For this week’s update, let us start with the 1969 film, Talaash. Given Indian film industry’s obsession for numbers of all kind (on the most recent example of Shankar’s 2.0 being touted as an ‘Rs 300 crores film’ and has allegedly collected ‘Rs. 500 crores’, it is pertinent to point out that Talaash was the first Hindi film to be advertised with its budget – ‘One Crore Color Colossus’!

Talaash had music by S.D. Burman. One of the songs, “Aaj Ko Junli Raat Maa” is this week’s focus. Forget the song’s main tune; listen to the first interlude.

Remember the interlude’s melody because there’s a LOT going on with that particular tune.

From the senior Burman, let’s move to junior Burman – R.D. Burman. Pancham composed music for the 1972 Manmohan Desai film, Raampur Ka Lakshman. The film, known for fantastic songs like “Gum Hai Kisi Ke Pyar Mein”, also had a bhajan of sorts, called “Kaahe Apnon Ke”. Listen to the song.

Does it sound similar to the interlude you heard above? Of course, it does!

So, did the son get inspired by dad’s interlude? Read on.

Here is English musician Sting’s (of Police fame) song, “Russians”, from his 1985 album, The Dream of the Blue Turtles. The piece you listen to is an interlude, that plays after Sting sings,

In Europe and America there’s a growing feeling of hysteria.

Conditioned to respond to all the threats

In the rhetorical speeches of the Soviets.

Mr. Krushchev said, “We will bury you.”

I don’t subscribe to this point of view.

It’d be such an ignorant thing to do

If the Russians love their children too.

Recall S.D. Burman’s interlude from the Talaash song? Sounds similar? Oh yes, it does! The three tunes are identical! So, did Sting somehow seek inspiration from either R.D. Burman or S.D. Burman? Hardly! Sting’s use of that tune was officially licensed, while that of junior and senior Burmans’ were not!

Sting picked that interlude from Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev’s work. The specific original work of Prokofiev in which this tune appears is called “Lieutenant Kijé” suite. Lieutenant Kijé was one of the earliest sound films made in the Soviet Union, directed by Alexander Feinzimmer, in 1933. The film was released in the US as The Czar Wants To Sleep. Prokofiev adapted the film score also as an orchestral suite.

Lieutenant Kijé’s story makes for a highly interesting and amusing read!

In the Russian Imperial Palace, while Czar Paul I sleeps, a dalliance between two courtiers ends with a shriek which wakens the czar. Enraged, he demands that his officials produce the culprit or face banishment for life.

Meanwhile, a clerk’s slip of the pen while compiling a military duty roster results in the inclusion of a fictitious officer, Lieutenant Kijé. When the czar inspects the list he is intrigued by this name, and asks that the officer be presented to him.

The court officials are too terrified of the czar to admit that it was a mistake and that Lieutenant Kijé doesn’t exist. But it occurs to them that they can blame “Kijé” for the night’s disturbance. They inform the czar, who duly orders the imaginary lieutenant flogged and sent to Siberia.

When the real culprit confesses, Kijé is pardoned by the czar and reinstated in the imperial court with the rank of colonel. The courtiers, in fear of the czar, are forced to extend their creation’s phantom career; thus, he supposedly marries the princess Gagarina, after which the czar grants him lands and money and promotes him to general and commander of the army.

When Paul demands Kijé’s immediate presence at one point, the cornered officials announce that “General Kijé” has, unfortunately, died. A lavish funeral is held, with full military honours. The czar demands the return of Kijé’s fortune, but is told by the courtiers that Kijé has spent the money on high living, which, in fact, the courtiers have stolen.

The czar denounces the imaginary Kijé as a thief, and posthumously demotes him from general to private.

That’s quite a plot, where the lead character doesn’t exist at all!

There are 5 movements in the Lieutenant Kijé suite that align with various parts of the story.

The second movement, called “Romance” is the original tune of the 3 musical pieces referred to above. The tune by Prokofiev is supposed to be inspired by an older Russian folk poem/song called The Little Gray Dove is Cooing, though Prokofiev’s Soviet biographer says that Prokofiev did not use the original tune as-is, but composed a melody of his own in the same spirit.

“Romance” (also called “Opus 60: II. Romance”) has a tune that is identical to the interlude in S.D. Burman’s Talaash song, the mukhda of R.D. Burman’s “Raampur Ka Lakshman” song. And of course, was used with permission by Sting in “Russians”, quite appropriately.

Listen to the original here (the main melody starts at 0:13):

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