Goonj Uthi Shehnai (1959) is a black and white movie which is definitely among the best love stories ever presented by Bollywood. The highlight of the movie is the clarinet played in this movie by the legendary clarinet-player, Ustad Bismillah Khan Saheb. Though Bollywood is a never-exhausting treasure of love stories, very few love stories have portrayed the depth of this sublime emotion in such a realistically penetrating way. Love is the biggest gift of the Almighty to the human-beings and it transcends all types of boundaries. This outstanding movie pronounces loud and clear that the true love is for the soul and not for the body. Lovers die but not the love which remains forever.
This is the story of the immortal love of Gopi (Ameeta) and Kishan (Rajender Kumar). Kishan is a clarinet player and learns the same from his Guru, Raghunath Maharaj (Ulhas) whose daughter Ramkali (Anita Guha) has a strange love for him. She knows that Kishan loves Gopi and has complete sympathy for them. Kishan’s poverty does not allow him to marry Gopi whose matrimonial alliance is fixed with Shekhar (Pratap Kumar) who does a decent job in the radio station of Lucknow. The exposure of the love of Kishan and Gopi in the village compels Kishan to leave the village but Ramkali being concerned for his well-being, accompanies him. Kishan meets Shekhar in Lucknow and starts playing the clarinet on radio. Now he gets name and fame (and money too) but when he returns to get his lost love back, he is shocked to see that Gopi’s wedding is taking place with Shekhar (despite herself being in a partially fainted state). Broken-heart Kishan is back now, only to find solace from Ramkali. On the other hand, Gopi has got insentient after separation from Kishan and in such a condition, her maternal uncle (Manmohan Krishna) who has always been sympathetic to her, does not allow her to be sent to her in-laws’ home. Ultimately she comes to her senses by listening to Kishan’s clarinet only. But knowing that she is a wedded woman now; she, as per the Indian Samsakaras and traditional norms embedded in her, starts her journey to reach her husband, leaving Kishan behind. However this separation is not acceptable to the souls of these lovers and that forms the climax.
This story is full of touching moments with every particle of it being inhabited by the feeling of eternal love. The love portrayed on the screen appears to be out and out real and the director Vijay Bhatt is successful in making the audience empathise with the sentiments as well as the internal and the external conditions of the lead pair. You feel their love. You feel their pain. You sing with them. You weep with them.
The movie contains several melodious songs but they are aptly placed and do not block the flow of the story which is engrossing. The curiosity of the audience is perpetually maintained throughout and there is no boredom.
I highlight certain significant plus points of the movie separately :
1. The complex character of Ramkali (Anita Guha) : Ramkali loves Kishan, that’s clear but what’s the type of her love ? The director has not replied to this question directly and left it for the audience to search an appropriate answer for it. She knows about the love of Kishan and Gopi, yet there is no womanly jealousy on her part. When Kishan is compelled to leave the village, she is so concerned about his welfare that she also runs away with him. People in the village, as expected, tarnish her name and character, linking her relationship with Kishan to the usual male-female sexual relationship. But while living with him (imagine this live-in type relationship in India in that period of the fifties), she cares for him like an affectionate mother and supports him like a loving sister. In my review of Bada Din, I had written that every male-female relationship need not be a sexual one and does not need a name. I firmly believe that such platonic relationships can exist and survive, the only pre-condition is the purity of the hearts.
2. The climax of the movie : In the climax, when Gopi starts her train journey to reach her husband, leaving Kishan behind, he falls from a hilly point and dies. In the morning when Gopi’s husband receives her on her destination station, Lucknow, he is able to receive her dead body only. When he asks her maternal uncle (who was accompanying her) – ‘YE KYA HO GAYA ?’ (How’s it happened ?), he replies – AATMA JISKI THI, USSE JA MILI, SHAREER TUMHAARA THA, ISLIYE TUMHAARE PAAS PAHUNCH GAYA’ (the soul reached whom it belonged to, you had a right over the body only, so the body has reached you). So touching !
3. The music : Bharat Vyas has penned down great lyrics and Vasant Desai has composed great melodies for them based on the Indian classical raagas. Tere Sur Aur Mere Geet, Jeevan Mein Piya Tera Saath Rahe, Ankhiyaan Bhool Gayeen Hain Sona, Dil Ka Khilona Haay Toot Gaya, Keh Do Koi Na Kare Yahaan Pyar etc., are all timeless classic songs and a priceless gift for not only the cine-music lovers but also for the lovers of the Indian classical music.This music is a part of the rich Indian cultural heritage.
Performances are simply great. The romantic hero of the fifties and the sixties, Rajender Kumar has done a great job in the role of the Shehnaai-Nawaaz (clarinet player). Ameeta has acted in very few films but this is perhaps the best movie of her career. In the role of first the true lover, then the girl who has got insentient due to emotional shock and ultimately the married girl mentally bound by her Samsakaras who knows within her whom she loves but still understands her social duty to move to her husband; Ameeta has delivered a praiseworthy performance. Anita Guha in the difficult and complex role of Ramkali is just superb. Other actors, Ulhas as Raghunath Maharaj, the Guru of Kishan and the father of Ramkali; Manmohan Krishna as the maternal uncle of Gopi, Leela Mishra as Gopi’s mother, Pratap Kumar as Shekhar and I.S. Johar, the villain-cum-comedian are perfect. Old actress, Chanda as the mother of I.S. Johar is definitely over the top but it was her style and something digestible in those times.
The dialogues are also admirable. Ramkali’s repetitive monologue – this I know, this I know not – is quite situational and allows the listener (and the viewer) to have a peep into her heart.
The cinematography, art direction and other technical aspects of this B&W movie which has a rural backdrop for its major part, are all up-to-the-mark. The narrative flows smoothly and able to keep the viewers tied with the moving storyline.
And finally the enchanting Shehnaai (clarinet) played in the movie by the legend, Ustad Bismillah Khan Saheb which makes this movie all the more special. It is a treat for all the traditional music lovers. Shehnaai has always been a part of the Indian culture and its sound echoing at several places in the movie, is simply mesmerizing.
Goonj Uthi Shehnai is for all those who believe in true love which is for the soul and by the soul. It is an all time great classic and everybody who likes love stories embedding the depth of emotion, should not miss this classic piece of art.
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