Shooting film songs

Picture the song: The eyes have it in ‘Achcha Ji Main Haari’ from ‘Kalapani’

The song from Raj Khosla’s ‘Kalapani’ works on playful looks and sighs.

Madhubala has her back to the camera, her head down. Her pleas have fallen on dead ears, or so she thinks. Dev Anand does a slow pirouette around her. There is a playful look in his eyes, that endearing goofiness that made us overlook every movie he inflicted on us since Heera Panna. He is enjoying her predicament. But, at that moment, we also know that her words have had their effect; reconciliation is round the corner.

She, of course, does not know this yet. As he exits the frame, she slowly, very slowly, turns around. A lock of hair lies fallen across her luminous face. There is sadness in those eyes. And then she lets out a sigh.

And so do we.

In a 1988 interview with author and documentary filmmaker Nasreen Munni Kabir, Raj Khosla acknowledged that it was from his mentor Guru Dutt that he learnt the art and craft of filmmaking, including the nuances of shooting a song:

“The use of the face and the eyes more than the body movements in songs…I follow him in using more of the close ups, more of the eyes, they tell the main story…”

No song sequence better illustrates this than Achcha Ji Main Haari from Khosla’s Kalapani (1958).

The song is in the roothna-manana tradition, with the usual roles reversed – it is the hero who is sulking and the heroine is out to placate him. It has its own dramatic arc, but an overall air of playfulness pervades. Apart from the frequent use of close-ups, one can also see Guru Dutt’s influence on Khosla in his use of the dolly.

While Achcha Ji showcases Khosla’s penchant for directing songs, it would be criminal to forget the song’s chorographer, or dance director as they were called then. The credits mention two names: Lachchu Maharaj and Satya Narayan. The former was an exponent of the kathak form and would more likely have been involved in the sequences involving Nalini Jaywant, who plays a courtesan in the film. So Satyanarayan (as he was usually credited) is our man, the one who would have worked out the nitty-gritties of the actors’ movements.

Achcha Ji does not have the scale of Ghar Aaaya Mera Pardesi (Aawara, 1951) nor the in-your-face brilliance of Waqt Ne Kiya (Kaagaz Ke Phool, 1959). But Khosla and Satyanarayan, aided and abetted by the charisma of the lead pair and a brilliant song, have taken a staple situation and, with little, deft touches, forged something quite magical.

Achcha Ji Main Haari from Kalapani (1958).
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London then and now – As experienced by Indians

While much has changed, the timeless quality of the city endures.

“I found the spirit of the city matching the Bombay spirit. Like Bombay, the city never sleeps and there was no particular time when you couldn’t wander about the town freely and enjoy the local atmosphere”, says CV Manian, a PhD student in Manchester in the ‘80s, who made a trip to London often. London as a city has a timeless quality. The seamless blend of period architecture and steel skyscrapers acts as the metaphor for a city where much has changed, but a lot hasn’t.

The famed Brit ‘stiff upper lip, for example, finds ample validation from those who visited London decades ago. “The people were minding their business, but never showed indifference to a foreigner. They were private in their own way and kept to themselves.” Manian recollects. Aditya Dash remembers an enduring anecdote from his grandmother’s visit to London. “There is the famous family story where she was held up at Heathrow airport. She was carrying zarda (or something like that) for my grandfather and customs wanted to figure out if it was contraband or not.”

However, the city always housed contrasting cultures. During the ‘Swinging ‘60s’ - seen as a precursor to the hippie movement - Shyla Puri’s family had just migrated to London. Her grandfather still remembers the simmering anti-war, pro-peace sentiment. He himself got involved with the hippie movement in small ways. “He would often talk with the youth about what it means to be happy and how you could achieve peace. He wouldn’t go all out, but he would join in on peace parades and attend public talks. Everything was ‘groovy’ he says,” Shyla shares.

‘Groovy’ quite accurately describes the decade that boosted music, art and fashion in a city which was till then known for its post-World-War austerities. S Mohan, a young trainee in London in the ‘60s, reminisces, “The rage was The Beatles of course, and those were also the days of Harry Belafonte and Ella Fitzgerald.” The likes of The Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd were inspiring a cultural revolution in the city. Shyla’s grandfather even remembers London turning punk in the ‘80s, “People walking around with leather jackets, bright-colored hair, mohawks…It was something he would marvel at but did not join in,” Shyla says.

But Shyla, a second-generation Londoner, did join in in the revival of the punk culture in the 21st century. Her Instagram picture of a poster at the AfroPunk Fest 2016 best represents her London, she emphatically insists. The AfroPunk movement is trying to make the Punk culture more racially inclusive and diverse. “My London is multicultural, with an abundance of accents. It’s open, it’s alive,” Shyla says. The tolerance and openness of London is best showcased in the famous Christmas lights at Carnaby Street, a street that has always been popular among members of London’s alternate cultures.

Christmas lights at Carnaby Street (Source: Roger Green on Wikimedia Commons)
Christmas lights at Carnaby Street (Source: Roger Green on Wikimedia Commons)

“London is always buzzing with activity. There are always free talks, poetry slams and festivals. A lot of museums are free. London culture, London art, London creativity are kept alive this way. And of course, with the smartphones navigating is easy,” Shyla adds. And she’s onto something. Manian similarly describes his ‘80s rendezvous with London’s culture, “The art museums and places of interest were very illustrative and helpful. I could tour around the place with a road map and the Tube was very convenient.” Mohan, with his wife, too made the most of London’s cultural offerings. “We went to see ‘Swan Lake’ at the Royal Opera House and ‘The Mousetrap’ by Agatha Christie. As an overseas graduate apprentice, I also had the pleasure to visit the House of Lords and take tea on the terrace.”

For the casual stroller along London’s streets today, the city would indeed look quite different from what it would’ve to their grandparents. Soho - once a poor suburb known for its crime and sex industry - is today a fashionable district of upmarket eateries and fashion stores. Most of the big British high street brands have been replaced by large international stores and the London skyline too has changed, with The Shard being the latest and the most impressive addition. In fact, Shyla is quite positive that her grandfather would not recognise most of the city anymore.

Shyla, though, isn’t complaining. She assures that alternate cultures are very much alive in the city. “I’ve seen some underground LGBT clubs, drag clubs, comedy clubs, after midnight dance-offs and empty-warehouse-converted parties. There’s a space for everybody.” London’s cosmopolitan nature remains a huge point of attraction for Indian visitors even today. Aditya is especially impressed by the culinary diversity of London and swears that, “some of the best chicken tikka rolls I have had in my life were in London.” “An array of accents flood the streets. These are the people who make London...LONDON,” says Shyla.

It’s clear that London has changed a lot, but not really all that much. Another aspect of Indians’ London experience that has remained consistent over the past decades is the connectivity of British Airways. With a presence in India for over 90 years, British Airways has been helping generations of Indians discover ‘their London’, just like in this video.


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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of British Airways and not by the Scroll editorial team.