Tuesday, March 18, 2014

“Tere Mere Sapne”, a visual treat

Returning to an infrequent series about old song sequences (some earlier entries here, here and here) with thoughts on “Tere Mere Sapne” from Guide. Hindi cinema has a long history of the song sequence as a declaration of love or commitment, but rarely has it been done as well as it is here.

First, here is the scene (which you should grab this opportunity to watch anyway, whether or not you intend to read the rest of this post):



While the song in itself is one of the loveliest we have ever had, the visualisation shows Vijay Anand’s talent for using the long, unbroken take to add dramatic intensity and continuity to a given situation. This sequence lasts more than four minutes, but it is made up of only three shots, which increase progressively in length – in other words, there are only two cuts in the whole scene. And this isn’t an arbitrary stylistic decision, it is central to what is happening in the film at this point. 


Waheeda Rehman’s Rosie has just confronted her unpleasant, domineering husband and announced that she is leaving him. She has lately developed a bond with Dev Anand’s Raju – the “guide” of the film’s title – but this is the first time that the possibility of a future together will be properly broached. So we have two people who are very vulnerable in different ways: Rosie, having shown fire and resolve in the scene just before this one, is now uncertain about the road ahead, and Raju, a hitherto carefree man, is taking on responsibility and baring his own heart. As if mindful of the significance of the moment, the camera moves slowly, respectfully around the duo, observing them but not being intrusive.

The “language” of the sequence, with its long takes and tracking shots, is easier to understand if you consider that in filmic terms, a cut can represent disruption or a shift in tone. The two cuts in this scene (the first around the 39-second mark, the second around 1.44 minutes) both occur after a movement of the song has been completed, and both have Rosie drawing away from Raju after initially reaching for him. In the first scene, she strokes his shoulder; in the second she hugs him briefly, but then bunches up her fist and moves away. She is still conflicted at the end of both these movements, and in each case the cut serves as punctuation, indicating that the process of reassuring her must begin anew. And this is done at a dual level, by the lyrics of the song as well as by the sympathetic, probing movement of the camera.

All this leads up to the final, pivotal shot, which lasts for well over two minutes. Raju follows Rosie again, but his approach has changed now: instead of leading her by her hand, or drawing her close, he moves back, stands at a distance and holds his hand out – inviting her to come to him when she is ready. And it is here that the unbroken camera movement finds its strongest, most purposeful expression. The camera follows Raju, then moves back to Rosie, bridging the (largish) gap that has opened up between them; it watches her as she makes up her mind, and then accompanies her as she moves toward him.


Think of how different, and less intense, this scene would have been if it had simply cut back and forth between the two people. Instead it is done in one fluid take, with a near-perfect melding of performance and technology – every time I see it I have the spooky feeling that the camera, by not allowing Rosie the option of “escaping” to another shot (via a third cut), is coaxing her and then gently leading her to Raju. That unbroken take, tracking from left to right and then left again, appears to facilitate the final “milan” - an effect that could not have been achieved if the scene had been shot in a more conventional way, with multiple cuts and the shot/reverse-shot process.

It remains to be said (and unfortunately this is a defensive caveat that often follows any such analysis of a popular film) that none of this is intended to take away the beauty and emotional immediacy of the sequence by “intellectualising” or “over-analysing” it, or by turning camera movements into mathematical equations. But there is already a much-too-common tendency to undervalue the thought and effort that can go into such scenes from popular films, which are viewed mainly as “entertainment” or as diversions. (And as I have written elsewhere – here, for instance – the questions “Did the director really mean this?” or “Why analyse so much?” often signal laziness, or an unwillingness to engage with the nuts and bolts of narrative cinema.) In his book Cinema Modern, Sidharth Bhatia quotes the cinematographer Fali Mistry’s son as saying of this sequence, “It was shot over two evenings and a morning, at dusk and dawn, which means they must have had a very small window of about 10 minutes each time, so they had to ensure nothing went wrong in the acting, camera placement, lighting etc … It required great coordination.” There is similar fluidity in other song sequences in the film, including the much more exuberant “Aaj Phir Jeene ki Tamanna hai”.

