The film Dard was released in 1947 and proved to be an important milestone for many involved. The music composer Naushad Ali knew much success after the songs of this film were a big hit. The singer Uma Devi Khatri would become a known name, and while her name would not carry her too far in the realm of music, she would reappear on screen in a very different guise in later decades and have a very long career as a comedic actress. But at this point, the burgeoning music of Naushad and the clear singing of Uma Devi brought us the still memorable song Afsana likh rahi hoon.
Afsana likh rahi hoon is a time capsule of a song in many ways, a very old fashioned song, recorded in an old fashioned way, with very little editing or manipulation, all in one go with singer and musicians performing together in the studio. On screen, it all takes place on a single small set which is very much a stage set, more theatrical than what we would currently consider cinematic. A single actress mostly walks around the set, emoting the lyrics to a series of simple camera moves, while dramatically clutching a letter she has written. All very dramatic and quaint.
Director Abdul Rashid Kardar makes even that reasonably interesting to look at. It’s not a riveting action sequence, but you can imagine all the went into shooting this song was also not the bare minimum required at the time. There were attempts at artistry, however basic, and it shows. Actress Munawar Sultana does a decent job in a theatrical way, which is expected for what is a fairly theatrical song.
Naushad‘s music sounds sometimes unremarkable to our modern ears, but you can imagine that it would have been quite the revelation at the time, and he would grow into much better things. The music is almost happily rhythmic, for something that meant to be a bit of a sad song. While a lot of songs of earlier era tended to drone on in their melody, this one has pace and the very energetic tabla playing is something that would survive and thrive in later Hindi music.
The singer, Uma Devi would not sing a lot, but she would go on to be the ever present comedic actress Tun Tun for many decades to follow. Her singing is beautifully clean and colloquial, with a quality in her voice that really does make you realise the way the language has changed. Her’s is not a modern Hindi voice and the song is the better for it. She does sing it in a very folk performance sort of way, not delving on every nuance of the lyrics to the maximum, but that makes this a more enjoyable song to listen to. Shakeel Badayuni‘s lyrics are emotional and melancholy, but very lyrical in spite of being in a formal and verbose Hindustani, with such lines as:
Haasil hain yoon to mujhko zamaane ki daulaten,
Lekin naseeb laayi hoon ik sogwaar kaa,
Aankhon mein rang bhar ke tere intazaar kaa.
I possess all the riches of the nations,
But granted myself the fate of sorrow,
Colouring my eyes in your anticipation.
We like to think that when times that are historic moments in hind sight come, everything stops and only the salient events continue with all watching and paying attention, but while India and Pakistan were getting their independence in 1947, life continued. People worked, people played and they went to the cinema to watch a movie just like they did before, and just like they would after, in increasing numbers. Some of them would have seen and listened to Afsana likh rahi hoon in a darkened cinema hall and enjoyed it. The fact that we can still do that today, almost seven decades later, is some sort of magic.