Somewhere between Chandni and Lamhe there's heartbreaking grief – a realisation that beyond the resilience of youth that heals itself, says things out loud, and goes through life in events, there is loss that cannot be undone. No amount of youthful optimism can stand in front of time and prevail upon it. These defeats make up the tapestry of time, and perhaps that's why, the heart feels heavy with unknown regrets, that are hard to put in words.
I was introduced to movies by Ma. I have a steel-trap memory and remember how she would place events in her life based on the movies she'd been watching then – printed Sharmila Tagore sarees that dominated fashion during college, the music of Silsila when my parents got engaged in 1982, and so on.
Chandni was my first exposure to a Yash Chopra film. I don't think I understood anything beyond 'cognac sharab nahi hoti' and the broad love triangle. I was too young to understand that the future of a married life could be called into question because of debilitating condition, or the beauty of the song 'Tu Mujhe Suna' where two men are describing as polar opposites, the same woman, because one knew her before and one only after she'd had her heart brutally broken.
But what tugs at me about Chandni isn't the wedding songs or Switzerland. It was the background score that forms the soul of the film – changing texture as it's interpreted from a saxophone, in happier bubblier times, to the santoor, when love feels pure like rain, and eventually the violin, where the music sounds like what a torn heart must.
The true Yash Chopra sleight of hand was when they took that tune, with all its hopes and tragedies, and set Lamhe's main song to it – 'Kabhi Main Kahoon'.
I can't imagine that being an accident. That tune was Chandni's soul and it made sense to give that soul a new body. But all bodies keep the score, though the child only knows the vague echo of sadness she carries within but not where it comes from. Lamhe's entire grammar is littered with loss – not loss because Pallavi dies – I don't think we were given enough time to care about Pallavi. But something deeper, like the immense, deep tragedy of the desert where her ashes are scattered. The kind of terrifying sadness you feel when you experience nature in it's immense unblinking, timeless state, impervious to your suffering because you're a dot to her.
When I watched Lamhe with Ma when it first released, we experienced it as the optimism, indomitable spirit and laughter that was Pooja. When I watched it with her in 2020, the pandemic and her close brush with death had aged us in ways we didn't realise. This time, what stayed with us was a sort of haunting regret for times that'll never return – neither of us quite knew why. Even the final scene of the film that brings the couple together is laced with resignation, a kind of broken acceptance that's an unusual mood for the start of a new, long-longed for relationship. By the time we were done with the film, our hearts were heavy in ways we couldn't describe.
Ma left us in 2021. She of the unlimited movie songs and endless filmi stories. And as time passes, the words around death don't break me as they did immediately after her passing. Now it's the stories of when she was alive. This tune, its tragedy, the passage of time, the ever-shifting ever-same desert, the many stories that it's witnessed – as the song says 'yeh mausam chale gaye toh, hum fariyaad karenge'.