Incidentally, another insight about the “Tere Mere Sapne” sequence comes from my friend Karthika, who points to the scene’s unusual use of light, or the time of day, “in signifying both solitude and the comfort and safety of love”. The scene begins in dusk, and as it continues the darkness grows – this is a notable departure from the kind of symbolism where a declaration of love coincides with dawn breaking (or is shot in bright daylight throughout). “Instead, what Rosie finds as darkness descends and envelops them is companionship, arms to hold her, a homecoming,” Karthika says – it underlines the fact that the scene is not about casual, youthful infatuation but about long-term responsibility.


P.S. and there is that lovely hug around the 3.10 mark. I showed this sequence during a talk at Ramjas College recently, and one observation made was that it was a little startling to see a hero and a heroine hugging so candidly in a 1965 film. Of course, the Navketan school was always a little more “forward” in such things, and the subject and back-story of Guide (an English-language version of the film made by an international crew was shot too) probably encouraged such candour. There is also the matter of the Dev Anand persona, and what he could get away with, both on-screen and off-screen. In the new book Conversations with Waheeda Rehman, the actress tells Nasreen Munni Kabir:
[Dev] was the only star who could put his arms around any actress and she would not object or push him away. Today the stars are physically affectionate with each other – there’s a lot of hugging – but we were reserved in our time. Yet none of us minded when Dev put his arms around us. He would say ‘Hi, Waheeda! Hi, Nandu’ – that’s what he used to call Nanda. The other actors were jealous and complained that whenever they tried to give us a hug, we girls would push them away. Dev was a decent flirt [laughs].
[An old post about R K Narayan's droll account of the shooting of Guide is here]

7 comments:

  1. Wow! Thanks so much, this was an eye-opener.
    It's amazing how long the third shot goes on and how the camera moves around and 'looks around'.

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  2. Yeah. Vijay Anand was too good. I was watching Dev Anand's interview once and he said Raj Khosla was directing a song. Dev Anand asked for instructions. Khosla replied, "Just walk and look handsome" :)

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    1. Well, in fairness to Khosla, if you have the young Dev Anand to fill your frame with, why would you ask him to do anything more complicated?
      Incidentally, Waheeda Rehman paints quite an amusing picture of Raj Khosla as an irate, forever-on-edge Punjabi in the conversations book.

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    2. Lol. That will make for an interesting read. As a kid growing up in a Punju house, I used to wonder why people fight so much. As an adult, I don't think I am much different :)

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  3. The song is nice. But the film, as a whole. misunderstands the spirit of RK Narayan's book. (nothing wrong with that per se)

    Narayan, being a deeply conservative man and writer, refuses to make grand moral judgments about the extra-marital affair in his book. If anything, he looks askance at it. And his tone throughout the book is one of gentle admonition of Raju.

    In contrast, Dev imbues the film with a strong feminist touch. He turns "Marco" from a dreamy, unromantic, middle aged archeologist in the book into a mean, male-chauvinist philanderer. Then he portrays himself as this good-samaritan who "saves" Rosie from this demon's clutches. The book is totally lacking in this perspective! The book places all three characters - Rosie, Raju and Marco on the same moral pedestal without glorifying or demeaning any of them. While the film turns Marco into a most uninteresting villain, Raju into a feminist crusader and Rosie into a goddess almost.

    For my money, it hurt the film. The movie spent too much energy "justifying" Rosie's choices instead of maintaining a distance from all characters.

    And the "Tere mere Sapne" song similarly imbues the characters with a moral purpose without even a tinge of cynicism. Over here, Raju is this great liberal guy who wants to give a purpose to Rosie's life and further her professional ambitions. Which is why he emphasizes the "same colour" of their "dreams". Being a more cynical person, I may want to argue that Raju, like 99% of mankind, is more interested in making out with Rosie and having a good time more than anything else. While Rosie is this pretty girl who falls for this handsome, smooth talking Lothario who keeps "boosting" her ego unlike her curmudgeon of a husband!

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  4. I agree with you Shrikanth. And that is the reason *as a 12-13 year old**, I was put off watching this song. May be it was the moral crap I was fed ( growing up in a middle class noth indian family) or something else, I dont know.
    Having said that, there is no denying, the brilliance of the director here, in this song. He is, afterall, working with the script.. and boy, he did he do his job! I like alomost all the songs picturised by Vijay and Goldie Anand.

    --The 'Alco.. Guy'

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  5. This moral justification also reminds me of another Dev Anand movie 'Bombay ka Babu'. Excellent film, excellent songs, excellent acting.. but the crap about the guy ( who Dev Anand is impersonating ) dies .. as told by the village astologer.. it fuckin irritated me. I mean, come on..

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