There isn’t enough that can be said about SD Burman‘s talent as a music director. He brought to it an old-school class and memories of folk music and classical music, while also imparting it with a surprising modernity. What he also did on occasion was to sing his own songs for films, with a voice that sounded ancient and timeless and had a rustic tone than none of the professional singers he always had access to could possibly have brought to it. One such classic song with Burman’s voice and music is Mera saajan hai us paar from the 1963 film Bandini.
Bimal Roy‘s final outing as director, Bandini was a complex drama set in pre-independence India, about a woman in jail for murder. Strangely enough, this song serves as the end of the film and stars Nutan who is the protagonist, and Ashok Kumar. Shot in a dramatic light by Kamal Bose, it a beautiful piece set at a metaphoric crossroads for the characters at a port, each going their separate ways, with a lot of the drama produced by Nutan enacting a range of silent emotions as the songs wails in the background, being sung by a random singer at the local tea house.
The song is a pleasure to listen to well beyond it’s on-screen presence. The music has a lilting melody with a slow and swaying rhythm that gives an impression of being on water, in the hands of the metaphoric boatman mentioned in the words of the song. To SD Burman’s layered music, Shailendra adds poetry like:
Mann ki kitaab se tum, mera naam hi mitaa dena.
Gunn to na tha koi bhi, avgunn mere bhula dena.
Strike me out from the journal of your mind that’s ailing.
I had no virtues, but please do forget my failings.
Mera saajan hai us paar is a melancholy song, but also one of strength, in keeping with the theme of the film. If you had to have a boatman singing you across a river, you’d be hard pressed to find anything better than SD Burman‘s voice doing the honours and lightening the journey.