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How Gulzar created Chhaiyyan Chhaiyyan

January 31, 2019 10:49 IST

'I believe after Shailendra's Mera Joota Hai Japaani in Raj Kapoor's Shree 420, Chhaiyyan Chhaiyyan is now the Indian film song that is recognised the world over -- millions know it as 'the train song'.'
A fascinating excerpt from Jiya Jale: The Stories of Songs by Gulzar, In conversation with Nasreen Munni Kabir.

 
IMAGE: Chhaiyyan Chhaiyyan from Dil Se.. featuring Malaika Arora and Shah Rukh Khan.
 

Nasreen Munni Kabir: Your distinctive voice is in all your songs.

It takes a different turn in Chal Chhaiyyan Chhaiyyan.

I find this a particularly unique song from every angle.

Your lyrics, Mani Ratnam's direction, (A R) Rahman's music, Santosh Sivan's photography, Farah Khan's choreography, the performance by Shah Rukh Khan and Malaika Arora, the voices of Sukhwinder Singh and Sapna Awasthi, and not forgetting the train chugging through lush Ooty -- you have all conspired to make this a truly memorable piece of cinema.

Gulzar: When Shah Rukh heard the song, he fell in love with it. I am guessing that the words 'chhaiyyan chhaiyyaan' made them think of a chugging train (both laugh).

NMK: I believe after Shailendra's Mera Joota Hai Japaani in Raj Kapoor's Shree 420, Chhaiyyan Chhaiyyan is now the Indian film song that is recognised the world over -- millions know it as 'the train song'.

Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber once said in an interview that he had seen the Dil Se song clip on Channel 4 TV in the UK and it made him want to work with Rahman, which led to the production of the musical Bombay Dreams in London.

The song even popped up under the opening credits in Spike Lee's 2006 film Inside Man.

I remember seeing Inside Man on its release in Toronto, and when the song was heard at the start of the film, two young women wearing hijaabs jumped out of their seats and screamed 'Shah Rukh Khan!' You can imagine the reaction of the Canadian audience, who fell very silent (both laugh).

I must admit it is a difficult song to translate and am grateful for your help.

I remember reading a translation on the Net of the first line: 'Come, let us walk under the shadow, shadow, shadow, shadow.'

That's a lot of shadows to deal with!

 
IMAGE: Shah Rukh Khan and Preity Zinta in Dil Se..

G: Actually it is not 'shadow', it should be 'shade'!

Jinke sar ho ishq ki chhaaon

Those who walk in the shade of love...

 

Paaon ke neeche jannat hogi

...must have paradise beneath their feet

 

Jinke sar ho ishq ki chhaaon

Those who walk in the shade of love...

 

Chal chhaiyyan chhaiyyan chhaiyyan chhaiyyan

Come, let us walk in the shade of love

 

Sar-e-ishq ki chhaaon chal chhaiyyan chhaiyyan

Let us walk in the shade of love

 

Paaon jannat chale chal chhaiyyan chhaiyyan

Let paradise spread beneath your feet

 

Chal chhaiyyan chhaiyyan chhaiyyan chhaiyyan

Let us walk in the shade of love

 

Voh yaar hai jo khushboo ki tarah, jis ki zubaan Urdu ki tarah

The beloved friend is like a sweet aroma

whose words as elegant as Urdu

 

Meri shaam raat meri kaayenaat

My evening, my night, my universe...

 

Voh yaar mera sainyyan sainyyan

...that friend of mine is my beloved

 

Chal chhaiyyan chhaiyyan chhaiyyan chhaiyyan

Let us walk in the shade of love

 

 
IMAGE: Shah Rukh Khan and Manisha Koirala in Dil Se..

NMK: I was struggling with the 'gulposh' line -- it was the most difficult line in the song.

But you explained it by telling me that 'posh' means attire or dressed in flowers, referring to God. I hope this works?

Gulposh kabhi itraaye kahin

meheke toh nazar aa jaaye kahin

The One draped in flowers will come into sight

as the fragrance spreads

 

Taaveez bana ke pehenoon usse

aayat ki tarah mil jaaye kahin

I shall wear an amulet, if the beloved

is found in holy verse

 

Voh yaar hai jo imaan ki tarah

My beloved is like faith itself

 

Mera naghma vohi, mera kalma vohi

My song, my prayer

 

Yaar misaal-e-uos chaley, paaon ke taley firdaus chaley

The beloved falls like dew,

paradise beneath the feet

 

Kabhi daal daal kabhi paat paat

Sometimes on the branches,

sometimes on the leaves

 

Main hawa pe dhoondoon uske nishaan

I search for traces of my beloved in the breeze

 

Sar-e-ishq ki chhaaon chal chhaiyyan chhaiyyan

Let us walk in the shade of love

 

Paaon jannat chale chal chhaiyyan chhaiyyan

Let paradise spread beneath your feet

 

Chal chhaiyyan chhaiyyan chhaiyyan chhaiyyan

Let us walk in the shade of love...

 

Main uske roop ka shehdaai

I am an admirer of the beloved's lovely form

 

Voh dhoop chhaaon sa harjaai

Voh shokh hai rang badalta hai

Fickle as the sun and shade.

Changing colour on a whim

 

Main rang-roop ka saudaai

I am enchanted by colour and form

 

Jinke sar ho ishq ki chhaaon

Those who walk in the shade of love...

 

Paaon ke neeche jannat hogi

...must have paradise beneath their feet

 

Meri shaam raat meri kaayenaat

My evening, my night, my universe...

 

Chal chhaiyyan chhaiyyan chaiyyan chaiyyan...

 

 
Photograph: Sahil Salvi

NMK: I was talking to Zakir Hussain about the line 'Gulposh kabhi itraaye kahin meheke toh nazar aa jaaye kahin', and he asked whether you were thinking of a dargah of a Sufi saint -- because a shrine is often covered with flowers.

G: The lines can suggest a dargah.

But the idea here is that God is hidden among the flowers -- gulposh literally means 'He has worn flowers'.

You can use abstract imagery when speaking of spirituality.

NMK: So draped in flowers is all right?

G: Yes, and so when the fragrance spreads then I know where God is hidden.

NMK: If I understand correctly, many of your songs talk of the 'experience of feeling,' rather than being a description of events.

G: (pauses) Absolutely right.

I am not trying to give a simile or paint an image -- I want to create an experience of feeling. And what is that feeling?

I might be fumbling to catch an image -- that fumbling itself becomes the expression.

 
 

Excerpted from Jiya Jale: The Stories of Songs by Gulzar, In conversation with Nasreen Munni Kabir, with the kind permission of the publishers, Speaking Tiger Publishing Pvt Ltd.

 

 

Nasreen Munni Kabir
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