This piece was originally written at Atul’s request for his immensely popular blog (over 5900 songs and thirty lakh hits at the last count) http://www.atulsongaday.me. I have not met Atul ever but somehow I have ended up writing a few pieces for his blog. These I have subsequently posted on my blog too with Atul’s permission.
In his blog Atul covers Hindi film songs- nearly all pre-1980. Each article has a short write up about a song a video link, and sometimes if a video is not available in case of some very obscure movie, then an audio link as well. It is a goldmine of information for a Hindi film music lover. In case you are one, visit Atul’s blog now before proceeding with reading the piece below!
“Khaike Paan Banaras Waala”:
If you are an Indian, and you have not been to Varanasi (or Banaras, or Kashi) you have not seen an important part of your heritage. If you are a foreigner interested in India and not been to Varanasi, you have not seen one of the key centers of the Indian essence. And if you have been to Varanasi, and not had a paan there, your visit to Varanasi was incomplete, please return to the city. I think I have gone off-track, this blog is about film songs. Sorry!
So let us begin from the very beginning.
Once upon a time, many, many years ago there was a super smuggler by the name Don. He was handsome, powerful, rich, and had many henchmen (in fact a whole “galaxy” of them: Kamal Kapoor, Mac Mohan, Zubisco, Shetty etc etc. He had utter disdain for human life. He could shoot someone whose shoes he did not like (“Paon dekho iske, mujhey iskey jootey achhey nahin lagey“). (it is another matter that his third eye could see through the right heel of the killed man’s shoe. The deceased had tucked into it some major incriminating details about Don and his gang.) And after the kill Don nonchalantly requests his moll to get him a drink!
This, in turn, causes two pretty women to itch for his death. The first one, Helen, the fiance of the deceased, does remarkably well and ingratiates herself to Don in a matter of a few hours and enters his bedroom. Of course she wants to get the police to sweep in as she is seducing him with a great cabaret number (“yeh mera dil pyaar ka diwaana”). Unfortunately she becomes Don’s human shield in the police raid and loses her life. The other woman, the luscious Zeenat Aman, the deceased’s sister gets trained in martial arts and stage-manages her way into Don’s gang.
Don had one big enemy. The incorruptible, efficient, diligent police boss, Iftekhaar. (I would love to know the per cent of movies where this gentleman has not played a police officer.) And surprise, surprise, the upright cop wins, pretty much in the initial part of the movie when Don gets killed after a gory shoot-out. The catch is that only the dear cop knows Don is dead, no one else does. And that is great as the top cop wants to reach the rest of the gang. He spreads the news that the Don escaped from the police and is at large.
Lo and behold, he remembers meeting Vijay, who looks identical to Don. Who else can be Vijay in a Salim Javed movie but the great Amitabh Bachchan! The look-alike is traced out and the cop boss strikes a deal with him to act as Don in return for something dear to him (the look-alike). The return gift is that while Vijay is in Don’s den working like the Don and getting the gang exposed, the cop would take care of his two “adopted” kids (the adoption is another story, but very intrinsic to the plot of the movie).
Vijay is a rustic (presumably from a village near Varanasi, or maybe Varanasi City itself, it does not matter!) who earns a living in Bambai (Bombay or Mumbai) by dancing and singing on the streets (“Ee hai bambai nagariya, tu dekh babua“). One of his big loves is paan, he chews it almost constantly. Spitting the paan juice to his side, wiping his lips with his fingers and which in turn are wiped on his kurta. His concerns in life are very simple. Like fretting about his accompanying percussionist Shambhu who plays a beat not to Vijay’s liking. (“Ee Sambhu dholakia bada paaji hai, kaharwa chhod kuchh bajata hi nahin“, while Vijay’s request is to get into the teen-taal beat). On his meager earnings for the day he laments that it is low and would have difficulty making the two ends meet (“Ismey koi kya nahaaye, kya nichodey“). Another small regret he has is that during the training to be Don he is advised to refrain from chewing paan as Don never partook of this essential.
Anyway, Vijay is trained adequately and he reaches the Don’s den posing as an amnesiac. Amnesia to cover for his lack of knowledge about his gang members and his exploits and his habits. Very convenient, no?
Back to Varanasi and its paan. Yours truly was funded by his parents to live in Varanasi for five years academic pursuits. (this incidentally was just a couple of years after Don was released in 1978). I enjoyed my pursuits, which much to the chagrin of my parents, were nearly all non-academic. I hugely enjoyed my stay in the famed city. I would not go into the details of that but just one confession. I was hardly a paan afficionado, but I took to it in Varanasi with gusto. The market place just outside the campus had two famed paan shops. They were known by the paanwallah‘s names. Keshav and Mahender. Their’s was a non-fussy paan. No fancy spices or sweetening agents like gulkand. Just some kattha, choona, supaari (geeli or saadi) and a laung if you wanted one). The magic lay in the precise formulation of the kattha and the choona. The quality of supaari and paan leaf being used. This was loving rolled into a triangle and passed to you. With some extra kattha/choona/supaari if you requested. A paan was not just a delight to the sensory buds, but merely being in the immediate vicinity to a paan shop was an experience by itself.
To start with you could catch up on the local politics.
“Ee Bechu ke chunav mein iss saal inka saara panelwa haar jayega”. “Bechu” being the local speak for the university I was studying in, BHU aka Banaras Hindu University. Panelwa= Panel. Student politics was a hot item in the campus (and outside it) when I was studying there.
The other person would react: “Arey aap janbey nahin kartey, oo panelwa ko poora bhot mil raha hai Brahman chhatron ka aur poori IT ka.” My partial translation: Bhot= VOTE, IT is the abbreviated form of Institute of Technology of the BHU.
This exchange would continue while Keshav ji would keep preparing dozens and dozens of paan servings, all the while shaking his head and his body seated on his perch in the tiny paan shop.
Not that only BHU politics was discussed, even the city, national and international topics was brought into focus. But that is a long story, a subject matter of another post.
Such was the passion a paan induced. One last thing about the BHU paan. The paanwallah next to our hostel used to offer a “palang-tod paan” if he got the right price. I wonder now as to what a male-only hostel inmate would do after consuming the said offering. Palang= Bed or cot and Tod= break. So this palang-tod paan induces bed-breaking energy in the consumer! I leave it to you to guess what this could mean!
I digressed again. So back to the story. I will keep it simple and short. