The 1998 film Ghulam will be remembered for many reasons. It remains director Vikram Bhatt‘s best film (from what I’ve seen), Aamir Khan sang a song in it, in some ways it marked the beginning of Aamir Khan moving away from his popular romantic hero image to being considered a serious actor, and while it was not her first film, it introduced the World with sufficient fanfare to Rani Mukherji. While Aati kya Khandala will remain the iconic song for which this film will be remembered, Jadu hai, tera hi jadu is the one I always think of when I remember this movie.
The thing you forget about this song when you haven’t watched it for a while, is how impressive it is in its visuals and just how much happens on screen during its 7 minute running time. This song is packed with scenes, fantasies, costumes and sets, more than is strictly required, but then when is any of this required. They do it because they can and in this case it works very well. The video is a shared fantasy between the protagonists, and it plays out like a pastiche of a million bodice-ripping romance novels, mixing in an appropriate ferocity, in keeping with the two characters in the film. The cinematography by Dharma Teja is theatrical and bold, and Vikram Bhatt does well to edit such a kinetic rush of scenes into a coherent song video, many of whose set pieces remain as icons in your mind more than a decade after this was first released. The green-screen sequence of Aamir Khan driving his bike in sped-up shots through the streets of Bombay, while singing and almost dancing behind the handle-bars, has to be one of the earliest and strangest uses of digital special effects in Hindi cinema.
What really convinces here are the actors. Aamir Khan is fearless in his body language, whether he’s dismounting a hammock or rolling down a grassy hill (all while singing at double-speed so that it can sync up in slow motion), the man never flinches, and the strange thing is that the relatively new Rani Mukherji matches him in letting her hair down and throwing herself around in every which way, while remaining graceful. It’s little wonder that both of them will always have a special position in the history of acting in Hindi cinema.
The music itself is classic Jatin-Latit. Their signature guitar riffs and effective use of trumpets makes this very much their song, while a single piano forms the backbone of the melody. The way the song starts slow and then speeds up its tempo in the middle of verses is one of those simple tricks that makes it memorable. Both the singers, Alka Yagnik and Kumar Sanu, work best here because they hold back and don’t go completely mad with their vocal contortions. They are sufficiently mellow, which brings a nice sweetness to the song to balance out the sometimes more strenuous goings-on on screen. Over all, the song is a wonderful contrast of moods, supported by such lyrics as:
Main chain se, pehle raaton ko soti thi,
Tu-ne meri neendein looti
Yeh rog kya tu-ne lagaaya,
Deewaanapan kaisa jagaaya
There was a time when I slept soundly at night,
It was you who stole my sweet slumber.
What affliction have you caused, what is this blight?
How did you awaken this madness, I wonder?
It’s classic romance given an edge with the visuals and changing pace, an amalgam that makes it the perfect song for the characters, and it makes this song a memorable and surprisingly well designed piece of a thoroughly entertaining film.