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Monday, 6 September 2010

A musical revenge (Baiju Bawra)

A Baiju Bawra search on Wikipedia reveals that the classical maestro perished of typhoid at the ripe age of 71. Given this (though there's no historical proof to ascertain this claim) information, the climax of Vijay Bhatt's 1952 film is far from satisfactory. The rationale behind bumping off both Baiju and his sweetheart Gauri, is something that I'm yet to decipher. Even after he is victorious in his vocal duel with Tansen and reaching his village at the nick of time to marry Gauri, the film shows both the lovers drowning in the Yamuna. Sad, but very surprising!

The site also does not shed any light on his so called enmity with the famous Tansen, who used to sing in Emperor Akbar's court. In fact it says that Baiju Bawra, originally known as Baijnath Prasad or Baijnath Mishra, was an accomplished singer in the court of Raja Mansingh of Gwalior. And he was called 'bawra' because of his love for a dancer in Chanderi. Now that is something the film departs from.
Baiju Bawra opens with Tansen (Surendra) about to sit for his riyaaz. And given his stature (he is one of the 'navratans' or the nine gems in Akbar's court, lives in a stately mansion. Well aware of his consequence, Tansen will not have anyone creating noise in the vicinity of his house when he is practising his music. So no one should sing near Tansen's house also or else he would be executed.
Just as Tansen's guards are roughing up one singer for daring to sing when Tansen himself is practising, a group of men are passing by the mansion singing devotional songs. When the guards try to stop them, the head of the group carry on with their bhajan arguing that the act of singing can be enjoyed by everyone. This angers one of the hurly-burlies and he attacks the man. In the chaos, that singer is injured. He happens to be Baiju's father who makes his young son (Ratan Kumar) promise that one day he will avenge his father's death. The young Baiju now only dreams about how to extract revenge from Tansen. He steals a sword from a dosed off guard to go and kill Tansen but is caught in the way. Just then, a local healer (Manmohan Krishna) comes to his rescue and takes him home.
I really like the way Ratan Kumar keeps saying Badla Badla whenever he hears Tansen's name. Though there is hardly any evilness about his angelic face, it is amusing to see this pint-sized boy work up enough anger and hatred in his entire persona.
So, Baiju meets up with Gauri, her father Mohan. Gauri (Baby Tabassum) rows travellers across the Yamuna everyday. The two children develop a strong bond and grow up to be lovers (sample the bouncy romantic duet Jhoole mein pawan ki aayi bahar sung by Mohd Rafi and Lata Mangeshkar). In Gauri's tender words and association, Baiju forgets his cause for revenge and he is busy sharpening his vocal skills while singing love paeans to Gauri, who has now grown up to a pretty village belle. It is awesome how young Meena Kumari looks. She is thin, very, very attractive and has a exuberant air about her. Bharat Bhushan isn't to bad himself. Carefully careless in his rustic gear, he sure has a chocolaty charm about him when he tries to melt Gauri with Tu Ganga ki mauj (Mohd Rafi). The two actors make for a handsome couple and their repartee is quite enjoyable indeed.
Baiju is lost in Gauri's love and the damsel reciprocates adequately. But, Narpat will have none of it. This pompous and stupid but influential villager wants Gauri for himself and takes Mohan to task regarding the proximity between Baiju and Gauri. On confrontation by Mohan, Gauri cowers but only for a short while. For, there is nothing that can separate her from her sweetheart and she makes it quite obvious in the song Door koi gaye (it's a Lata Mangeshkar and Shamshad Begum duet).
After much deliberation Mohan resigns to the fact the Baiju and Gauri are made for each other. Hearing her father say so, she erupts in glee and runs to tell her sweetheart what her father has decided. Just when everything looks so halcyon, the village is attacked by a group of dacoits led by Roopmati (Kuldeep Kaur). She demands a hefty package from the poor villagers who plead with her. But Roopmati is hell bent for her the money. Just when she orders her men to loot and plunder, Baiju breaks into Insaan bano (Mohd Rafi) that absolutely melts the tough Roopmati. She is so taken by this musical charmer that she decides to leave the village without any ransom provided Baiju goes with her, for here is a dacoit whose heart has been robbed by this young man!
Gauri cries her heart out when hearing about Baiju's departure but her lover sees no other alternative to save the villagers. While he goes away Gauri weeps with Bachpan ki mohabbat ko (Mangeshkar). On reaching their den, Roopmati decks up in her finery to seduce Baiju but he is faithful to Gauri and slights the dacoit woman. Roopmati relates that she chose this trade to avenge the death of her father. This piece of information is enough to remind Baiju of his lost cause and he forgets everything...Gauri, the villagers and his music, but his decision to avenge the death of his father. He stealthily creeps into Tansen's mansion with a stolen sword and is about to behead the singer when he is doing his riyaaz. But the sound of music weakens his urge for cold revenge. Baiju cracks open Tansen's veena instead of his enemy's skull. It is then that Tansen tells him that if he really wants to see the end of Tansen, he should beat him in music. The film takes a turn from here and goes on to show how Baiju becomes a bawra and fulfils his promise, given to his dying father, in a very musical way.
Though some of the scenes are incredible, the film lives up because of the music. Naushad's score is sheer bliss for the senses and so are the renditions by Mohd Rafi, Mangeshkar, Ustad Amir Khan and D V Paluskar. Man tarpat hari darshan ko aaj and Ae duniya ke rakhwaley are absolutely harmonious. The last duet Aaj gawat man mero is entertaining not only because you get to hear such great music but also you get to see the sheer power of both Tansen and Baiju. Deers run to Akbar's court while the maestros are at it!!
But my personal favourite is Mohe bhool gaye sawariya. Couple Meena Kumari's expressions (apart from her beautiful visage), Mangeshkar's awesome singing, the tearful situation, Naushad's exemplary music and Shakeel Badayuni's lyrics and you have a winner.
The gradual transformation of Gauri's persona is awesome. From a cheerful and teasing lover, she changes into a sorrowful sweetheart. Meena Kumari's histrionics are noteworthy (no wonder she became a superstar after this film and even bagged her first Filmfare Best Actress trophy for this one). Though Bharat Bhushan overdoes his sad act sometimes, he was not bad overall. And, he is really the best bet for these sad musician parts. A special word for the character Ghasit Khan, played by the entertaining Radhakishan. He sure knows how to tickle your ribs.
Given such good acting and such superlative music, I'd loved it if the ending was happy. I agree that the director deviated from reality and put his directorial license to full use, but wouldn't it be great if he showed Baiju uniting with Gauri and going onto live happily ever after? And singing so many more superb songs...


