Kabhie Kabhie, a film about mismatched couples with no linear plot, no clear-cut narrative, framework and characters, stunned the box-office in 1976.
And what music! Khayyam had been in hibernation for the longest time carving out classic soundtracks for flop films since Footpath in 1953, and then suddenly he came into his own with a music score that was quite simply, one of the most complete film soundtracks of Hindi cinema.
From the lyrically luminous melody 'Kabhie kabhie mere dil mein khayaal aata hai (embodying the Bachchan’s devotion for his object of adoration Pooja)' to the vibrant and zingy 'Tere chehre se nazar nahin hathti (the song of young love filmed on RishiKapoor and Neetu Singh), the music of Kabhie Kabhie covered the entire gamut of romantic emotions in an arc of eternity.
Sahir Ludhianvi’s poetry was an ongoing ode to the beauty of Raakhee Gulzar, who played Pooja, the object of unattainable beauty.
It was the ultimate deification of feminine beauty. The role was conceived with Raakhee Gulzar in mind. It had to be she, and none other. There was only one hitch. Raakhee had married poet-filmmaker Gulzar on a condition that she give up acting. For Kabhie Kabhie, Yash Chopra tempted the actress back into the limelight.
It was, for all practical purposes the end of the Gulzar-Raakhee marriage. But kabhi kabhi, big sacrifices have to be made for a bigger purpose. This film anointed Raakhee forever as the bewitching enigmatic unattainable beauty.
Recalling the experience of playing Yash Chopra’s muse, Raakhee had said in an earlier interview, “When I married Gulzar, Yash became our neighbour. He then offered me Kabhie Kabhie after my marriage. I think it was conceived keeping me in mind. Gulzar and I used to regularly visit Yash's home. This was during those times when I was pregnant with my daughter Meghna and Yash's son Adi was a child. One day in the presence of Amitabh Bachchan, they played a song and Pam said, 'This song is for Raakhee'. That's how Kabhie Kabhie was offered to me. Yash Chopra told me that he'd drop the film . But he won't make it with any other heroine. Since acting was the only thing I enjoyed, I agreed to do the film even after marriage.”
Raakhee remembers the director’s keen eye for detail, “Yash had great observation powers. He wanted me to a wear a shaadi ka joda in Kabhie Kabhie exactly like the one worn by singer Mukesh's daughter during her wedding. God knows how he remembered that particular joda. I think he just revered everything to do with women. He romanced to the fullest. Not only his heroines, Yash was equally fascinated by everything to do with his wife. He wanted her to wear particular perfumes only, so that he'd feel her presence. He was enamoured of femininity.”
Yash Chopra has himself admitted that Kabhi Kabhie was a gamble. The film seemed to snatch Amitabh Bachchan away from his action image that he had acquired with Prakash Mehra’s Zanjeer and Yash Chopra’s Deewaar. But even in Kabhi Kabhie, though he threw no punches he still remained very angry in the film. He is a poet outraged by a sense of injustice as he recites poetry.
Much in the same way that Guru Dutt recited Ludhianvi’s lines to protest against socio-political and personal injustices in Pyaasa, Amitabh Bachchan recited the lucid lines to confess his love for the beauteous Pooja, played by Raakhee Gulzar.
The world of Kabhi Kabhie was micro-cosmic, intimate, self-absorbed and narcissistic. The characters were elitist, far removed from the middle-class to which Hindi commercial cinema addressed itself in the 1970s. Yet the audience clutched on to the melodious musical chairs. Amitabh Bachchan loves Raakhee. But he marries Waheeda Rehman. But she marries Shashi Kapoor. And then Shashi-Raakhee’s son Rishi Kapoor falls in love with Waheeda’s illegitimate daughter, and the story doesn't end there.
Phew. So many characters, all unified by that emotion that ruled Yash Chopra’s life.
Long live the poetry of Sahir, the tunes of Khayyam, the voices of Mukesh and Lata Mangeshkar, the beauty of Raakhee Gulzar, and long live the love of the filmmaker who loved to love.