In Hindi films and songs, like in many other things, there are the popular, there are the highly regarded and lauded, and then there are all the rest, some of whom grow in status over time and come to be recognised as ignored gems. While the song Waqt ne kiya kya haseen sitam had its share of popularity when it was first released in 1959, the movie it was from, Kaagaz Ke Phool, and its singer Geeta Dutt can be considered to be among those few that we can now think of as gems in retrospect, and were mostly ignored in their time.
I haven’t seen Kaagaz Ke Phool recently enough to remember any of it, but I do remember that is a was serious and considered movie and very stylistic. That much comes through even in the video of this song, all shot in a darkened and dramatically lit film studio. The lighting is striking, the cinematography by V.K. Murthy is strong and quite adventurous in bits, and the actors really seem to pour their souls into what is a very stirring and emotional song. Waheeda Rehmanis the main focus of the song, being the on-screen version of the female voice, while Guru Dutt plays a sufficiently intense foil at which mush of this songs emotion is aimed. Dutt did quite well to have both acted and directed this piece.
SD Burman gives some extremely rousing and also simple music for this melancholy piece. In spite of the orchestral flourish in bits of the melody, the song is as a whole very simple with a single instrument being the focus at any moment, which fits very well with the stark simplicity of the visuals. Geeta Dutt sings with a emotional depth that her peers couldn’t quite match, partially helped with her extremely normal sounding voice. This was not the sound of a song-bird far removed from reality, but more that of a real person and that helps immensely to bring a gravity to songs such as these.
The lyrics by Kaifi Azmi are brief and powerful, and stick in the memory with much more impact than more flourished poetry could have. In the relatively short song, he delivers such verses as:
Jaayenge kaha, sujhta nahi
Chal pade magar, raasta nahi
Kya talaash hai, kuchh pata nahi
Bunn rahe hain dil, khwaab dam-ba-dam
We have no idea where we shall go
We’ve set off with no path to follow
What we’re seeking, we do not know
Yet hearts and dreams continue to knit together
Waqt ne kiya kya haseen sitam is probably one of my favourite melancholy Hindi songs, because while the tone is melancholy, as are the words and is the music, there is a certain vibrant note to the melody, a certain fighting spirit to Geeta Dutt‘s voice, that makes it feel like not such a bad thing after all.