(First published 07 July 2006)
By V. Ramnarayan
Even as I heard the news that Hrishikesh Mukherjee was critically ill, Worldspace Radio was playing ‘Haye re voh din kyun na aye!’ that unforgettable song by Lata Mangeshkar from Anuradha, the 1960s Mukherjee-directed film that had Balraj Sahni and Leela Naidu in the lead roles.
That song was unforgettable for more reasons than one. For one thing, it was a beautiful melody (based on raga Kalavati) composed by sitar maestro Pandit Ravi Shankar, whose score for the film was outstanding, and if I remember right, won him the national award. It was sung by a mature Lata whose voice was not only still young and fresh enough to capture every nuance of the melody, but also had that quality that tugged at your heartstrings.
The scene itself was memorable. But when the film starts, Anuradha is a famous playback singer who has all of India in thrall with her wonderful voice and is riding the crest of a wave when she marries the doctor, played by Balraj Sahni who decides to work in a village. In a rather naïve depiction of a medical practitioner--who is also a research scientist—Mukherjee tells a touching tale of a very loving couple, gradually heading towards estrangement, thanks to the doctor’s obsessive involvement with his work, which will save millions of lives, no less. The singer is forced to become a rural housewife, cut off from her music and her former life.
In a melodramatic but powerful denouement, an elder family member coaxes Anuradha to dust her tanpura, tune it after years of neglect, and sing again for him—just when she is beginning to consider leaving her doctor husband for an old friend, whom serendipity brings to her doorstep as an accident victim, and whom of course her husband saves. All’s well that ends well, and the good doctor realises in the nick of time that he is about to lose his precious jewel, and Anuradha too gets over her momentary weakness.
Though there are many lovely songs in the film, based on folk and classical music (Kaise din beete kaise beeti rattiya, Jaane kaise sapnon me kho gayeen akhiyan, Saavre saavre) and these are beautifully enacted by Balraj Sahni of the noble good looks, and the frail, delicate beauty, Leela Naidu (then married in real life to Dom Moraes), the final song was the most poignant, most emotive of the lot, especially when the line ‘Sooni meri beena, sangit bina’ is sung. My wife and I saw the film in a morning show at Hyderabad in the early seventies, and the audience burst into spontaneous applause after the song, something I have never experienced before or after (in a serious film, that is).
‘Hrishida’ has made several good films in his long career (Anupama, Satyakam, Anand, Guddi, Namak Haram, Abhimaan and Chupke Chupke, to name a few) but I would put Anuradha right at the top, for its poetic treatment, for its superb black and white photography, its perfect casting, and above all for its gorgeous music.
Note: If anyone can lay hands on an article written by Sadanand Menon in ‘Man’s World’, if I remember right, on Hrishida and his Mumbai home ‘Anupama’, s/he should grab it.