Mr. & Mrs. 55: The Soundtrack

Tum communist ho?

Ji nahin, cartoonist.”

Pyaasa might be more celebrated and Kaaghaz Ke Phool more revered, but what makes Mr. &Mrs. 55 so unique is that it is a manifestation of one of those rarest of creatures: trademark melancholic director Guru Dutt in a pleasant mood. Step right up ladies and germs – see Guru smile and laugh, and make us laugh with his sucker-punch delivery; and for one time only (why, oh why?) see him share the screen with the Venus of Indian Cinema, Mumtaz Jahan Dehlavi a.k.a. Madhubala – she of the impossible beauty, disarming lop-sided smile and impeccable comic timing.

Part screwball comedy, part battle-of-the-sexes farce, and part musing on the emergence of ‘modern India’ (note its clever use of Anton Karas’s infectious zither tune from The Third Man), 55 is a delectable little dish with some mighty impressive ingredients in the mix. Besides its two lead players, throw in comedy giant Johny Walker to up the ante, and add a dash of ‘queen of mean’ powerhouse Lalita Pawar for good measure. Flavour generously with V. K. Murthy’s stunning, richly textured black & white cinematography (it’s a crime that this man was never even nominated for any international award). Then stir in Abrar Alvi’s deliciously spicy rat-a-tat-tat dialogue – “Tum iss kaabil nahin ho ke koi shareef insaan tumse baatein kar sakay. Ab mera vakil hi tumse adaalat mein baat karega” – “To aapke vakil sahib shareef nahin hain kya?” And to top it off, garnish with O.P. Nayyar’s scrumptious music.

The music – ah, the music! And what music it is. Nine wondrous tunes set to Majrooh Sultanpuri’s splendid lyrics – smart and zingy here, achingly romantic there – and sung by the likes of Mohammed Rafi, Shamshad Begum and the ethereal Geeta Dutt. This super team had of course convened previously for Guru Dutt on Baaz and Aar Paar, and here they continue their memorable work, some of the songs echoing their earlier outings and yet displaying an endearing individuality.

One of the most striking things about the songs of 55 is that they are very much native to the film. Instead of the the hackneyed pyar-mohabbat-ishq terminology, O.P/Majrooh opt instead for mood and imagery springing directly from the film’s plot and the unique situations it presents. These songs are not formulaic; you can’t lift one from point A and shift it to point D. Each song is perfect in its place – or as we say in these parts, ‘tich’ baitth-ta hai!

Take for instance, the first song from the film, the Rafi solo “Dil par hua aisa jaadoo”. The situation is of a man who has just seen a face and fallen desperately in love at first sight (not hard to imagine since that face belongs to Madhubala). But unlike other songs of the genre, there is no swelling strings-based musical prologue. Instead, the song starts suddenly, with score and vocal in tandem, exemplifying the no-nonsense, practical personality of the character, Preetam, singing it. Equally no-nonsense is the fine orchestration, representative of the minimalistic fifties, punctuated with notes on the xylophone, cunningly placed ‘casual’ whistling, and of course the ubiquitous castanets. And the song itself does not consist of a lengthy tamheed, extolling the physical charms of said face; rather, it is a piece about the condition itself, the actual process of falling in love. Have a gander at these antaras:

Kal tak hamara na poocho kaisa haal tha

Milti kahin aankh dil ko yeh malaal tha

Uss ne jo dekha to hasrat nikal gayee

Sun pyaare apni to kismet badal gayee

Kaisi hai ulfat ki dillagi yeh humnasheen

Woh ho gayee meri aur usse khabar nahin

Zaalim mohabbat bhi kya chaal chal gayee

Dil par hua aisa jaadoo

Tabiyat machal machal gayee

Nazrain mili kya kissi se

Ke haalat badal badal gayee

In contrast is Geeta Dutt’s solo number “Thandi hawa kaali ghata”. Since Madhubala’s character Anita is a whimsical girl with childish notions of love and romance, her signature song does incorporate a lot of ‘typical’ romantic flourishes, like the violins and what sounds to be a ukulele banding and swaying together in a lengthy intro. The ‘romance novel’ lyrics too provide a nice counter-point to Preetam’s decidedly more street-smart outlook on falling in love:

Thandi hawa kaali ghata

aa hi gayee jhoom ke

Pyaar liye dole haseen

Naache jiya ghoom ke

Dil ka har ik taar hila

Chirrne lagi raagni

Kajra bharay nain liye

Ban ke chaloon kamini

Keh do koi aaj ghata

Barsay zara dhoom say

Pyaar liye dole haseen

Naache jiya ghoom ke

When’s the last time you heard the word raagni in an Indian film song??

Perhaps the most popular song from the film is the positively charming Rafi-Geeta duet Jaane kahan mera jigar gaya ji”, picturised not on the lead pair but on comic-relief duo Johny Walker and the lovely Yasmin, a dimpled beauty who should have made it big but never did. In an era when “Meri pant bhi sexy” and “Ishq di gali vich no entry” passes for musical humour, listening to a genuine comedy classic like “Jaane kahan…” does well to remind us that our cinematic ancestors possessed a subtlety of wit and sophistication that, sadly, our generation does not seem to. Like others of its genre such as “Shaam dhalay khirki talay tum seeti bajana chorr do” from Albela and “Mere piya gaye Rangoon kiya hai wahan se telephoon” from Patanga, this one too employs simple but effective orchestration set to a breezy rhythm that complements perfectly the light, playful mood created by the plot situation in the film. In this case, Walker’s character Rustom is attempting to flirt with Yasmin’s feisty typist, accusing her of grand theft heart, and the song quickly develops into a delightful ‘argument’ of the he-said-she-said variety:

