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'Chitthi Aayi Hai captures yearning of the human heart'

February 27, 2024 15:47 IST

'Shooting with Pankaj was a delightful experience because he was a charming, easy and effortless singer.'

IMAGE: Pankaj Udhas in Naam.

Pankaj Udhas passed away on Monday, February 26, after a prolonged illness. The ghazal singer and Padma Shri recipient was 73.

As tributes poured in from Prime Minister Narendra Modi and sarod maestro Ustad Amjad Ali Khan to singers Hariharan, Anup Jalota and Anu Malik, Sonu Niigam, from actors like Madhuri Dixit, Abhishek Bachchan to directors like Mahesh Bhatt and Sanjay Gupta.

Speaking to Senior Contributor Roshmila Bhattacharya, Mahesh Bhatt shares, "After Naam, whenever Pankaj and I bumped into each other, we would talk about Chitthi Aayi Hai and I would thank him for this priceless contribution to the success of Naam."


'The song was the brainchild of Salim Khansaab'

IMAGE: Sanjay Dutt in Naam.

When an icon like Pankaj Udhas who had such a large audio work is remembered today for one song, Chitthi Aayi Hai from my 1986 film Naam, you know it has burnt across all classes and bridged generations.

Time, they say, is the best critic and when a film and a song stands the test of time, there's something life-affirming about this work of art.

Chitthi Aayi Hai, Watan Se Chitthi Aayi hai, Bade Dinon Ke Baad, Hum Be-Watnon Ko Yaad Watan Ki Mitti Aayi Hai, Chitthi Aayi Hai... captures the yearning of the human heart to go back to its own space of origin which is your vatan (country).

Pankaj Udhas was not a singer in the filmi beat, but this was a unique situation, the brain child of Salim Khan saab who had separated from his former writing partner Javed (Akhtar)saab and reasserted himself through Naam, which was a huge box-office hit.

Salimsaab pointed out that we needed a moment of metamorphosis in the narrative for the central character, Sanjay Dutt's Vicky Kapoor, who because of his need to excel and make a mark, has gone down life's dark lanes and has distanced himself from his own.

During the course of this song, Vicky has a change of heart and decides to head back home.

For this turning point in the narrative to be convincing, Salim saab suggested we do it through the use of a moving song.

'Pankaj had been reluctant to face the camera'

IMAGE: Pankaj Udhas in Naam.

Since the tradition of ghazals had peaked across the country at the time, in South Asia and the West too, we opted for Pankaj whom I liked as a singer.

He had been a little reluctant earlier to face the camera because he never deluded himself in believing that he was an actor.

But I explained that he would be playing himself, Pankaj Udhas, and that convinced him.

Shooting with Pankaj was a delightful experience because he was a charming, easy and effortless singer.

But unlike most actors who are used to shooting a song in fragments, with close ups, mid-shots, wide angle shots and long shots, since Pankaj was a singer, we had to take most of his performance in uninterrupted takes.

The requirement was that this actor had an idiom where unless he was given his space to sing a song the way he renders it in normal mehfils, it would look laboured.

That was a challenge, but Sarojji (choreographer Saroj Khan) and I still managed to wrap up Chitthi Aayi Hai in just two days.

'The junior artistes were moved to tear'

IMAGE: Sanjay Dutt and Amrita Singh in Naam.

What made the picturisation memorable was that the song was not restricted to the key actors.

I also panned on the reactions of the so-called junior artistes, playing NRIS or expats who have settled abroad.

And what was path-breaking was that just listening to Pankaj sing these actors who are not trained or emotionally invested in a scene, were also moved to tears.

I attribute this to the quality of (Anand) Bakshisaab's writing, the greatness of Laxmikant-Pyarelal's composition and the heartfelt abandon with which Pankaj sang.

He would shoot with us during the day and fly off to different parts of the country in the evening for his mehfils.

Chitthi Aayi Hai was a long song, but it didn't have too many camera setups, just Pankaj singing and reactions of the actors.

We come from a school of austere and precise film-making.

Also, that was not a digital age and raw film was an expensive commodity so we didn't have the luxury of shooting a sequence from different angles.

Yet, even after 38 years, the song still resonates.

'Sanjay and I shared messages, he was emotional'

IMAGE: Pankaj Udhas. Photograph: Kind courtesy Pankaj Udhas/Instagram

After Naam, whenever Pankaj and I bumped into each other, we would talk about Chitthi Aayi Hai and I would thank him for this priceless contribution to the success of Naam.

When I heard yesterday that he had passed away, I reached out to two people, Salim Khan and Sanjay Dutt.

Sanjay and I shared messages, he was very emotional.

He had been really vulnerable when we shot the film and this song, coming back from rehab and desperately looking for a rebirth.

He remembered how when he went abroad, people would cry remembering the song.

Salimsaab and I also spoke very warmly about Pankaj and Chitthi Aayi Hai.

I pointed out to him that his suggestion had added an extra dimension to Naam and that when you look back through the mists of time, you realise the contributions of giants like Pankaj Udhas to Indian cinema.

When my driver heard the news, he agreed that while Pankaj has sung many beautiful songs, nothing could beat Chitthi Aayi Hai.

He's from Nepal so I understand why it means so much to him.