1942: A Love Story — RD Burman's posthumous album made romance blossom against rebellion
The audio and visual aesthetic of the songs of 1942: A Love Story was a concoction of the strengths of a dying genius (RD Burman) and a budding one (Sanjay Leela Bhansali).
A couple of days before Abhishek Varman's period romantic drama Kalank releases, the premise of a love story set during the 1940s takes one back to Vidhu Vinod Chopra's 1942: A Love Story, that released exactly 25 years ago this day on 15 April, 1994.
While the backdrop of the film was the Quit India Movement that took place five years before India gained Independence from British rule, a tender love story dominated the forefront. The tone of the first half was starkly different from the second one as the love story between Naren Singh (Anil Kapoor), the son of an Indian leader (who doubled up as a faithful slave of the British), and Rajeshwari Pathak (Manisha Koirala), the daughter of an Indian freedom fighter (Anupam Kher), evolved into an action-oriented, thrilling chapter of the freedom struggle.
Though Chopra's layered romantic drama was thoroughly entertaining, what made the romance stand out amidst the more urgent and crucial freedom struggle was his faith in a crew determined to prove that love conquers all. Under the supervision of Chopra, the combined genius of legendary music composer RD Burman (who passed away before the film released) and Sanjay Leela Bhansali (who directed the songs, along with additional credits of screenwriter and associated director) made the romance blossom against all the angst embedded in the Quit India Movement. The album was a unique concoction of the strengths of a dying genius and a budding one.
Long before Vishal Bhardwaj made his directorial debut and made memorable films that juxtaposed romance with war/crisis, Chopra achieved the same with 1942: A Love Story through essentially four iconic songs that, despite being romantic, have a distinct voice of their own. A dexterous and gifted technical crew ensured that Anil and Manisha's romance justifies the bold proclamation in the title that despite being set in the difficult year of 1942, the film was primarily "A Love Story".
Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga
The song, penned by Javed Akhtar, composed by Burman and sung by Kumar Sanu, is a watershed moment in the history of Indian cinema. It continues to inspire the current generation so much so that Vidhu named his most recent production, the first mainstream lesbian romantic film in the history of Hindi cinema, after this song. Though his sister Shelley Chopra Dhar's directorial debut was pathbreaking in its own right, the feat serves the song right as it was no less groundbreaking.
At a promotional event of the film Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga, Vidhu revealed that the original song was made under seven minutes and was an outcome of a jamming session between the two greats, Javed Akhtar and RD Burman. It was original not only in its lyrical structure, but also in its choreography, direction and visualisation. Farah Khan, who had a breakthrough after her inventive choreography of 'Pehla Nasha' in Mansoor Khan's 1992 sports drama Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar, treated the romantic songs of this film in similar style, shooting them in long shots and slow motion. Cinematographer Binod Pradhan, who went on to collaborate with Bhansali in another classic period romance Devdas in 2002, helped Bhansali's vision for the songs of 1942: A Love Story come alive by capturing Anil Kapoor's mischief, Manisha Koirala's luminescence and the stunning backdrop of Dalhousie, and placing them against the addictive rhythm of this slow burner.
A special mention must also go to Renu Saluja for her smart editing that made it look like there was a cosmic connection between the two lead characters, or that they felt connected through an abstract force. For instance, when Anil bursts open a pillow in excitement, the narrative immediately cuts to Manisha holding a white feather (that came out of the pillow?) and plays with it. Though a minute later, a keen eye would decipher that the feather was that of a white hen in her close vicinity. Similarly, Anil jumps while skipping excitedly along with a bunch of young girls, and Manisha repeats the same action a few kilometers away as she hangs washed clothes for drying on an elevated clothes line.
Rooth Na Jaana
Anil Kapoor tries to woo Manisha Koirala. Quite the Bollywood trope. What sets this song apart, however, is the setting. Nitin Desai's production design leads the audience to a regal library, the sanctity of which must not be disturbed. The way Bhansali and Farah design the song is fascinating because it allows the mischief of a girl-meets-boy scenario to play out against the perceived piousness of a British library. Books are as much a prop as Manisha's pink dupatta, which gets stuck in a nail sticking out of a wooden table. The setting is used as a character itself, a silent spectator in some moments whereas a passive participant in some. Needless to say, Burman, Akhtar and Sanu blend their audio aesthetic seamlessly with Bhansali, Khan and Pradhan's telling visuals.
Kuchh Na Kaho
There are two versions to this timeless melody, again a product of Akhtar and Burman's combined genius. The first one, sung by Sanu, is set in a magnificent stage setup as theater is also an integral part of the first half of the film. Nitin Desai's terrific art direction works in tandem with Shaheed Amir and Oscar-winning designer Bhanu Athaiya's splendid costumes. White is the dominant colour as it symbolises not only the purity of their love but also peace, the primary theme of 'Kuchh Na Kaho' ("Don't say a word").
Bhansali strikes a perfect balance between the rehearsed appeal of the setting and the spontaneity of their love, a combination that became his strength in his directorials. Farah follows it up with an impromptu ball dance sequence involving the lead pair, once again blending choreographed steps with the organic meet-cute interactions of Anil and Manisha.
The female version, rendered impressionably by Lata Mangeshkar, is tinged with overbearing melancholy without diluting the inherent romance. It enters the narrative at a crucial point when Manisha's character realises the depth of love that Anil's character held for her, to an extent that he is willing to surrender his life (literally as the song arrives hours before his possible hanging) for a cause she is deeply invested in.
Pyaar Hua Chupke Se
Personally this writer's favourite from the album, 'Pyaar Hua Chupke Se' sounds heavenly because of Kavita Krishnamurthy's honeyed vocals, that fetched her a Filmfare Award for Best Playback Singer - Female. Honey is also a motif in the song as it is the only colour that adorns Manisha Koirala, who is decked in a white kurta for the entire length of the song. Her yellow dupatta, an active prop throughout the song, represents the allurement that honey or deceptively attractive yellow petals contain for a bhanwra (black bee).
Shot amidst the stunning mountains of Dalhousie, the song focuses more on Koirala's incandescent face, the spring in her step and her magnetic screen presence as she celebrates the arrival of spring (represents newfound love) in a picturesque yet dormant environment. The song ends poetically as well, when her reunion with Prince Charming (silhouette of Anil Kapoor riding a horse heroically) is interrupted by a procession of the Quit India Movement, though Koirala continues to admire the fading silhouette by peeping above the crowd with flaming torches.
1942: A Love Story was much more than a love story but has gone down in the anvils of Hindi cinema for giving the audience a romance as poetically rebellious as the songs of its album.
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