„I’m only the story of a moment“ – Poets‘ readings in Bollywood Movies

As a writer of prose and poetry, I am naturally interested how poet’s readings are portrayed in Bollywood. Basically, they are portrayed as musical numbers, but usually with reduced musical arrangements and no dancing choreography. The film which brought that to my attention  is „Kabhie Kabhie“(1976). I watched Amitabh Bachchan think up some poetic lines on a walk and read it voice-over, then step in front of the mike and perform „Main pal do pal“ to an enthusiastic audience divided into women sitting left and men right, the added attraction is Rakhee Gulzar making advances to the poet while Amitabh sang of the fleeting moment of poetry.

Readings of Urdu poetry are called shayari, and the  divison between men and women seems to have a long tradition. In a very interesting article in The Guardian, the author states that Urdu poetry and shayaris have become political instruments against rising Hindu nationalism in India, but by excluding women as poets they  have an aspect that is „stuck in the past“.

While Amitabh stands alone on the bare stage to the extent that I almost felt uncomfortable watching him, Dev Anand enjoys the company of several women and men while performing „Kahin be Khayal Ho Kar“ in Teen Deviyan (Three Ladies, 1965). There’s nothing more you could expect from a reading as a poet: An audience nodding at your lyrical qualities, women who would probably do anything for you, a radiant looking Nanda at the radio gleaming as seldomly in her career, and Simi Garewal almost moved to tears by your poems. I like Teen Deviyan for a lot of things, but was very disappointed at the ending: Dev Anands character leaves behind the two exciting ladies and marries the boring girl next door.

Like Nanda, Mudhabala also listens to a poet performing on the radio in „Barsaat ki Raat“ (1961). But apart from the basic situation, „Zindagi Bhar Nahin Bhoolegi“ is completely different. Aman (Bharat Bushan) and Shabnam (Madhubala) have met by chance on the monsoon night suggested by the title of the film, and Bushan is infatuated with her from the very moment they meet – and writes a poem about it.

Although the first meeting is in a way a classic wet sari scene, where the heroine is drenched with rain to arouse all kind of (mostly male) fantasies, the text is pure poetry. It was written by Sahir Ludhianvi, one of the finest writers of poetry for classic Bollywood films. The mise-en-scene is very different to the Dev Anand movie. Yes, we also see a public performance of a poem on the radio. But Aman is all by himself in the studio, and Shabnam listens to him on her radio alone in her room. So the seemingly public performance becomes  a very intimate moment between the two lovers-to-be. The audience is in a privileged position: We are the only ones who realise that Shabnam falls in love with him at this very moment, Aman is still unaware.

„Zindagi bhar nahin bhoolegi“ aus Barsaat ki raat (1961)

If you find that sophisticated, watch Pyaasa (1957). The  film is about a poet whose art is dismissed by his family and the public until he is believed to be dead. It belongs to the best Bollywood has to offer, and in terms of poets‘ readings, there are no less than three songs worth mentioning.

In terms of originality, I vote for „Jane Kya Tune Kahi“. The lines are again by Sahir Ludhianvi, but they say little, they are the poetic equivalent of a question mark:

Dunno what you said
Dunno what I heard
But something transpired.

There was a sensation
There was a shiver
Many dreams woke up
Something transpired

My eyes lowered and rose
My feet tread gingerly and froze
I acquired a new gait
Something transpired

The translation is by Shivani Mohan, taken from  her blog site „SOME ENGLISH TRANSLATIONS OF CLASSIC HINDI SONGS“


At first glance this does not look like a poets reading at all. Gulabo (played by Waheeda Rehman in her second Bollywood movie) is a street walker who succeeds in waking Vijays (Guru Dutt) interest by singing that sweet nothing of a poem that seems to promise a lot – if you are willing to pay. I would follow Gulabo anywhere, but Vijay follows her because he has written the lines she uses. And wants to know how Gulabo came across them. The truth is very unromantic: Vijay’s brothers have sold his poems as wrapping paper to a merchant on the market, and Gulabo found them when she bought there. In the end, the streetwalker is the only person who believes in Vijay’s poetry. Towards the end of the movie she pays for the publication of Vijay’s poems, while others make the money when they surprisingly become a rage.

There is a special twist to this song. The playback singer for this little masterpiece is Geeta Dutt, at that time Guru Dutt’s wife. She lends her voice to the woman Guru Dutt had fallen in love with. Dutt and Rehman later had a relationship which didn’t last because according to this blog entry Guru Dutt didn’t want to divorce from Geeta. Nevertheless, his marriage fell apart, Dutt committed suicide in 1964, Geeta Dutt started drinking and died of liver zerrhosis in 1972. Rehman never talked much about the details.

I guess there are many more instances of poets readings in other classic or contemporary Bollywood movies, but my knowledge is limited. If you have other interesting examples to offer, please leave a comment.

Credits of the songs: http://www.hindigeetmala.com

Main Pal do Pal
Movie: Kabhie Kabhie (1976)
Singer – Mukesh
Lyrics – Sahir Ludhianvi
Composer – Khayyam

Kahin be Khayal Ho Kar
Movie: Teen Deviyan (1965)
Singer: Mohammed Rafi
Lyrics – Majrooh Sultanpuri
Composer – S.D. Burman

Zindagi Bhar Nahin Bhoolegi 
Movie – Barsaat ki Raat (1961)
Singer – Mohammed Rafi
Lyrics – Sahir Ludhianvi
Composer – Roshan

Jaane woh kaise log the jinke
Movie – Pyaasa (1957)
Singer – Hemant Kumar
Lyrics – Sahir Ludhianvi
Composer – S.D. Burman

Ye Duniyaan
Movie – Pyaasa (1957)
Singer – Mohammed Rafi
Lyrics – Sahir Ludhianvi
Composer – S.D. Burman

Jane Kya Tune Kahi
Movie – Pyaasa (1957)
Singer – Geeta Dutt
Lyrics – Sahir Ludhianvi
Composer – S.D. Burman





Ein Gedanke zu “„I’m only the story of a moment“ – Poets‘ readings in Bollywood Movies

  1. Hat dies auf http://www.Sozialgeschnatter.de rebloggt und kommentierte:
    >> As a writer of prose and poetry, I am naturally interested how poet’s readings are portrayed in Bollywood. Basically, they are portrayed as musical numbers, but usually with reduced musical arrangements and no dancing choreography. The film which brought that to my attention is „Kabhie Kabhie“(1976). <<


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