Padosan turns 50: RD Burman's music helped shape a genre-bending screenplay for the Kishore Kumar comedy
Before Padosan, Hindi cinema was still struggling to rise above a theatrical format, particularly in the comedy genre. But RD Burman's music gave the film its much-needed wings.
The next time you watch a mindless comedy and wonder who set the ball rolling, turn your heads to Jyoti Swaroop's 1968 film Padosan, that released 50 years ago on 29 November, 1968.
Padosan released at a time when theatre and performing arts had a stronghold on the Indian audience, and even on how popular cinema was projected. Filmmakers were still warming up to the idea of the potential that multiple dimensions of cinema had to offer. While the Rajesh Khanna juggernaut had compelled makers to come up with a different angle to position the superstar, comedy was a genre they were still struggling with.
Comedy till then was mostly confined to a frame, similar to the stage format. The camera observed from a distance the antics of a few comic actors, who delivered dialogues at a high pitch and underlined their hand and leg movements, in order to ensure that the distant audience is with them. There was little camera movement, which further restricted motion of the actors. They mostly confined their movement to their body language while standing at their assigned spots. Since the audience could not gauge the facial expressions of the actors, they reflected the same through their extremely demonstrative body language.
Padosan sticks to the same modus operandi. Actors pitch higher while dishing out dialogues and highlight their body language in order to drag the audience's attention to their world. The camera also remains steady, in contrast with the actors who indulge in a lot of movement (while glued to their respective spots), infusing excess life into every frame. What works in the favour of the film is that the lead actor Kishore Kumar (Vidyapati) heads a natak mandali (theare group), comprising fellow comedians Mukri (Banarasi), Raj Kishore (Lahorie) and Keshto Mukerjee (Kolkatiya).
However, Padosan does gain an edge over other theatrical comedies of the time in what emerged as the most distinctive aspect of the 1968 film — the music.
KH Kapadia's cinematography and DN Pai's editing did full justice to RD Burman's immensely memorable soundtrack and Rajendra Krishan's poetic lyrics by lending them as many dimensions as the layers that the soundtrack entails. It felt like Burman's music gave wings to the camera that was otherwise doomed to sit still. Krishan's poetry also allowed the editor and director a lot of freedom as they could choose the appropriate shot for every emotion expressed in the songs.
The first song, 'Main Chali Main Chali', set the tone of the groundbreaking music that the film offered. It depicted a vivacious Bindu (Saira Banu) painting the town red on a bicycle, along with a group of friends. The camera swiftly switched from Saira's lip syncing close-up to a wide shot of the girls cycling on the streets. As a result, one remembers Saira's red scarf and white shirt with cherries peppered all over as distinctly as the scenic locales.
Then there were the romantic tracks, 'Mere Saamne Wali Khidki Mein' and 'Kehna Hai.' The situation of both songs demanded free-flowing camerawork rather than a structured one, that would have failed to capture the mischief that Bhola (Sunil Dutt), Guru (Kishore Kumar) and gang managed. Bhola attempted to impress his neighbour Bindu by lip-syncing to romantic songs rendered by Guru, who hid behind the wall, as Bhola and Bindu exchanged glances through opposite windows. The audience would not have noticed the smitten Bindu, the gorgeously deceptive lip-syncing of Bhola and the playful expressions of Guru had it not been for the telling close-up shots. The wide shots also helped explain the entire situation within one frame, without diluting the inherent humour with monotony.
Then there are the peppier 'Meri Pyaari Bindu' and 'Chatur Naar.' In the former, the camera periodically zoomed out from Bhola's innocent face (quite meta) to Guru's uninhibited dancing, which helped in explaining their love guru-protege dynamic better. The latter is a classic because it pits not only Bhola (with Guru's backhanded vocals) against Masterji (Mehmood) but also Kishore Kumar against his playback rival Manna Dey. The stakes were higher and a still camera would not have been able to capture the tension as effectively as the smooth cinematography did. The camera replicated the wide range of this RD Burman gem when it traveled from one window (Bindu, Masterji) to another (Guru, Bhola) as the two parties exchanged potshots in one of the most effective jugalbandis of Hindi cinema.
Thus, Padosan proved to be a genre-defining comedy only because it allowed as much colour into its camera technique as it did into its characters and dialogues. It could have worked as a hilarious play as well, but when coupled with Burman's dynamic soundtrack, the experience could be savoured only through a good screenplay. For an industry hesitant to rise above the throes of theatrical constraints, Padosan emerged as a fine blend of performance and skill.
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