With a tribute to Begum Akhtar in her Centenary Year
I had thought songs of atariya are one of the things – like lori, bidaai songs, bhajan, piano songs etc. – that have been irredeemably lost from our films. Loosely translated as ‘balcony’, atariya was the place where the heroine would go stealthily from the prying eyes of her parents, to wait for her lover, who would come on tip-toe to serenade from below, or if he was more daring, climb up through the drain pipe or a rope or bed sheet, helpfully slung down by the lady. Modesty was a virtue for women not only in India, but also in the West – Romeo too met Juliet on her atariya.
Can you imagine Deepika Padukone or Katrina Kaif singing Mori atariya pe kaga bole mora jiya dole koi aa raha hai in her balcony waiting for Ranbir Kapoor? Today’s generation is bindaas, their lingo is jhakaas, and if they have to romance, they would what is called ‘paint the town red’.
So, it was a big surprise to see atariya make an appearance in some recent movies with a bang. And surprise of surprises, it is Deepika Padukone, who is waiting on the atariya for Ranvir Singh in Ram-Leela. Sanjay Leela Bhansali proudly proclaims that the movie is inspired from Romeo and Juliet. While he does create the atariya like a classical painting, the physicality between the young lovers is anything but aesthetic. There has been a couple of atariya songs too recently, but as hot item numbers in a boisterous night club. The young generation who watch atariya in these settings would hardly realize the intrinsic beauty in the lore associated with this word. So, let us go back in time when the lady sang songs on atariya in a variety of moods for her lover, and contrast these with the recent revivals.
1. Hamri atariya pe aao sanwariya dekha dekhi balam hoi jaye, Bhairvi dadra by Begum Akhtar
Begum Akhtar captures the whole gamut of emotions associated with the lady on the atariya in this beautiful dadra – expectant wait, tender romance, pathos. Please notice the rendezvous is limited only to dekha-dekhi. To remove any doubt, she further states in one of the antaraas – Prem ki bhiksha maange bhikharan/ Laaj hamari rakhiyo sajan/ Aao sajan tum hamre dwaare sara jhagda khatam hoi jaye. Incidentally, 2014 is also the centenary year of Begum Akhtar (b. 7 October 2014; d. 30 October 1974). SoY has already dedicated 2014 to Anil Biswas, this being his Centenary Year. The two are very closely linked. Among her rare and most well known film appearances is Roti (1942), in which Anil Biswas composed six songs in her voice. Therefore, let me also pay my tributes to her with this beautiful Mother of all atariya songs, which is among her best known.
2. Hamri atariya pe aja re sanwariya by Ustad Shujat Khan
A classic spawns adaptations and inspirations. Shujat Khan is primarily a sitarist like his father, the legendary Ustad Vilayat Khan. But he has presented lec-dems on the Doordarshan when he demonstrated his facility with singing. He does not have the inflection or modulation of a vocalist, but he more than compensates for it by the sweetness of his voice. He has sung many well known songs of Begum Akhtar and Shobha Gurtu as a tribute to them. Let us hear his tribute to her with his rendering of this song.
3. Hamri atariya pe aiyo balamji by Shraddha Pandit and Salim Merchant from Satyagrah (2013), lyrics Prasoon Joshi, music Salim-Suleman
I am not averse to item numbers; there are some I like immensely. But this one goes completely overboard, completing the mauling by having the Serbian model, Natasa Stankovic – one of the hottest recent white-skinned imports to Bollywood – doing the sexy dance and lip-synch this song.
4. Hamri atariya pe aa ja re sanwariya by Rekha Bharadwaj from Dedh Ishqiya (2014), lyrics Gulzar, music Vishal Bharadwaj
Gulzar-Vishal Bharadwaj elevate item number to art. Rekha Bharadwaj’s voice is eminently suited for such folksy songs. Madhuri Dixit has lost none of her grace and sensuousness in her dance. The set design, picturisation, the dancers, their costumes –everything is superb. With all the good work, the creative team could have been more alert and gracious to acknowledge the legacy of Begum Akhtar regarding this song. They did assure to make amends and make a special mention of her in the film credits after a controversy broke out on their amnesia.
5. Mori atariya hai sooni Mohan nahi aye by Khursheed and Snehprabha Pradhan from Pardesi (1941), lyrics DN Madhok, music Khemchand Prakash
While atariya is not entirely lost as it seems from its recent avataars, what is definitely lost forever is the female voices of the 1930s and 40s. The 50s and 60s was defined by the smooth, mellifluous voice of Lata Mangeshkar. Though I am her inveterate fan, I have a great romance for the vintage era female singers. So, let us go back to the real Songs of Yore with this beautiful atariya song in the husky voice of Khursheed, one of the renowned actor-singers of the era, accompanied by another actor-singer Snehprabha Pradhan.
