Jiya Jale

By Gulzar in conversation with Nasreen Munni Kabir

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NMK: I was talking to director Shaad Ali once about the importance of songs in India’s cultural life. He agreed with me and told me how thrilled he was that a song from one of his films had become part of the repertoire of wedding songs. He was talking about ‘Kajra re’ from his delightful 2005 film, Bunty aur Babli.
It is also a great example of the work of composers Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy and singers Alisha Chinai, Shankar Mahadevan and Javed Ali. The song starts with a doha.

Aisi nazar se dekha us zaalim ne chowk par
The way that cruel man eyed me
on the village square

Humne kaleja rakh diya chaaku ki nok par
My heart landed on a knife’s edge

Mera chain-vain sab ujda, zaalim nazar hatta le
My peace of mind turned to dust.
Look away, O cruel one

Barbaad ho rahe hain ji, tere apne sheherwale
Your stare has ruined people
from your very own town

Meri angdai na ttoote tu aaja
May my yearning never cease.
Come to me…

Kajra re
Your kohl-rimmed eyes

Kajra re, kajra re, tere kaare kaare naina
Your kohl-rimmed eyes, your dark black eyes

O mere naina, mere naina, mere naina judwa naina
My eyes, my eyes, these eyes of mine

Kajra re
Your kohl-rimmed eyes

Surme se likhe tere vaade, aankhon ki zabaani aate hain
Your promises written in kohl
speak the language of the eyes

Mere rumaalon pe lab tere baandh ke nishaani jaate hain
Your lips have left a mark on my handkerchief

(Shankar Mahadevan & Javed Ali)
Teri baaton mein kimaam ki khushboo hai
Your words have an intoxicating scent

Tera aana bhi garmiyon ki lu hai
You blow in like the hot summer wind
Aaja ttoote na, ttoote na angdai
May my yearning for you never cease.

Come to me

Kajra re…
Your kohl-rimmed eyes…

G: There are many duos in film music like Shankar- Jaikishan, Laxmikant-Pyarelal etc. Sometimes one would compose the songs and the other the background score. Pyarelalji used to do the background music but he’d compose songs too.
Here we have a unit of three—Shankar, Ehsaan and Loy—and they compose songs together. That’s rare. You need a voice, music and rhythm. You can’t separate these three elements. That is the most beautiful part of a composition. A songwriter is probably the fourth member!
These three musketeers are a wonderful unit. I think Shankar is a master at composing tunes to lyrics. He’s so fast. He also writes some very interesting dummy lines that are sometimes quite amusing.
‘Tu dil mera le ja main chappal pahen ke aayi’ [Take my heart. I’m on my way, but first let me put on my sandals].
I think Shankar mesmerises audiences when he sings on the stage. What a threesome.
NMK: How did he approach the ‘Kajra re’ song?
G: When Shankar gave me the tune and the dummy words, he said: ‘Change all the dummy words, Gulzar saab. But just don’t change “Kajra re”.’
‘I have already written a similar song that Daler Mehndi has sung—“Kajra re nainawaale, naina teri Chambal de lootere” [Your kohl-lined eyes are no different from the dacoits of the Chambal valley].
‘Gulzar saab, when I was having a shower this morning, I couldn’t stop singing the words “Kajra re”. I could not get them out of my head. Please keep them in the song.’ ‘You’ve had your shower and you’re all fresh, so I’ll use them.’
We both laughed. So the words ‘Kajra re’ came from Shankar Mahadevan.

NMK: A completely different kind of song is ‘Humko mann ki shakti dena.’ Can you remind me how it was used in Guddi?

G: It’s a prayer the schoolgirls in Hrishida’s [Hrishikesh Mukherjee] film sing every morning at assembly. Jaya Bachchan—she was Jaya Bhaduri in those days—plays the young Guddi. She is late for school and rushes into the assembly. The teacher, who has seen Guddi enter, winks at her and gestures for her to lead the prayer. So, in the middle of the prayer, there’s a bit of storytelling.
There’s the line: ‘Saath dein toh dharm ka, chalein toh dharm par,’ and as you know ‘dharm’ means faith. Here, I am playing on a pun because Guddi is in love with the movie star Dharmendra. So this line has a double meaning—it talks about taking the right path and in the context of the movie it could also mean Dharmendra.
In spite of the song being a school prayer, you can always find space for humour. It has a touch of a cartoonist’s type of humour, the kind you see in the Amul Butter hoardings around the city.

G: It is like a hymn. The other day we were in Shankar- Ehsaan-Loy’s recording studio, working on Shaad Ali’s film OK Jaanu, and Shankar Mahadevan asked:
‘Gulzar saab, this song “Humko mann ki shakti dena,” did you write it?’
Before I could say anything, Shaad added:
‘No, no, it’s a traditional song. It’s a prayer we used to sing at school.’
Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra, who happened to be there, added: ‘That’s right. I heard it at school too. Maybe Gulzar saab decided to use it in Guddi.’
I listened to them very quietly and said:
‘I wrote it for Guddi. It was written as a school prayer. It is not a traditional prayer.’

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