this song, Mahipal reveals all, telling his wife, he has really never loved anyone else, that SHE IS HIS MOHINI.

The music is by C Ramachandra and the lyrics by Pandit Bharat Vyas. This divine duet is sung by the unparalleled genius Manna Dey and Asha Bhosle. Mannada’s metier as a singer was streets ahead of his peers, but fate was not as kind to his amazing vocal range. He was arguably the most versatile of the singers of his generation and could manage compositions based on Hindustani Classical Music to Rock and everything in between. The song is one of the rare songs sung by Ashatai for C Ramachandra, although he has made her sing perhaps an octave higher than her usual singing voice. The composition with the low notes and hectic pace being dictated by the bells, cymbals and drums, is amazing. Sandhya’s impressive dancing skills are amply demonstrated as is Shantaram’s obsession with creating gigantic sets in his fantasy sequences. Look at the monstrous bells on which the dancing belles swing. Much as Sandhya’s skills as a dancer were to be admired, her emoting skills and those of Mahipal’s leave a lot to be desired. It would have been better to have Sandhya only as a dancer (in the form of the muse) and leave the acting to someone else. Mahipal, the severely emotively challenged actor that he undoubtedly was, could also have been substituted by a more expressive face.

The movie also marked the debut for Mahendra Kapoor.Aadha hai Chandrama” a duet with Ashatai is the first song he sang in films. He also had 2 more solos in the movie which had a dozen songs in all.

Here’s to all the muses who exist mostly in the fantasies of creative minds and not in real life at all and cause so much heartburn by the obsession these folks show for their muses.

Stay safe folks, stay healthy, away from the Wuhan Virus and take the jab.

By abchandorkar

Consultant Interventional Cardiologist, Pune, India

6 replies on “Fantasy and Reality”

Marvellous share of an immortal song!!!!
Glad you shared the fact that story was of Great Madgulkar the king of literature 🙏🏽
You r so right about Sandhya and Mahipal!!
I want to imagine the song with different actors actually 😅👍👍👍say Vaijayanti mala and
Rajendra kumar/ Dilip saab !!!
All said this song will always tell the generations to come what a great man V Shantaram was👌👌👌👌👌🙏🏽

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Unwritten rule in my family was two movies in a year and that too V. Shantaram’s ( a big NO to RajKapur, Dilip Kumar, Dev Anand )
Inspite of GIDDY SANDHYA, primitive acting and gaudy sets this movie ran for more than 2 years thanks to the music – almost ALL songs became immortal

You have inadvertently put me on a mixed emotional memory trip pleasant ones of my father and horror of dear Sandhya ma’am and Mahipal hamming

