The term jubilee may seem an anachronism in this age of the 100 Cr. club and multiple screen releases. Indeed, it means nothing to filmmakers and actors today. But back in the day, it was the Holy Grail. Silver, gold, diamond and platinum were the 4 types of jubilees in Hindi film parlance. If a film ran in theatres for 25 consecutive weeks since its release, it was declared a silver jubilee hit. Gold corresponded with a 50-week run, diamond with a 60-week run and platinum, with a stupendous 75-week run at the box office. For many years, whether or not a film was a “jubilee” impacted the future of its actors and director in their forthcoming ventures. For reasons nobody can pinpoint, Rajendra Kumar had mastered the jubilee formula. Or maybe, he just got plain lucky. He is reputed to have delivered a string of jubilee hits, and was even crowned Jubilee Kumar!
It was against this background that one of India’s most successful film directors once told Khayyam in a pensive mood, “Khayyam saab, the music you have composed for this film is simply wonderful! Lajawaab! Behtereen! And our entire team has poured its heart and soul into this film. Now just pray that it is a hit.”
A normal conversation between a director and his composer on the eve of the release of his film, you’d think. True. But in this case, the tone was a little more fervent than usual. And that was because of three reasons. For one, this was an ambitious film mounted on a large canvas. A multi-starrer, it was being shot in different locales on a big budget. Most importantly, one of the heroes was being presented in a way that was in complete contrast to his popular public image. Secondly, thanks to the poetic nature of the story, it was an emotional affair for the director, the composer and key members of their teams. Also, it was the first big film Khayyam had signed on after his comeback from a 6-year hiatus. And though he had always been known in the industry as a superb composer, he hadn’t delivered a jubilee hit!
Khayyam took the director’s plea very seriously. He went to the shrine of Hazrat Imam Hussain & Hazrat Abbas on Mohammad Ali Road in Bombay, and prayed to his maula. For that matter, every member of the film’s unit must have sent up a similar prayer or two.
When the film opened in cinema halls in early 1976, they knew their prayers were granted.
The story that straddled two generations, Hindi cinema’s beloved theme of star-crossed lovers sacrificing their happiness for their parents, the expansive locations in Kashmir, the superb cinematography, fine performances by the actors and above all, the poetry and music – all these wowed the audience.
To say that Kabhi Kabhie delivered on all counts would be gross injustice. It did much, much more than just deliver. It crossed the platinum jubilee in some cinema halls. It gave the careers of its lead actors a fillip. It gave Amitabh, post-Zanjeer, Sholay and Deewar, a chance to prove that he could show emotions other than anger, too. Indeed, it showed him in a very poetic light! It cemented Yash Chopra’s position as a leading director.
But perhaps the person who was most grateful for the film’s success was Khayyam. It seemed that sales of its music records would never dip! Kabhi Kabhie pitched him into a different commercial league in the industry, with many directors queueing up at his doorstep, willing to pay him big bucks. The film set the tone for a string of wonderful scores that included Noorie, Trishul, Thodi Si Bewafai, Umrao Jaan, Dard, Ahista Ahista and more.
For Khayyam, collaborating with Sahir after a long break was deeply comforting. Not just that; all these years after Phir Subah Hogi, he had reason to be grateful to Sahir again. Initially, Yash Chopra was thinking of signing on Laxmikant-Pyarelal for Kabhi Kabhie. But the temperamental poet put his foot down and insisted that they’d not be able to do justice to his poetry or to the script. And he deftly turned the director’s attention towards Khayyam.
One of Kabhi Kabhie’s quiet triumphs is the way in which the lyrics and music for two generations of characters have been treated. The soft music for the older generation (dominated by the flute and violin) is in stark contrast to the robust, Punjabi-style beats of the dhol and the strums of the guitar used for the younger lot. And whereas Mukesh lent his soft voice to Amitabh and Shashi Kapoor, it was the open-throated Kishore Kumar who voiced Rishi Kapoor’s carefree, dare-all attitude to life. Curiously, Lata sang for the women in both generations.
But we must add a footnote to the story of this film.
It is said that the story idea of Kabhi Kabhie came to Yash Chopra when he heard Sahir’s original poem by the same name. He then asked his wife Pamela to develop the concept into a story. Sagar Sarhadi wrote the screenplay.
But when it came to the centrepiece of the film – the song “kabhie kabhi mere dil mein” – there was a problem. Sahir had sold this song to Chetan Anand sometime in the ‘50s. It was to have been used in one of Anand’s films. But the film was shelved, and the song lay in the archives, forgotten. So when Yash Chopra wanted to include the song in his film, he, Khayyam and Sahir met Chetan Anand and requested him to release it. Thinking that this song had gone out of fashion, Anand happily sold it to Yash Chopra.
If Chopra had been the irreverent sort, he would perhaps have thanked Chetan Anand officially in the film’s titles!
This is part of a multi-part personal tribute I am paying to Khayyam. If you haven’t read the other parts, please do so now.