What thoughts must have crossed the minds of a set of people who conceived of a Hindustani film about a poet in the 1950s? The soundtrack must have featured high on the list of priorities. So they must have decided that the project deserved the best minds in the business, and the best minds they did get on board—SD Burman and Sahir Ludhianvi. The result could only have been one: magic. It must have been one of those rare instances when expectation met reality.
In 2012, I became obsessed with the Bombay film industry of the 1950s. I had this obsession at a time in human history when YouTube put at my disposal a wealth of black-and-white film songs that I could play for hours, uninterrupted. I spent many evenings and weekends listening to these and ended up picking my favourite artistes as I went along.
Speaking of favourites, I failed to resist that temptation that many before me have surrendered to—a Guru Dutt phase. I had a DVD pack of Guru Dutt's six most popular films. I watched them all and picked my favourite easily—Pyaasa. And I think that the film's soundtrack was one of the main reasons that it stood above the other films of that era for me.
It covers a range of genres and moods. There are playful songs, philosophical songs, a romantic duet, and even a contemplative critique of the state of affairs in the county just ten years into Independence. I did not think much of 'Jinhein Naaz Hai Hind Par Woh Kahaan Hai' when I first watched the movie, but it now amazes me that artistes could write and perform such a song at a time when their peers' words on the nation were mostly cheerful messages of hope.
Pyaasa's soundtrack is testament to my strong belief that Mohammed Rafi is the greatest playback singer in our cinematic history. He glides effortlessly between the whimsy of 'Sar Jo Tera Chakraye' and the scathing intensity of 'Yeh Duniya Agar Mil Bhi Jaaye', a song that, unfortunately, does not enjoy the recognition it deserves. Especially in a time when almost everyone is looking for their fifteen minutes of fame through the instant gratification of social media, the song serves as a reminder of the hypocrisy attached to the world of glamour.
But there is one song requiring male vocals in Pyaasa that Rafi did not sing. Had it been any other singer, the song would most likely not have turned out as memorable as it did. Hemant Kumar's rendition of 'Jaane Woh Kaise Log The' is movingly melancholic without being outright morose. The depth and soul of his voice were perfect for this song.
We have spoken about Rafi sahib and Hemantda's contribution to the soundtrack of Pyaasa and must now turn our attention to the sublime Geeta Dutt. She is rightly remembered for classics like 'Waqt Ne Kiya', 'Na Jao Saiyan', and, from Pyaasa itself, 'Jaane Kya Tune Kahi'. But she has another solo in Pyaasa, also underrated like 'Yeh Duniya Agar Mil Bhi Jaaye', perhaps even a little more.
In 'Aaj Sajan Mohe Ang Lagalo', she employs the bhakti ideal of devotion tinged with longing to perfection. And Guru Dutt translated that feeling on to the screen with his signature mastery over song sequences. In the film, the song is sung by a Baul singer, but she is merely a vehicle used to convey the feelings of Waheeda Rehman's character, Gulabo, for the protagonist, Guru Dutt's Vijay. It shows Gulabo at her weakest moment, walking towards her beloved, dying to be in his presence, but finally walking away without letting him know that she was there. Gulabo doesn't mouth a word of the song, but the emotion is all hers.
Several film lovers have lamented over the fact that Pyaasa was the last time SD Burman and Sahir Ludhianvi worked together. It is possible that we would have got another fantastic album like Pyaasa had they come together again. But it is also possible that nothing else would have stood up to its brilliance. So there is comfort in the thought that if the Sachinda–Sahir duo had to come to an end, it was with the swansong that is Pyaasa.