Thanks Aniruddh

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V Shantaram’s Navrang  lives up to its name; Nine colours, each denoting the various rasas or emotions, dazzling the audience with its bright, elaborate colourful sets & extravaganza!
(1959) marked a hat-trick of successes, coming on the heels of the super successful musical Jhanak Jhanak Payal Baaje (1955) & the tale of prisoner reform, Do Aankhen Barah Haath (1957)
Navrang begins with a direct communique by the director to his audience. In his brief but telling address, Shantaram lends credence to the rumours that he nearly lost his sight in an accident on the sets of his last venture, Do Aankhen Barah Haath. An eternal optimist, Shantaram reveals that during that temporary blindness, he saw some hitherto unseen colours of life.The riotously colourful Navrang is the creative realisation of that experience.
The film’s performances border on the theatrical & its sets are pastry pink! Yet Navrang is a masterpiece thanks to its unusual thematic premise & C Ramchandra’s unforgettable score set to Bharat Vyas’ lyrics. Shantaram takes pains to communicate G D Madgulkar’s difficult premise to the audience in a lucid manner & succeeds. Married to simple woman, the poet creates a more glamorous image of her & starts relating to this fantasy & Mohini (one who enamours) becomes the muse he seeks inspiration from. Unable to comprehend that, Sandhya gets perturbed. Eventually, the film which has dichotomised the muse & the reality, fuses them at the end.
The pre-Independence period enhances the film’s setting. Navrang opens with an English signboard John and Sons replacing a Hindi one, succinctly symbolising the colonisation of India by the British. A bedraggled man defies the daunting soldiers & sings, Maati sabhi ki kahani kahegi & the film takes us into a flashback.
Divakar’s down-to-earth wife Jamuna (Sandhya) is unable to reconcile to Diwakar’s desire to live in a world of fantasy so Jamuna disapproves of his ornate poetry & stymies his desire to bridge the gap between the reality & fantasy.
This fans the fanciful Diwakar’s quest for his Mohini — his inspiring muse & he creates a fantasy woman.
Soon, Diwakar becomes a recognised poet patronised by the local royalty. Soon after, Diwakar loses his job after he full-throatedly sings an inflammatory song against the British. His inability to provide for his ailing father & starving son, evokes the pragmatic Jamuna’s wrath so Diwakar is devastated & suffers from a writer’s block. A prince however, compels Diwakar to perform as a repayment for a past debt. Diwakar is tongue-tied. He cannot create or sing. There is an ominous silence in the darbar till the jhankar of anklets resound in the packed courtroom. Diwakar recognises the footfalls of his inspiration. He calls out, “Tu chhupi hain kahan?” This Bharat Vyas song fits the situation like a glove which is bound to give one goosebumps composed in raag Malkauns in taal Kaherava till it reaches a crescendo.
In hindsight, both Sandhya & Mahipal are highly gestural, as though catering to a silent movie audience! Fortunately, the film is mostly about song-and-dance & Sandhya takes to dancing like a fish to water. Mahipal is less talented as a dancer but his sincerity is beguiling.
Dance director Shaam imaginatively makes Mahipal swing from one bell to another in Tu chhupi hai kahan, while Sandhya famously balances a series of matkas on her head in Aadha hai chandrama raat aadhi again set in Raag Malkauns.
The choreographer even makes a ghungroo-sporting elephant adroitly match steps with Sandhya in Arre jaa re hath natkhat. Also Sandhya deftly doubles as a man (with the help of a mask), & a woman. When you see her upfront she is herself; when she swirls 180 degrees, you are faced with a man.
Besides the gimmicks, choreography reaches a new creative peak in the Shyamal shyamal baran, komal komal charan number. The inordinately flexible Sandhya juxtaposes everyday domestic chores like sweeping the floor & grinding masala with intricate dance movements.
The musical genius of C Ramchandra finds a perfect canvas in Navrang. Holi revelry is exuberantly captured in Arre jaa re hath natkhat, while Yeh maati sabhi ki kahani is like an instant injection of national pride.
Navrang’s appeal lies in its ability to capture most of the Nava Rasas.
Shantaram directed Sandhya in over ten films over two decades of which Jhanak Jhanak Payal Baaje, Do Ankhen Barah Haath & Pinjra were major successes. Sandhya never worked in films outside the Rajkamal banner. Navrang also marked as Mahendra Kapoor’s breakthrough hit.
V Shantaram’s prismatic paen released in Diwali years ago, still leaves its lasting hues in the memory of cinephiles in which originally Mahipal fantasised about his simple wife to be his glamorous muse before they decided to give it a
patriotic fervour.
