The reason the Indian film industry, as a collection of all its many regional language industries, has been the most prolific producer of cinema for a large chunk of film history, is because it is a very deep creature. There are the popular blockbuster films staring big-name stars and top-flight talent, but the vast majority of the iceberg is made up of low budget films, made with second-tier stars, unknowns, lower budgets, and much less media attention or publicity. This has always been true, especially considering the relatively lower budget profiles of Indian films. In 1959 Guest House was probably such a film, which may not have lasted much in cultural memory as a piece of cinema, but its songs live on, and Tum se kuch kehna hai is on of its best remembered gems.
The visuals of the song are interesting in that the entire thing is shot outdoors, a lot of it in a moving car, which is a far cry from the very staged, set-based set-ups that were seen in the prior decade. Here again, the low budget considerations of Hindi films come into the picture. While light camera equipment that was capable of doing this sort of thing would have already been old hat in the West by 1959, you can imagine that it would have taken some time to trickle down to India, so this was still fairly new back then. It’s used to good effect too, in a quieter time when Bombay was less congested, and shooting permission easier to come by, this probably worked out to be a lot easier and cheaper than a studio set, and there’s no discounting the sheer pleasure and freedom of seeing the world captured in its full dynamic glory for a calm little romantic Hindi song.
I’m sure director Ravindra Dave and cinematographer Raj Kumar Bhakri had quite a tough task coordinating and shooting all these sequences on the road, and also a lot of fun. The freedom of shooting on the move must have been a great release, possibly for the actors too. Ajit who went on to become one of the most celebrated players of negative characters in the following decades is here in a more romantic garb, and Shakeela who in time became a regular supporting actress in many films was here the heroine of the piece. A strange pairing in retrospect, but also a refreshing one. It’s interesting to imagine a world where things would have turned out different and such pairs would have become the mainstream. Considering they had to act, mouth the words, keep to the timing of the music, drive, and straddle playground equipment while doing this, the two make an admirable show of it, helped in no small part by some very slick editing between shots.
The song itself is the greatest strength, a simple lilting tune with simple words that stick in your mind long after you stop listening. Mukesh and Lata Mangeshkar sing with a casual elegance, without any dramatics, which only enhances the happy tune composed by Chitragupta. The playful and classic romantic banter between the singers was written by lyricist Prem Dhawan and includes exchanges such as:
Hans hans ke seh lenge, bade shokh se teer chalaao
Ye fasaana hai puraana, koi baat nayi farmaao
Chalo jooth sahi, par baat meri, ek baar bhi sun to lo
I will grin and bear it, shoot your arrows, fire away.
That’s an old line, say something I don’t hear every day.
Even if they’re lies, please listen to what I have to say.
Tum se kuch kehna hai is one of those iconic examples of old-school romantic Hindi film music, and it is pitch-perfect at being just that. In addition it gives us a glimpse back into a world of times past, and also shows how much can be done with a camera and some dedicated work on the move. The song almost seems to be the perfect accompaniment for such adventures.