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Baiju Bawra (1952)

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Meena Kumari and Bharat Bhushan in Baiju Bawra (1952)

The greatest strength of this historical film about Baiju Bawra (Bharat Bhushan), the musician who challenged the court musician Tansen to a musical duel (a jugalbandi; performed here by Ustad Amir Khan and Pandit D. V. Paluskar) to avenge the murder of his father, is not surprisingly the outstanding music composed by one of Hindi cinema’s most accomplished composers, Naushad Ali. Naushad, though one of the first composers to bring the western orchestra, in particular the large string section, to film music was able to move seamlessly between classical Indian ragas and western dramatic music in a way that no other composer has done. Although the subject matter of this film requires classical music, Naushad was able to blend this with light classical and contemporary music in a way that marks him as one of the finest exponents of the whole range of music essential for the Hindi film, a quality that can also be seen in his other scores for films such as Mother India and Mughal-e Azam. This film includes the popular songs, ‘Tu Ganga ki mauj’, ‘Mohe bhool gaye sanwariya’ and the bhajan, ‘Man tarpat hari darshan’.

One sequence alone would ensure this film’s inclusion in most lists of 100 best films. This is the astonishing depiction of the ragas or melodies, where they are embodied in a manner drawing on the classical paintings of ragamalas that illustrate the moods associated with ragas. The combination of visuals and music in this sequence overwhelms the viewer as much as it does Baiju Bawra himself in the film. Raga Lalita appears as a beautiful woman, while Gaur Malhar brings the rain; Shri is erotic, while Puriya is regal. This is one of several miracle sequences in the film, such as the statue that weeps when Baiju sings in sorrow ‘O duniyaa ke rakhwaale’.

These miracles and the other strong religious elements of the film are not surprising, given Vijay Bhatt’s earlier films of Ramayana stories. Baiju Bawra, a disciple of Swami Haridas, lives in a pastoral idyll on the banks of the Jumna, where he sings to his beloved Gauri (Meena Kumari, in her first major screen role), who is seated on a swing in a bower of flowers. This reminds the viewer of Vrindavan, on the banks of the Jumna, where the young Krishna lived, playing his flute to enchant the world. There are many references to Krishna in the film, linking the innocent Baiju to him. There are striking location shots of the river, which also flows through the cities of the Mughal court (Delhi and Agra), thus linking these worlds of the Mughal, Muslim court and the Hindu Vrindavan, originally in revenge and anger, but after Tansen is defeated in music, in respect and the spirit of reconciliation.

Baiju Bawra is simply an outstanding film and of significance in the history of Indian film music – Rachel Dwyer

Cast and Production Credits

Year – 1952, Genre – Musical, Country – India, Language – Hindi, Producer(s) – Prakash Pictures, Director –Vijay Bhatt, Music Director – Naushad, Cast – Meena Kumari, Bharat Bhushan, Kuldip Kaur, Rattan Kumar, Surendra, Bipin Gupta, Radhakrishna, Krishna Kumari, Manmohan Krishnan, B. M. Vyas, Kesari, Tabassum

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