Over the past several months, I have been returning a lot to a CD that I made some years ago of a downloaded copy of the soundtrack to Shehnai (1947). I do not remember exactly where I downloaded this from – I might actually have brought in songs from different sources and put them together. But I am glad I downloaded this, because it has become one of my all-time favorite soundtracks as well as one of the CDs/MP3s that I listen to the most.
The Shehnai soundtrack has a lot of great songs that caught my attention when I first listened to it. These include “Hame Kya Pata Tha, Maar Katari Mar Jaana,” which contains one of my favorite vocal performances by Amirbai Karnataki, and the very famous “Aana Meri Jaan Meri Jaan Sunday Ke Sunday,” which is known for its then-pioneering fusion of Indian music with western music (and the jazzy parts in this one are fantastic).
The song in this film that actually hooked me in most during my more recent listens is “Chhuk Chhuk Chhaiya Chhaiya, Sone Ki Machhariya.” The parts in which “Chhuk Chhuk Chhaiya” are repeated over and over completely got stuck in my head (yes, it became an ear worm!). The singers in this number include two whom I have not heard so much about, Mohan Tara and Binapani Mukherjee, as well as the more recognizable Meena Kapoor. Together, they are quite charming, and the picturization is at least as charming. In fact, it stands out in my mind because, as some people out there know, I have been something of a Rehana fan for a few years, and here, as in a few other scenes from Shehnai, she looks positively adorable.
Unfortunately, it’s difficult to find good-quality clips from Shehnai, which is too bad, because several of these classic song sequences are very memorable visually as well. (In addition to containing some of the best appearances of Rehana, they also contain great scenes with Dulari and some very special appearances of Mumtaz Ali. And by the way, the director was P.L. Santoshi.) I also have never been able to find a truly watchable version of the entire film. I have seen one version posted to YouTube, but the video quality isn’t very good and, anyway, to be truly watchable as a film for me, it would need English subtitles – and I will be very surprised if I ever find this film with English subtitles! Nonetheless, I continue to search around now and then to see if I can find better Shehnai videos, and that is how I found this very interesting video about the Poisar River, in the Kandivali neighborhood (or Kandivli, as it is spelled in the video), in Bombay/Mumbai.
The main message that I got from this video is that, no matter how badly preserved some of these old films might be, some of the environments in which they were made have deteriorated even more. At the end, we are given ample visual evidence (of pollution and decline) to support the caption on the screen that declares:
Filmed in 1947, the film Shehnai mirrors a handsome past of a river that once was. The clean, fragrant, and sweet waters have long since lost their spirit. Today, the Kandivli ‘nullah’ bears an ominous look.
And perhaps this can also be taken as an ominous message about what has happened to the environment in general.
This video was unique among the ones that I usually find centered around old film songs. I did not expect it to bear that message at the end. And I confess, after watching this video, I am going to be more conscious about the environment in my favorite vintage film scenes, wondering more not only about what river or forest or street I’m looking at, but what might have happened to it in the 60, 70, etc., years since.
The video credits Amrit Gangar for “concept and realization,” but it also grants “Grateful Acknowledgment” to a few other people, including Maxie Rodrigues and Joe Fernandes, who are also mentioned and quoted in the description below it. (The video was posted by an apparent relation to one of those people, Elton Rodrigues.) I am unclear about what all of those mentioned people did, but I would like to thank them all for contributing to this moving and interesting little documentary – which, by the way, also contains a clip of the song sequence that is as good as any on YouTube (meaning, of course, that I am still looking to find one that is in better shape).
P.S. I should note that this video is not completely current. It was posted in 2012, and according to a caption in the video, the latest scenes of the Poisar River (the ones in which it looked “ominous”) were filmed in 2007. So, I looked for a more current document showing this river and I found one from within the past six months. Unfortunately, as I suspected, this article from the Hindustan Times reveals that it now looks even worse.