'Abhimaan' is a celebration of Jaya and Amitabh Bachchan's palpable chemistry

·Columnist
·9-min read
'Abhimaan' is a celebration of Jaya and Amitabh Bachchan's palpable chemistry

The Hrishikesh Mukherjee directorial remains a landmark film for the actor for more reasons than one…

By the time the film released on 27 July, 1973, Jaya Bhaduri had become Jaya Bachchan. In fact, the climax was reportedly shot after her marriage to Amitabh Bachchan (3 June 1973).

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It celebrates her beautiful chemistry with co-star Amitabh, whom she was reportedly dating during its making. Their romantic scenes seem delightfully spontaneous and real.

Her character goes through the complete arc from a girl to a woman with shades of devotion, dignity and devastation. Expressing hurt with a drop of an eyelash, a droop of the mouth, loaded silences… Jaya walked away with sympathy and the Filmfare Award (along with Dimple Kapadia for Bobby) for her sensitive portrayal.

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Demurely clad in heavy Kanjeevarams (most of them gifted to her by beau Amitabh), indigenous gold jewellery with kohl heavy eyes, mangalsutra, sindoor and bindi… the much-married look complimented the coming-of-age Jaya.

Originally titled Raag Ragini, it was alleged that Abhimaan was based on the real-life story of Pandit Ravi Shankar and his first wife, Annapurna Devi, who was considered a superior sitar player. 

While author Raju Bharatan reportedly states that Hrishida based Abhimaan on the life of singer Kishore Kumar and his first wife, the supremely talented Ruma Ghosh. The 1954 film, A Star Is Born, has also been mentioned as an influence.

Whatever may be the genesis, Abhimaan deals with the deep-rooted male ego and how it can mar the professional and emotional wellbeing of a more talented spouse.

Music is the setting, the plot, the conflict and the resolution of the films. Music brings the protagonists, Subir Kumar (Amitabh Bachchan) and Uma (Jaya Bhaduri) together. Music binds them in matrimony. Music causes discord between them. And finally restores harmony in their wrecked lives.

The film’s uniqueness lies in the fact that it starts and ends with a song. After Guide (1965), this is one S.D.Burman soundtrack (he won the Filmfare Award for Best Music Director) that becomes the storyteller. Aided by Majrooh Sultanpuri’s lyrics, which interlaced folk tradition with eternal emotions, Abhimaan is a sonata for the soul… Decoding Abhimaan and Uma's changing dynamics with Subir through its songs…

Unravelling the world of classic Bollywood cinema - here’s more from Farhana Farook.

MEET NA MILA RE MANKA…

Rendered by Kishore Kumar, the violin-heavy track, establishes at the onset that Subir Kumar (Amitabh Bachchan) is a superstar. Hounded by the paparazzi, harrowed by fans (of all ages), even though he enjoys the hijinks of stardom, there’s a vacuum in his life. The light-hearted ‘virah geet’ laments the same – of not having found a soulmate.

Chitra (Bindu), a rich socialite is his admirer and ‘good friend’. While Chitra tells Subir, ‘Tumhare sangeet pe marti hoon’ and ‘Tum par toh main jee utthti hoon’, hers is a one-sided love. Though Subir enjoys her company, there’s nothing beyond the feel-good flirting. Chandru Kripalani (Asrani), Subir’s friend cum secretary, doesn’t approve of Chitra as she doesn’t match the traditional ‘ideal’.

A sudden trip takes Subir to Durga Mausi’s (Durga Khote) village. There the strains of a Shiv stuti from a distant mandir leave him fascinated. He experiences a sense of serenity unknown before. He learns the voice is Uma’s (Jaya Bhaduri), daughter of a classical musician and teacher Sadanandji (A.K. Hangal).

The stuti was rendered by newcomer Anuradha Paudwal. The male voice belongs to Sunil Kumar. Apparently, it was to be recorded in Lata Mangeshkar’s voice but S.D. Burman liked it so much that he retained Anuradha’s take.

NADIYA KINARE HERAI

The next morning, when Subir’s paying obeisance at Lord Shiva’s mandir, he’s spellbound by an alaap... The mystical number Nadiya kinare, with allusions to Lord Krishna and Radha, fascinates him as does the girl singing it – Uma. 

White saree, moist tresses carelessly held in a loose plait, she dips her pot in the stream and offers the water to the deity. Her stark simplicity in sync with the distilled purity of her voice creates a surreal ambience.

Subir follows her sprightly steps and strikes a conversation with her. Uma recognises him as Subir. She remarks that while she likes his song Meet na mila, she doesn’t quite fancy his ‘Ha ha hee hee’ numbers. She mentions, “Jab geet swayam ke liye gaaya jaat hai toh woh sangeet ban jaata hai!” leaving him baffled with her homegrown wisdom.

Burmanda’s composition brought out the rustic flavour by including the bamboo flute, the santoor, the sarangi and the tabla. Based on raag Pilu and Dadra taal, the track also owes its beauty to Majrooh Sultanpuri’s lyrics with folk phrases like ‘heraai aai kangana’, ‘gori ad jao na maano kehna’, ‘kari ho bahana’...

Unravelling the world of classic Bollywood cinema - here’s more from Farhana Farook.

