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Sangeet Baiju Bawra - 2: Piloo

Updated: Nov 24, 2020

We continue from Sangeet Baiju Bawra - 1. Tansen’s Puriya Dhanashree riyaaz is rudely interrupted by a loud ruckus in front of the palace gates. It turns out that the noise is caused by Tansen’s adoring fans who have collected at the gates to listen to him sing.

While Tansen seems quite pleased with the adulation from his fans, he does not want to be disturbed, and instructs the guards to go and maintain peace and quiet outside his palace and to make sure nobody sings. As he goes back to his tanpura to resume his riyaaz, you hear the jarring sound of somebody singing loudly right under his window. It is Ghaseet Khan, a comical caricature of a raucous classical singer with a brassy voice, an ustad with his own fan following consisting of similarly comical characters. He keeps reappearing throughout the film supplying the comic interludes in the plot. Ghaseet Khan, known to his singers as Ustad Taan-tod and Taan-jod, is shown singing the traditional composition Phul Gendawa Na Maro in raga Bhairavi, followed by a fast paced Bhairavi tarana in drut teental. Interestingly, though Ghaseet Khan is shown jumping and thrashing around for comic effect, the singing is not at all tuneless and is in fact quite decent, but I could not get the name of the singer who has sung for Ghaseet Khan in the film.

Tansen’s guards try to stop Ghaseet Khan from singing telling him that Tansen needs quiet because he is busy composing new ragas and needs to concentrate. Many of the popular ragas in Indian Classical Music like Miya ki Todi, Miya Malhar, and Darbari Kanada are in fact attributed to Tansen. Ghaseet Khan makes fun of Tansen in front of the guards, mockingly telling the guards in his brassy voice that Tansen just tweaks ragas here and there to turn a Todi into Miya ki Todi, Malhar into Miya Malhar, and Kanada into Darbari Kanada, and so on. There seems to be no historical record of whether Tansen created these ragas or he modified existing ragas like Todi, Malhar, etc.

While all this is going on, a band of Hindu priests singing bhajans and carrying ektaris (a simple instrument with a single string that is strummed, which is used even today in devotional singing) and dholaks, appears on the scene. Baiju, barely in his teens is being taken by his father from Chapaner, a small town in Gujarat to Vrindavan to Swami Haridas, a reputed musician and respected Guru, to initiate him into his training in classical music. Tansen’s guards try to stop them from singing. A scuffle ensues between the Brahmin priests and the guards, and in the melee Baiju’s father is thrown to the ground and fatally injured on his head. The camera pans to an ektari on the ground with a sword lying across it on top, probably signifying the tyrannical sword oppressing the pious common man.

In his dying throes, Baiju’s father extracts a promise out of him, that Baiju will never forget this incident and avenge his father’s death by killing Tansen, the cause of his death. This incident forms the backdrop of the whole plot of the film, where Baiju grows up into a young man burning with hatred for Tansen and tries to kill him at various points in the film.

Young Baiju heads straight to a camp of soldiers, and tries to steal a sword from a sleeping soldier. When caught by the soldiers and questioned whether he had only learnt stealing from his guru, little Baiju responds that he had learnt Jaijaiwanti, Bhairav, Bhairavi, Ramkali, Pilu, Todi, Mand, all names of popular classical ragas in Indian music. Shankar Anand, a music teacher (played by the character actor Manmohan Krishna) in a nearby village across river Yamuna, saves him from the soldiers and takes him away with him to his village.

There Baiju meets the bubbly Gauri, the daughter of a boatman called Mohan, when Anand Shankar calls out for Mohan to ferry them to their village across the Yamuna. Gauri rows them across the river, while the strains of the song Tu Ganga ki Mauj composed in Bhairavi plays in the background. If you play the Youtube video below, it will play 2 minutes of the relevant sequence in the film.

Baiju and Gauri grow up to a young couple in the village, while their love blossoms in the picturesque surroundings of the village. Cut to a young Baiju and Gauri singing Jhoole me pawan ke aayi bahar composed in raga Piloo, shown playing on swings decorated with flowers. The song is a beautiful duet in a Rafi and Lata’s voice, accompanied by an orchestra consisting of violins, flutes, a xylophone and a dholak playing a playful keherwa beat. Do listen carefully (preferably with earphones on) to the theka on the dholak and enjoy the subtle todas at the beginning and of each stanza.

Raga Piloo is an odav-sampoorna raga from Kafi thaat according to the Bhatkhande thaat system, and roughly corresponds to the ragam Kapi in Carnatic music. In North Indian classical music, it is used mostly for the lighter forms of presentation like thumri, dadra, etc. Here is Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan saheb, the emperor of thumri, singing Kate na biraha ki raat a Piloo thumri in Deepchandi tala, a 14 beat tala used mainly for light-classical vocal. We will take up raga Piloo and understand it better in a later blog post.

Gauri is engaged to be married to Narpat, a wealthy bumpkin who is another comical character in the film. The whole village mocks Narpat and taunts him and the young couple, deeply embarrassing Gauri’s doting father, the boatman Mohan, whose reputation in the village is at risk because of the antics of Gauri and Baiju. Gauri tries to distance herself from Baiju, causing deep pangs of separation for them both.

We will follow the plot of Baiju Bawra as it meanders through the story of Baiju and Gauri, taking stops at a song here, and a piece of background music there, all of which have been composed based on classical ragas, by arguably one of the greatest music directors of all time Naushad Ali, better known to the Hindi film world simply as Naushad.

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