Waheeda Rehman in ‘Mujhe Jeene Do’ (1963)
It’s not as if what I am about to say can be scientifically disproved. So let me say it anyway.
‘Raat bhi hai kuchh bheegi bheegi’ (The Night is Somewhat Wet) from the 1963 Hindi movie ‘Mujhe Jeene Do’ (Let Me Live), composed by the very talented Jaidev, written by the very gifted Sahir Ludhianvi and sung by the very extraordinary Lata Mangeshkar has to be rated as one of the 20 greatest songs of Hindi cinema.
Directed by the hardly heralded Moni Bhattacharjee, an assistant to the great Bimal Roy, the film remains among its lead actor Sunil Dutt’s most memorable works. Lending the film its ethereal beauty was Waheeda Rehman. Bhattacharjee cut his teeth under Roy in the latter’s films such as Parineeta (1953), Do Bigha Zameen (1953), Biraj Bahu (1954), Yahudi (1958) and Madhumati (1958). He directed Usne Kaha Tha (1960), Jaal (1963) and Baazi (1968) apart from Mujhe Jeene Do.
Coming back to the song, everything about it is right and brilliantly organic, even though one knows that such creations are never organic because they involve so many people and go through so many iterations and variables. That said, the final product looks as if it was born fully formed. That is a tribute to all involved, particularly Bhattacharjee.
Because it is my weakness to look for smart editing cuts and transitions apart from frames, I pay particular attention to such details. Take for instance, the scene soon after the song starts and Bhattacharjee introduces the silhouetted bandits walking against the superbly lighted center stage on which Rahman is dancing and singing. When Mangeshkar sings “Raat bhi hai kuchh bheegi bheegi” the firs time, it is a long shot of Rehman in the distance with Dutt’s silhouette closer to the camera. When the singer says ‘Raat’ for the second time at cue 0.22 the editor cuts it to a tighter shot of the Rehman. From the establishment shot to the specific shot it is that cut which makes the progression smooth.
This song is full of very intelligent cuts made possible by the way Jaidev scored the music and Sahir wrote the song. I cannot tell what came first—the composition or the words but irrespective of that I can imagine Bhattacharjee, Jaidev and Sahir getting together to create the final narrative of the song. Of course, in the end it is always the director’s vision.
One overarching effect of watching the song is that it has lots of movements from frame to frame and many vantage points. It is as if Bhattacharjee is telling the viewer ‘Look at the number of points from which to view what is unfolding.”
Another cut that I like was when Dutt the bandit first hands over money to Rehman the dancer. It starts at cue 2.05 with Rehman approaching him to pick up the money. At 2.06 it cuts to a close up of the two hands meeting with Dutt clearly trying to grab her hand a bit more and then she suggestively withdraws it and swirls away. Even the cut from the meeting of the hands to Rehman’s face close-up when she feels stirred up by the touch (or at least pretends to) is in keeping with the thoughtful director telling a visual story and not just a verbal and emotional one.
Sunil Dutt, left, Mayank Chhaya (1985)
Sahir, who along with Majrooh Sultanpuri is considered one of the finest song writers of Hindi cinema, crafted the song as beautifully as intelligently. I say intelligently because in keeping with the Kathakali classical dancing beat of the composition he repeats words at the end of many lines. From ‘Bheegi bheegi’ to ‘Madhyam madhyam’ and from ‘Chham chham’ to ‘ Tham tham’. Those repeated words create a lovely flow coinciding with the beat. People often do not realize but a great deal of thought goes into creating what eventually turns out to be masterpieces of cinema. Of course, the song’s high point , apart from Dutt’s stylized stares that are alternatively lustful and menacing, is Rehman’s bewitching performance. Her expressions and gestures, which are dictated by the requirements of the particularly dance form, are spot on. For instance, when she acts out the lines “Hosh mein thodi behoshi hai, behoshi mein hosh hai kam kam” she acts out the pretend but gentle effects of early intoxication rather charmingly. Sahir and Bhattacharjee also throw in some wistfulness of her apparently vain efforts to win Dutt’s heart in the line “Tujhko pane ki koshish mein dono jahan se khoye gaye hum”.
The film’s cinematographer Apurba Bhattacharjee and editor Das Dhaimade translated the director’s vision for the song and the film generally rather effectively. Again, I could not possibly tell you whether the frames and the cuts were their individual doing or done with the help of the director. The latter is usually the case with highly trained directors such as Moni Bhattacharjee.
Now finally to the photograph above. It features Sunil Dutt on the left and yours truly on the right, circa 1985. In this particular instance, which was captured either by Gopal Shetty or Palashranjan Bhaumick, terrific news photographers both and dear friends, I was talking to Dutt about the Indian National Congress Party’s 100th year anniversary that year. I was reporting for the Associated Press. The reason I have carried the picture is because a) I can and b) I talked to Dutt about ‘Mujhe Jeene Do’ on another occasion. I knew him rather well. He said he vividly remembered the filming of this particular song which was not an easy one to shoot. He said he kept humming the song on the set because of Jaidev’s lilting composition. Dutt produced the film.
I think this is enough unnecessarily free insight into a great song. I do not get paid to write this. Heck, not too many people even read this blog.