Friday, 12 July 2013

Yeh Raat...This Night and the Thought of Kalidasa

Love Blooms, Water Colour on Paper, Artist: Bindu Popli, original in my home.

Three songs. One theme – Love.

First up....

This song recently came up in a conversation with my father, who among many other valuable loves in my life, gave me the love for old Hindi film songs, Hemant Kumar and Dev Anand. As I heard this song a few times that evening a few more songs with the same soft and romantic feel and starting with the same phrase “Yeh Raat” came to mind. 

Like this one...

And this one with “raat” in plural...

Who wouldn’t love the way the lover-heart’s seeking for the beloved is so indulgently and beautifully intertwined in these songs with the soft, sensuous and aesthetic portrayal of the nature – the pleasing night, the cool moonlight, the gentle breeze, the shimmering trees, the shining stars, the dancing river...all this tenderly but surely intensifies and enriches the emotion of love and at the same time lifts it up from the level of ordinariness by adding the element of Mother Nature’s loveliness.

Three words come to mind – Beauty, Charm, Elegance.  One theme – Magic!

Co-incidentally (but then perhaps not), the conversation about the Hemant Kumar song “Yeh raat yeh chandni” with my father happened in the evening of the same day that I spent reading about the poetry of Kalidasa and how his work reflected the time and age in which he lived and wrote. Kalidasa was “the supreme poet of the senses, of aesthetic beauty, of sensuous emotion.” He, according to Sri Aurobindo, was a true son of his age – an age that many historians have referred to as the classical age of Indian civilization – in his “dwelling on the artistic, hedonistic, sensuous sides of experience” (Collected Works of Sri Aurobindo, Volume 1, pp. 162-163).

The sensuous and aesthetic appeal of these songs, including the way they are filmed, brings to mind this thought that perhaps something of that age continued (and perhaps to this day continues) to linger on in some corners of the Indian mind which time and again expresses itself in such songs. If Kalidasa was predominantly a “poet of love and beauty and the joy of life”, surely something of the great works he left behind has continued to influence – covertly or overtly – some of the romantics of the classical age of Hindi cinema! This may be a rather big leap of imagination, nonetheless….

But what made Kalidasa a truly remarkable poet-dramatist and uniquely Indian was that he also made “his intellectual passion for higher things, his intense appreciation of knowledge, culture, the religious idea, the ethical ideal, the greatness of ascetic self-mastery” a part of the beauty and interest of life and saw them as admirable elements of the complete and splendid picture of the spirit and form of his age (Sri Aurobindo, CWSA, Volume 20, p. 361). If these songs could somehow remind me of the genius of Kalidasa, perhaps it will be an interesting and revealing exercise to do a close reading of some of the classic films of yesteryears and explore if they too were in some ways able to reflect a Kalidasian-style complete picture of the beauty of life where a refined sensuality co-existed harmoniously with a dignified self-restraint, the flaming passion purified itself in the light of calm reason, and the seeking for delight was accompanied by a quest for a higher and nobler truth. 

An exercise worth the effort, in my opinion, at least! 

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