Sunday, April 15, 2012

Geet Gaata Chal (1975)

What is the purpose of life? What is a happy state of mind? What is freedom? What is love?

Source: Wikipedia
These are some of the very deep philosophical questions that are extremely hard to answer. We have had tons of books written by the most eminent of thinkers and writers that attempt to give some answers to such human predicaments, but it’s hard to point out one that is the most satisfactory. However if we have to go back and look into our own holy texts- Mahabharata and its subset the Bhagvad Gita- we do get some insights. In these texts, none other than Lord Krishna, God on earth, gives a discourse explaining the meaning of life to Arjuna. Every now and then, he takes up examples from his own life to enlighten the lives of the Padavas. Krishna was a wanderer, a man who despite having a family never really chose to settle down at one place. It is most fascinating the way it has been presented in the texts and even the people who don’t believe in God and religion would find these stories very interesting.

Rajshri ProductionsGeet Gaata Chal, directed by Hiren Nag, is a delightful reconstruction of the ideas given in the text which is presented as an analogy drawn between the life of Krishna and a young man of the name Shyam (essayed by Sachin). This analogy is not too discrete and that comes out through the names given to the characters. Shyam was a name used for Krishna (a name that emerged because of his dark complexion). Here Shyam is a boyish young man who is like a free bird- with no settled home- no emotional attachments- and who keeps on wandering through villages and towns without a care in the world. Neither has he a destination in mind, nor does he have some aim in life- he just keeps traveling and discovering different cultures and places. On the way he meets and befriends various people, but never gets emotionally attached to anyone. It is ironical that his pleasing nature, his honesty, his charisma, and his charm makes it very easy for others to fall in love with him- but he hardly ever reciprocates with the same intensity as his admirers do. The closest companion he has is his flute and the songs on his lips that he keeps singing to the world while he travels.

The movie starts with Shyam watching a village nautanki where he becomes the savior after a loophole on the stage results in a momentary halt in the nautanki. With a melodious song he manages to placate everyone- from the audience to the performers. The troubled lead actress of the nautanki (an alcoholic too) gets attracted to the rakish charm of Shyam and invites him to her tent to spend a few moments alone. The simplicity of the boy prevents him from seeing the vice in the situation- a thing that comes out further when he addresses the lady as ‘didi’ (elder sister). It is the first instance in the film when he forms a bond with someone without him himself realizing the strength of it. This ephemeral attachment is enough for the lady to share a lifelong connection with Shyam, while the next day he leaves the village and moves on…

The next stop for Shyam is a village fair where he saves an elderly lady from a bull stampede. The lady takes Shyam to her family ‘Dharmshala’ (guest house), where he meets her husband (a rich Zamindar of a nearby village) and her daughter Radha (Sarika in a rare lead role). Both the Zamindar and his wife get taken in by the simplicity and likeability of Shyam and invite him to their home for a few days’ stay. Shyam is reluctant in the beginning but agrees when the he is told that the village is situated in the lap of nature and offers wonderful opportunities for sightseeing. Radha is irritated by the attention Shyam gets from her parents but is unable to prevent him from joining them. When they reach their Haveli, she tries to play some childish pranks on Shyam, but unfortunately for her all these tricks backfire. Soon Shyam becomes the cynosure of even Radha’s grandmother’s eyes, who gets mightily impressed by his soulful rendition of the Ramayana. Also, another village belle (Radha’s friend) of the name Meera starts being around Shyam a lot. It is this Meera who sparks a hint of jealously in Radha’s heart and makes her realize how truly wonderful Shyam is. In a dramatic incident when Shyam is playing the flute for Meera, Radha snatches it from his hand and breaks it into two. This is a wonderful moment and again beings out the director’s attempt to draw the analogy between Shyam and lord Krishna. The flute was the only constant in Shyam’s life, but when it is taken away from him- Shyam is more perturbed about Radha’s state of mind rather than worrying about losing his flute.

Soon Shyam gets more and more intermingled in the family affairs his hosts, and Radha gets more and more taken in by him. The Zamindar’s closest friend realizes the companionship between Radha and Shyam and decides to get them married. While the entire household prepares for the marriage, Shyam suddenly realizes that he is being trapped in worldly affairs. It dawns to him that like a caged bird he is about to be confined in the restricted space of a household and that he would never be able to fly again. Without saying a word to anyone, Shyam departs- once again adopting his nomadic ways. Radha is distraught, and so is her family. But she refuses to blame Shyam and decides to live out her entire life as Shyam’s wife. In her heart, he is her only sole soul mate- and she decides to wait for him till eternity.

In his journey Shyam encounters the same nautanki that he had once visited and where he had found an elder sister. He runs and embraces her. He tells her all about Radha and his last few days at her home. He tells her about his predicament- to remain a free bird or become entangled in the worldly affairs. His didi tells him that what he had done with Radha was wrong. Shyam is convinced and he runs back to Radha’s village and takes her hand. This is how the film ends but it is not really clear whether Shyam’s return is his acceptance of the worldly ways, or just a temporary acceptance of Radha’s true love for him.

Like all Rajshri movies, Geet Gaata Chal takes a very positive view of the world. There are no grey characters, no negative energies. The troubles and controversies are all a state of mind and get cleared up as easily as a few minutes rain clears away the dust in the air. It is certainly a world that borders on the utopian, but the Barjatyas have always believed in Ram (and thus Ram Rajya). Many of the dialogues and exchanges, if seen in isolation, would appear corny to a lot of people fed on the diet of world cinema. But when seen in its entirety the movie is a supremely well crafted effort that has a story to tell and ideas to discuss- which is does with sheer simplicity and joy. The songs by Ravindra Jain complement the story remarkably (like they always did). Now that I have seen a bit of his works, I can safely say that his sense of lyrics and music was simply unmatched. He was a true Hindi film music director- as his songs were tailored for his movies- and their stories. Most of his songs wouldn’t have had the same impact in any other film apart from the ones they were made for. The performances of Sachin and Sarika are nice and Sachin looks every bit the character he plays. No wonder he played the lead in the film ‘Gopal Krishna’.

Parting Note: Geet Gaata Chal is a must watch for anyone who loves family entertainers and is fond of rural settings. It is the kind of cinema that is not seen today- thoughtful and yet simple.  


  1. I was a very young girl, almost a child, when I saw this movie on television. However, it had had a very profound and long lasting impact on me. Later, when grew up and discovered Tagore, I found some uncanny similarities between this story and Tagore's "ATITHI"... Both of these stories have shaped my personality, ideology, and outlook deeply and immensely.