V Shantaram – actor, writer, filmmaker started off doing silent films before graduating to talkies. He was celebrated for his socially relevant films like Padosi, Dahej, Dr Kotnis Ki Amar Kahani, Do Aankhen Barah Haath & was known for the diverse themes that he picked Navrang being a film based on the flights of fancy of a patriotic poet. The film turned out to be blockbuster then running to full houses & completing its golden jubilee & in the years to come it attained the status of a classic. Till date, Navrang remains a benchmark amongst India’s ‘song-and-dance’ films. Although colour technology was available during Do Aankhen Barah Haath , Anna insisted on shooting in black & white to bring out the starkness of the script. What’s the colour of life in a jail, he would argue. In any case, the shades & contrasts are so much more pronounced in B &W, as if to make up for the lack of colour in his previous film, he splashed myriad colours in his next – Navrang. It was the first coloured film shot by the Indian crew & technicians.
Interestingly, Navrang started off as a B & W Marathi film based on the story by the famous literatteur G D Madgulkar. It was the story of Shahir Prabhakar, a folk poet . The film starred Arun Sarnaik & Sandhya & Anna had even shot 4-5 days of it. Suddenly it struck him – why not colourise it? He then decided to adapt it in Hindi. He also decided to make it on a lavish scale.
Navrang wove together the flights of fancy of a poet with his patriotic fervour, a poet living in an independent state in India. Based in the end of 18th century when the British were taking over the entire country, it had Navrang’s poems inspired by his muse – imaginary Mohini, his poems earned him the post of the court poet. Even after the British usurped his state, Navrang continued singing songs of protest against foreign rule. Although replete with a dozen lavish songs, Navrang was essentially a patriotic film. It combined entertainment with a social message.
Giant bells, an elephant & a horse,
V Shantaram cut no corners with Navrang, he specially purchased an elephant & a horse for the famous ‘Ja re hat natkhat… ‘ number. Since Sandhya was supposed to shoot with both Ramchandra, the elephant & Moti, the horse, she would look after them as she had to be familiarised with them.
A special wading tank was constructed for Ramchandra & he would be hosed with cold water every evening. The elephant enjoyed a special diet of bananas & coconuts.
When Anna shot the fantasy song with big bells on which dancers were perched, placing camera tripod on wheels for that shot, he was delighted with the results. Full of resplendent dresses & dances,
when it came to casting the lead pair, Shantaram stuck to Sandhya & chose a regular artist, Mahipal to essay the title role. Sandhya was very particular about her make-up & costumes. She would immerse herself in the role. Whether it was the opening shot which showed both Mahipal & Sandhya as old & wrinkled, she didn’t shy away from wearing an old woman’s make-up or it were the feathered dress which she & Anna supervised personally. Indeed their involvement in the film was exemplary.
The film included a dozen songs shot on glorious sets. Anna was a great artist & he would sketch out the sets & also specify the dimentions. The set designs were conceived by Anna & executed by art director Kanu Desai.
The entire film was shot at Raj Kamal Studio in Parel, Mumbai. The cast and crew were the employees of the studio, who were on a payroll.
V Shantaram had previously used C Ramchandra’s music in his films – Parchhain & Subah Ka Tara, so he was the obivious choice for Navrang as well. For this film, his brief was to go with the mood of the film. C Ramchandra would sing each song for his singers before recording it & he taught Ashatai to sing in a high-pitched voice.
The sound recording for the film was scintillating, The sound of tear drop was reproduced by using an industrial dropper & a mike suspended in the water tank! The audiographer, Mangesh Desai was a wizard. This sound effect was used in the song ‘Tu chhupi hai kahan…’.
The music was released a month ahead of the film but surprisingly it didn’t catch on until after the release of the film.
The film, a Diwali release, was an instant hit & it ran for 50 weeks to celebrate its golden jubilee.
It was Shantaram’s habit to have a 5’o clock trial with his crew where he would sit down with a scribble pad & jot down all the “mistakes” that could have been averted! for which he would watch the first two shows with the audience in Liberty cinema. The budget of the film was a whopping Rs 30 lakh .Sanjay Leela Bhansali had openly acknowledged the influence of Aadha hai chandrama … number which he replicated in Devdas with Aishwarya Rai balancing numerous pots on her head & dancing delicately just like Sandhya did years ago in Navrang.
The nostalgia of Navrang continues to mesmerise cinegoers even today.

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