TERI BINDIYA RE

Uma’s old-world charm captivates Subir and he returns home with her as bride. Back home, they throw a wedding reception, where Brajeshwarlalji/Raisaab (David), a renowned classical singer, requests Subir to sing. Subir urges Uma to join.

The song, rendered by Mohammed Rafi and Lata, is based on raag Mishra Garaa with a touch of raag Khamaj and woven in the Rupak taal (seven-beat rhythm cycle). Blending sringar ras with delicate sensuality, it speaks of a bride’s ornamented allure. Jaya lends a natural shyness that’s reciprocated by Amitabh’s palpable ardour. The classical track merges the tabla, with the sitar and the flute.

On hearing her grip over raag and rhythm, Rai saab remarks that Uma is more ‘pratibhashali’. He fears her superior talent could spell discord in their marriage as Subir henceforth would be singing with her. Chitra, who was left heartbroken with Subir’s sudden marriage, graciously acknowledges that the conventional Uma is the perfect match for him.

LOOTE KOI MAN KA NAGAR

This number is a celebration of the first flush of marriage and the heady idealism of entwining lives. The song has a lilt, akin to the beat in their hearts. There’s playful teasing as Subir cheers a reticent Uma into his starry world.

Burmanda had zeroed in Mukesh for the track. However, he was so impressed by the scratch version recorded by Manhar Udhas that he retained it. The flute is predominant with the santoor and violin adding to the melody. Different singers were used to give playback for Subir through the film, perhaps to justify Uma’s formidable talent, expressed solely through Lata’s vocals.

AB TOH HAI TUMSE HAR KHUSHI APNI

This song marks the turning point in the film. It underlines the sulk that has set in in Subir and the unease in Uma. Given her rising popularity, producers want her to sing solo. Reluctant, she’s cajoled by Subir, who’s best trying to smokescreen his displeasure.

Composed with raag Mand and taal Kaherva, the track is a triumph of poetry, percussion and performance. The violin, the mandolin, the santoor and the flute lend an undercurrent of poignancy to Majrooh’s metaphors:

Tera saath hum bhi sanam

Mashoor hogaye

Dekho kahan le jaaye

Bekhudi apni…

The song is a collage of building conflict... Of a shelf being designed to line up Uma’s awards, of photographers gesturing Subir to move out of the frame as they want to click her alone. Of Uma holding his hand urging him not to, of fans snatching the autograph book from Subir’s hand on spotting Uma...

Mention must be made of Jaya largely opting for white sarees with varying borders reminiscent of Lata’s penchant for the same as also in the manner in which she holds the song sheet in front of the mike.

PIYA BINA PIYA BINA

The final straw is Uma being offered more remuneration than Subir. Consumed by jealousy, Subir starts visiting Chitra, who senses the discord in his marriage. In a take-off from Chandramukhi, a sympathizer, she pacifies and also chastises the irate ‘Devdas’. When Subir tells her, “Pehle akela tha, ab bhi akela hoon.” Chitra condemns the self-pity saying it’s due to our ‘chhote chhote abhimaan aur aham’.

Uma, who’s been awarded by a music institute, sings Piya bina piya bina live for All India Radio. The lines resonate her hurt as her eyes bear the weight of held back tears…

Piya aise ruthe

Kee honthon se mere

Sangeet rutha…

Subir listens to her sing, drowning his ego in drink. A concerned Chitra watches this picture of gloom. After the show, Uma visits Chitra’s home to pick up her brooding husband. 

After an unpleasant altercation back home, Uma volunteers to stop singing – this is the third occasion when she does so – but Subir dubs it a pretentious ‘sacrifice’. When he tells her that he doesn’t need her… a humiliated Uma walks out…

Uma returns to her village, only to realise that she is carrying Subir’s baby. When the news is conveyed to Subir, he’s delighted but his pride intervenes.

Uma, yearning hopelessly for Subir, loses her baby. Traumatized by the death of her dreams, she sinks into depression.

Subir, after getting an earful from Mausi, visits Uma. Burmanda’s composition, Sun mere bandhu re (Sujata 1959) – evocative and wistful - plays in the background. Subir is remorseful but a bereaved Uma is unresponsive.

TERE MERE MILAN KI YEH RAINA

Back home in the city, Uma remains as withdrawn. Subir is urged by the doctor to make her revisit those memories that were dear to her. She must reclaim herself through them.

Brijeshwarji urges Subir to sing at a concert. As Subir begins to sing Tere mere milan ki yeh raina – a melody of their coming together - Uma is overwhelmed by memories. Of the love that was once between them. Of the child they dreamt of. Of music that at first united them and then tore them apart…

Subir urges Uma to sing with him. She finally does, the tears melting the freeze in her. The cathartic melody is an example of Rabindra-sangeet (Jodi Tare Nai Chini) with generous use of the sitar and the tabla. It’s based on raag Mishra Garaa with a touch of raag Khamaj and woven in Rupak taal. Lata’s alaap along with the beseeching ‘dekho na’ lends an essential tenderness.

As Subir protectively escorts Uma through the cheering crowds… life begins on a new note for them…

Unravelling the world of classic Bollywood cinema - here’s more from Farhana Farook.

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