  1. Awesome music - I saw Baiju Bawra because of the music, and still think that's the best part of the film. (Though I also liked Kuldeep Kaur a lot - there's something so feisty and strong-willed about her). But yes, the ending is so unnecessarily tragic. Can't see the point.

  2. @Dustedoff: Yes, I thought Kuldeep Kaur was very attractive, too. The music was just out-of-the-world. But, Vijay Bhatt could have definitely altered the ending. Then we would have all gone home happy :)

  3. Nice review.
    About the ending - I think Bhatt killed off Baiju in the end coz if he would have lived, the world would be remembring him instead of Tansen. So he started with a fact (That of Tansen being the greatest singer in medieval India), dvelved into fiction (bringing in Baiju) and ended the film with a fact (that Tansen remained unbeateably no. 1, with Baiju being dead). And Gauri had to die coz it would have looked unfair on heroine's part to walk off with his groom while her lover perished! :P

    And I loved that VO just after the opening credits where the narrator states that Baiju's story is a fable and the history is itself a collection of fables, turned into facts by united acknowlegdments.

    Overall, a Nice movie. Great music (esply, Door koi gaaye). Meena ji looked ravishing and showed what she is capable of in her first major break (She bagged the Inaugural Filmfare Award for this film).

  4. @Punya: Agreed. But, someone called Baiju Bawra did actually exist and he won all the accolades in Gwalior while Tansen ruled Akbar's court. Yes, Meena Kumari was superlative. Thank you for the comment and keep reading :)

  5. The more I read about this film, the more I am convinced that I made the right choice in not watching it. Nothing can live up to the promise of those songs! Besides, great as they are, the songs have TRAGEDY written all over them, and I like my films to end in happily-ever-after.

  6. @Bollyviewer: Exactly, when a happy ending is absolutely possible, why go a sad one :)

  7. Can I drop a request? Pls review Navketan's Kala Bazar.

    Thnks :)

  8. I love the songs but then I love most of the songs from old films. It is a pleasure to listen to the youthful voices of Rafi and Lata.

  9. @Punya: Sure I will Punya. Gimme some time :)

  10. @Shilpi: The songs are definitely the best part of the film. And, Lata does sound different here :)

  11. Indeed, this was a film that really called for an happy ending, i literally hissed at the Tv screen at that ending all a bit over the top even by my standards, you know how much i love campy over the top melodrama, but here i just couldn't make sense of it

  12. @Bollywooddeewana: Wouldn't it be so much better if Bhushan and Kumari sang their way into a blissful married life? I think the ending is totally OTT and forced. Very upsetting indeed :(

  13. Except for the songs there is nothing much in the movie. Performance of legendary actor singer great immortal Surendranathji was extremely superb.Sadly Surendranathji did not sing any song by himself in this movie.When he was told BY Naushad sahib about this that he would be having a play back , he was amused and did not know whether to feel sorry or amused at the development. However as a gentleman he accepted the situation and rendered superb performance. Finally Surendraji called it a day after the film Gawaiah in 1954 in which he rendered three very great hit songs under Muisc director Ram Ganguly. He however took up brief character roles in Shantaram style and continued to act till 1986. Bharat Bhushan and Meena kumari did well being the lead pair in love like in any other love smitten film.

  14. @Dr Rao: Thank you so much for the trivia!!

  15. The bad part of this film was portrayl of Tansens character as a villain. This is not true.Baijus character is purely fiction and no historical records exist.Surendraji was caught unawares in this film and he gave out excellent performance. The film was purely Baiju oriented Tansesn had to be undeplayed.If Saigal Sahiv was alive he would not have accepted the play back. Surendraji was a thorough gentleman and naushad sahib played Cruel joke on Surendraji. Naushadji also had declined career later. Of course Surendraji was very wise and called it a day in 1954 and shifted to strong business and played limited character roles.

  16. In fact Tansenji was not defeated in the music duel as depicted. The string of the Tanpura of Tansenji snapped and went out of tune. This is not a defeat. In fact Akbar Badshah should have asked for another singing duel after some time and that would have been fair as a ruler. The snapping of the instrument is accidental and no reason can be given.If Tabla of the musician following them got punctured what would have happened? Tansenji still remained unconquered.The director some how wnated ansenji to be shown lower than Baiju in the movie and a cock and bull story was woven. As a real great Gentleman Tansenji did not contest the verdict. If Baiju Bawra was real historical figures why he was forgotten. Where are his Raagas now. The movie has done more damge to the memory of Mia Tanseji than any good. One good thing was that Rafi sahib could get notice of people through his high pitch loud songs. People learnt that love songs also could be sung at very high pitch and god has to be called at very high pitch as done by Naushad sahib with song... Oh Duniya ke Rakhwale....May god bless all the guys involved in the production.