When you create a body of work that goes on to eclipse your personality, and then you age and are pushed into complete oblivion, there comes one occasion when you, as a person, are celebrated again. All this while, your works were being celebrated, but no one remembered you. But on this occasion, you are, once again, formally acknowledged as the creator of your work and given a standing ovation. But you miss that ovation because the occasion happens to be death.
My grandfather has missed that ovation too. He died yesterday, in Mumbai, aged 83. I grew up in the cosy comfort of his study that was lined, instead of books, with scripts and prints of films and LP records. I grew up reading those scripts, watching those films and listening to the records -- they played a significant role in shaping my thought process and made by life meaningful.
Wait a minute, he was not just my grandfather. He was your grandfather too -- the grandfather of several million Indians who were born in the 1970s and the early 1980s. His name: Shakti Samanta. I know of people -- many many people, in fact -- who haven't heard of Shakti Samanta, but they have heard of Aradhana, Amar Prem and Kati Patang. They've even seen the movies and liked them and liked their songs. But they haven't heard of Shakti Samanta.
That substantiates the point I was making: when you create a body of work whose quantity matches its quality, the creator himself becomes irrelevant after a point. When you have an ice-cream, for example, do you ever wonder about the inventor of the ice-cream? There has to be someone who must've made the very first ice-cream in the world, but his identity is completely irrelevant because the ice-cream is so common that it seems to one of nature's creations, just like the water we drink and the air we breathe. How on earth it matters who created the ice-cream as long as you enjoy it, be it in the form of casatta or a choco bar or vanilla?
Whether Aradhana was casatta, Amar Prem the choco bar and Kati Patang the vanilla -- it is for you to decide which one was which. But these are varieties of ice-creams that our generation will always relish, no matter how old we get. And if the movies are too much of an emotional burden to watch, there are always the songs to enjoy.
In that sense, Shakti Samanta is far more important than a grandfather: he is as integral to my life as Thomas Alva Edison is. What would be my life without the songs of Aradhana, Kati Patang and Amar Prem? I don't listen to them every day, I don't listen to them for months, but I know that they are there -- a home in the native village I can go back to whenever I want to. Without these songs, I have no identity.
Songs like Mere sapnon ki rani kab aayegi tu, or Yeh shaam mastaani cut geographical boundaries. Mere sapnon ki rani, correct me if I am wrong, was, at one point, perhaps the most popular piece of music after the National Anthemn. And yesterday, the man who picturised the song, Shakti Samanta, died. Please shed tears for him.
It is difficult to say whether the Rajesh Khanna-Kishore Kumar-R.D. Burman combo made Samanta's movies popular or whether it was Samanta who was wise enough to bring the trio together and prove that it can be a deadly combo. Whatever it maybe, the fact is that the careers of R.D. Burman and Kishore Kumar would have taken a different path had it not been for Samanta's films. In Aradhana, R.D. Burman, for the first time, was credited as the 'Assistant Music Director', the music director being his father, S.D. Burman. As for Kishore Kumar, everybody knows that Aradhana was his launch pad to stardom as a singer.
Though Mehmood, the versatile actor, wouldn't have agreed. Mehmood is no more, but his views are well-known. According to him, it was he who made R.D. walk out of his father's shadow and turn into an independent composer in Chhote Nawaab, and that Kishore's vehicle to his success as a singer was not Aradhana but Padosan. According to Mehmood, it was Mere saamnewaali khidki and not Mere sapnon ki rani that made Kishore a runaway hit.
All said and done, Aradhana turned a new leaf. For the audience, as well as for many pillars in Bollywood. Till Aradhana, Samanta had chosen to use, to great success, the staple, time-tested combo of Shankar-Jaikishan-Mohammed Rafi. Kashmir Ki Kali and An Evening In Paris are living examples.
Aradhana turned the equations upside down and overnight, Kishore Kumar became the hottest singer and R.D. Burman the most hummable composer. All this, because of one man who you didn't even know how he looked like.
I first saw Samanta when I was nine or ten years old, on Doordarshan. They were interviewing him on the location while he was shooting for a movie called Khwaab with Mithun Chakraborty. It was a song sequence they were shooting, with Mithun Chakraborty sprinting to a peppy song by Yesudas, Banjara main nahin magar...
Shakti Samanta was dressed in a white shirt and white trousers and a white cap, and he was giving a soundbite of which I have no memory whatsoever. Obviously not. I was so young then. After that I never saw him, but only his movies. Amar Prem and Kati Patang I saw on TV, but Aradhana on the big screen -- in 1986!
My parents say Aradhana was the first movie I ever saw. They say they had taken me along, when I was barely a year old, to watch the movie in the theatre. Understandably, I had to watch Aradhana again, in the same theatre, 15 years later, soon after my Class 10 board exams. Those days, if Doordarshan was not showing a film, there was no way you could watch it at your will unless the neighbourhood theatre chose to screen it.
But there was one Shakti Samanta movie I watched in the theatre long before Aradhana, and which made me cry. That was Anand Ashram. A particular scene that brings together a son who had chosen to go his own way and a rich arrogant father, played by Uttam Kumar and Ashok Kumar respectively, was too much to bear. I was crying. I also watched Amanush in the theatre, and all along, I wanted to kill Utpal Dutt, the villain, with my bare hands. But then, shortly after, Gol Maal happened. I no longer wanted to kill Utpal Dutt. I wanted him to live forever. Forever!
But then, dear reader, nothing is forever. We all have to die someday -- sooner or later. Kishore Kumar was the first to go, at the age of 58, in 1987. R.D. Burman died next, in 1994. He was just 54. And Shakti Samanta died yesterday, at 83. But the songs the three of them created shall remains ageless. You can hum them at any point of time: today, tomorrow and even the day after tomorrow. Now that they are all in heaven, am sure they would be making great music up there.
As far as Bollywwod is concerned, two people should be mourning Samanta's death more than anyone else: Rajesh Khanna and Amitabh Bachchan. For them, as for Kishore Kumar and R.D. Burman, who are no more, the movies and songs they made with Shakti Samanta are as important a milestone as, say, their graduation day in college.
In case you still can't figure who Shakti Samanta is, or was, let me list ten popular songs from the films he directed so that you realise what a great man we lost last evening:
1. Yeh chaand sa roshan chehra: Kashmir Ki Kali
2. An evening in Paris: An Evening In Paris
3. Mere sapnon ki rani: Aradhana
4. Ek ajnabee haseena se: Ajnabee
5. Yeh kya hua, kaise hua: Amar Prem
6. Yeh shaam mastaani: Kati Patang
7. Mere naina saawan bhadon: Mehbooba
8. Saara pyaar tumhara: Anand Ashram
9. Aapke anurodh par: Anurodh
10. Do lafzon ki hai: The Great Gambler.
Need I say more? One only has to listen.