While this song is by no means similar to Begum Akhtar’s Hamri atariya pe, Pardesi did have a direct copy of Begum Akhtar’s one of the most iconic ghazals. Since I have sub-titled this post as a tribute to her, let me present this ghazal by Khursheed from the film:
Pahle jo mohabbat se inkaar kiya hota by Khursheed from Pardesi (1941), lyrics DN Madhok, music Khemchand Prakash
I am sure this would instantly remind you of Deewana banana hai to deewana bana de. I believe Begum Akhtar’s ghazal came much earlier (confirmation needed from experts). Therefore, let me continue my tribute to her with this ghazal:
Deewana banana hai to deewana bana de by Begum Akhtar, lyrics Behzaad Lucknowi, music Begum Akhtar
That was a slight digression, unplanned though [if Mr Ashok M Vaishnav agrees, this can qualify as Multiple Version Songs (16)]. Coming back to atariya, let me continue with another vintage era song. Generally, the person who is beckoned to the atariya is familiar to the lady, but in this song the invitation is to a pardesi. This just reminds me the romance for the pardesi might be becoming extinct from our films. The Pardesi Babu, who went to the hills in the summer, or to a village, where a charming, simple girl would lose her heart to him, belongs to an era of innocence, which is gone forever.
6. Mori atariya pe aa ja ho O pardesi pancchi by Mukesh and Sitara Devi from Dukh Sukh (1942), lyricist Wali Saheb, music Khemchand Prakash
7. Aayi atariya pe sone, na sone diya by Shamim from Mehmaan (1942), lyrics DN Madhok, music Khemchand Prakash
The atariya theme, Anil Biswas and Begum Akhtar have given me an opportunity to indulge in vintage era songs. Continuing the ras, here is a naughty song by Shamim, who was unknown to me until very recently. Surely the lady has not come to the atariya to sleep; therefore, her grudge that the guy did not let her sleep is a pretense. You can imagine she thoroughly enjoyed whatever they did on the atariya.
There is a brief description of Shamim in Anil Bhargav’s Swaron Ki Yatra. Born in Lahore on 11 October 1917, she once came with her businessman father to Bombay. She became enchanted by the film world, and convinced her parents to let her come to the tinsel city, where she got a break as the second lead in Vishnu Movietone’s Baaghi (1939) and sang her first song with James Singh, Tu ban ka raja megha ban ke garje chaaro ore. She got some more acting-singing roles in the coming 4-5 years, but could not leave any everlasting legacy.
8. Ab sooni bhai re atariya hamar by Suraiya and CH Atma from Bilwa Mangal (1954), lyrics DN Madhok, music Bulo C Rani
While atariya is a place for union of the lovers, and joy, it can also become lonely when the lover is not able to come. This is a poignant duet of separation by two melodious singers Suraiya and CH Atma. The readers have often mentioned Bulo C Rani in very glowing terms. Though on the outer periphery of the famous names, he gives one of his outstanding scores in this film.
9. Ana ana atariya pe ana by Asha Bhosle from Kalpana (1958), lyrics Raja Mehdi Ali Khan, music OP Nayyar
This is picturised as a stage song on Padmini. The best known among the Travancore sisters, she enhances the seductiveness of the song by her dance.
10. Chhod atariya gaye sanwariya by Lata Mangeshkar from Naag Champa (1958), lyrics Gopal Singh ‘Nepali’, music Manna Dey
Separation is the other side of union. Therefore, atariya also lends itself to pathos filled songs. This song by Lata Mangeshkar and composed by Manna Dey I came across while searching for this post. One of the efforts of SoY is to explore the uncommon and unknown.
11. Aya aya atariya pe koi chor by Lata Mangeshkar from Mera Gaon Mera Desh (1971), lyrics Anand Bakshi, music Laxmikant Pyarelal
From the unfamiliar let me move to a very famous song from this dacoit film, picturised as a terrific dance by Lakshmi Chhaya. I do not remember the situation in the film, but since the lyrics announce the arrival of the thieves, I guess she could be a part of the gang, distracting the villagers by her song-dance act, so that the gang does its job without any distraction.
12. Mori atariya pe kaga bole mora jya doley koi aa raha hai by Meena Kapoor from Aankhen (1950), lyrics Bharat Vyas, music Madan Mohan
If I started the post with Begum Akhtar’s Hamri atariya pe aao sanwariya, I have to round it up with Meena Kapoor’s Mori atariya pe kaga bole, which is another defining atariya song. The cawing of a crow heralds the arrival of someone you are looking for. Therefore, the beautiful Nalini Jaywant is chirpy and sings this gay song. Madan Mohan’s first film has no Lata Mangeshkar, and it is a unique credit to him that his earliest super hit song, which has become immortal, is an atariya song. If Begum Akhtar had Anil Biswas connection, Meena Kapoor had more so, being an integral part of his life in his later years. Madan Mohan’s great respect for Begum Akhtar and their personal rapport is well known.
Acknowledgement: The image in this post is a painting by Ford Maddox Brown, 1870 of the classic balcony scene of Romeo and Juliet. Source: Wikipedia.