Jaane kahan mera jigar gaya ji

Abhi abhi yaheen that kidhar gaya ji

Kissi ki adaaon pe mar gaya ji

Barri barri akhiyon se darr gaya ji

Kaheen maaray darr kay chooha to naheen ho gaya

Konay konay dhoonda najaane kahan kho gaya

Yahan usse laaye kaahe ko bina kaam re

Jaldi jaldi dhoondo ke honay lagi shaam re

Koi ulfat ki nazar zara phair de

Le le do chaar aanay jigar mera phair de

Aisay nahin chori khulay gi takraar se

Chalo chalo thaanay bataaein jamadaar se

Sachchi sachchi keh do dikhaao nahin jaal re

Tu ne to nahin hai churaaya mera maal re

Baatein hain nazar ki nazar se samjhaaoon gi

Pehle parro payyaan to phir batlaaoon gi

Jaane kahan mera jigar gaya ji…

On screen, the song is yet another example of yesterday’s imagination winning points over today’s gaudy excesses. The setting is simple – a newspaper office –  the choreography is minimal, with just two characters and no jetting off to Switzerland for three minutes, no chiffon and tinsel, no gaggle of chorus dancers, no thrusting pelvises flying about. And still the song is more creative and enjoyable than any “Kaal kaal” or “Saaqi saaqi”.

Musically a companion piece to other O.P/Majrooh sort-of ‘cabaret’ numbers like “Hoon abhi mein jawaan ae dil” from Aar Paar, “Neele aasmani” may be one of the lesser known ones, but for my money it is one of the sexiest, without suggestive lyrics and without anyone on screen dropping their clothes. As this dark, almost bluesy tune unfolds, listen in wonder to Geeta Dutt’s sultry enunciation of the two title words – like being draped in satin or, to borrow an image from another of Madhubala’s famous films, having your face caressed by a silky feather. Goose-flesh is practically guaranteed. Visually, too, this is a stunning set-piece with a bold film noir lighting design and dynamic editing comprising audacious changes in shot size. And of course it helps that it’s lip-synched by that ‘cabaret dancer’ par excellence, the gorgeous Cuckoo.

Like “Jaane kahan mera…” the next Geeta-Rafi duet “Chal diye banda nawaz” is another fine example of that now defunct art: the musical duel, a vocal shot-counter-shot as it were, with the two protagonists exchanging lyrical jibes that expertly duplicate the ‘banter’ quality of the film’s spoken dialogue. In this case, the situation is Preetam trying to woo his ticked-off ladylove and the lyrics follow a ‘profession-from-him/putdown-from-her’ pattern:

Chale diye banda nawaaz cherr kar meray dil ka saaz

Hum tarastay hi rahe jalway barastay hi rahe

Suniye mister chaalbaaz baniye na barray teer andaaz

Aur koi ghar dekhiye dil ko yahan mat phekiye

Maana ke bigrray hain meray naseeb

Ulfat na samjhay ameer-o-ghareeb

Chorro yeh ulfat ki baareekiyaan

Rasta lo jungle ka majnoon miyan

Hai mujh mein tu ban ke dard-e-jigar

Dil mein khattakti hai teri nazar

Bas bas tumhi jaison ne ae janaab

Kar daala ulfat ka khaana kharaab

And then we have the unabashedly romantic duet, “Udhar tum haseen ho, idhar dil jawaan hai”. Coming at a point in the film where Anita finally realises that one cannot fight love, the song sets an innocently seductive mood that is a hallmark of such numbers from the fifties. Perhaps not in the same league as some of the other gems from the Guru Dutt pantheon, such as “Hum aapki aankhon mein is dil ko basa daingay” from Pyaasa, it is still a minor classic from a more innocent time:

Udhar tum haseen ho

Idhar dil jawaan hai

Yeh rangeen raaton

ki ik dastaan hai

Yeh kaisa hai naghma

Yeh kya dastaan hai

Bata ae mohabbat

Mera dil kahan hai

Sulagti hain taaron ki parchaiyan

Buri hain mohabbat ki tanhaiyan

Mehaknay laga meri zulfon mein koi

Lagi jaagnay dharrkanain soi si

Meri har nazar aaj dil ki zubaan hai…

There are three more songs in the film – the corny-but-good qawwaliMeri duniya lut rahi thi aur main khamosh tha”, Shamshad Begum’s gypsy number, and the all-too-brief pathos-soaked “Preetam aan milo” – that together with the rest make for a superlative sounstrack. Listening to these songs also makes one keenly aware just how versatile an artist Mohammed Rafi really was. Here he is, singing in one film for three vastly different characters – the hero, the comic, and a street qawwal, and he is able to make each corresponding vocal completely distinct. And he has a more-than-worthy companion in Geeta Dutt, herself a vocal chameleon who could sing with a zing in songs like “Mera naam chin chin choo” and just as effortlessly bring the proverbial lump to one’s throat with a “Waqt ne kiya kya haseen situm” or “Aaj sajan mohe ang laga lo”.

On a different note, not long after 55, O. P. Nayyar would infamously shift his loyalties to then-newcomer Asha Bhonsle, effectively causing a near-drought in Geeta’s career that was only relieved by the occasional quality work in a quality film, mostly with estranged husband Guru Dutt. Geeta died in 1972, leaving behind a remarkable legacy sealed with her swansong in the form of three beautiful tunes for her brother, composer Kanu Roy, for the film Anubhav, which was released posthumously.

If you are looking to educate yourself on Indian film music, or simply in the mood for a fun classic, Mr. & Mrs. 55 is not a bad place to start.

One Response to “Mr. & Mrs. 55: The Soundtrack”

  1. RL&W: Meri duniya lut rahi thi… | Shrimati 420 Says:

    […] Read more about the movie at We’re gonna need a bigger boat […]

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