What happens when someone lifts material and uses it without as much as a by your leave? It sets my teeth on edge at least as far as my work is concerned. But as my mentor S Muthiah once famously remarked, “Treat it as a tribute to your talents and you won’t feel so bad.” And so that is what I generally do. All the above came back in one headlong rush following an exchange of emails with my dear friend VAK Ranga Rao, that authority on gramophone records and cinema, apart from many other things, including the making of hot chocolate.

What with this wretched corona having decided to make a long stay, VAK is now in his native village. Ironically, it has increased my correspondence with him, initially by sms and now the old dear having discovered email, by that method also.

We were discussing matters of great pith and moment, namely the making of the film Uran Khatola (1955), a favourite for both of us, when he dropped a bomb – did I know he asked, that Naushad’s tune of Mera Salaam Le Jaa, the opening song, was leaked by someone to Husnlal Bhagatram who promptly used it in the song Shawm-e-bahaar aayi in the film Shama Parwana (1954) starring Suraiya and Shammi Kapoor? It had never struck me, and yet I must have heard both songs hundreds of times. I have already written extensively about Uran Khatola and my love for its opening number and so I will save your time here dear reader, and write on Shama Parwana instead.

This film is a Moghul period drama. It begins with a disclaimer that it is a work of fiction but it is the retelling of a persistent legend that has circulated from the time of Shah Jahan. As is well known, the Emperor Akbar had disallowed the marriage of imperial princesses, chiefly I think to prevent sons-in-law becoming rival claimants to the throne. This meant his daughters, and those of at least Jahangir and Shah Jahan, had to languish in spinsterhood. It was rumoured that the the Princess Jahanara, elder daughter of Shah Jahan, apart from rumoured incestuous relationships with her brother Dara and her father, also had another lover. On one occasion the emperor came into her apartments suddenly and there was no option for the young man to hide in an enormous vessel meant for heating bath water. Shah Jahan who knew what was going on, ordered the lighting of a fire under the vessel and the poor beloved simply boiled to death. Those were the ways of the Moghuls. The film however situates the film during the reign of Jahangir and names the princess as Mehr. This role is essayed by Suraiya.

Her lover, the poet, and I forget his name, is portrayed by Shammi Kapoor. I think this was one of his earliest films and he is so slim as to be almost unrecognisable. Such a serious role hardly suits the man meant for Junglee and Kashmir ki Kali, not to forget Teesri Manzil and Professor. And Suraiya always looks older than him, which she was. But still this is a charming film and I particularly like the songs, among which Mera Dildaar Na Milaya is my favourite. But Shama-e-Bahaar aayi is also great. One of the reasons of course is Mohammed Rafi’s voice, then at its youthful best.

I am linking the song here. You can see that the woman who dances in the beginning is awful and makes a return somewhere in the middle of the song. The extras are more graceful. Suraiya, who hardly danced in her films, plays it safe by standing at one place and sings beautifully. Shammi Kapoor on the other hand, shows that he was a natural when it came to dancing – I just love his movements.

My friend Ashwin Bhandarkar, who is my go-to man for Hindustani and old film music (there is no new film music that I know of), has made the following scientific observations, all of which I checked and found true

  1. The metres of the first 3 lines of both Mera Salaam Le Jaa and Shaam-e-Bahaar aayi are identical.
  2. Both songs are based on Bilaval Thaat
  3. The portion between 1.23 to 1.30 of Shama-e-Bahaar is the same as the first three lines of the Uran Khatola song.

So our friend Husnlal, or maybe Bhagatram, had lifted it at least a part from Naushad, who must have been sick as mud. Ashwin informs me that Lata Mangeshkar in an interview has said that Naushad became very secretive about his tunes, perhaps after this episode. I don’t blame the man.

This article is part of a series I write on old film songs, chiefly Hindi, Tamil, Bengali and Telugu. You can read the earlier parts here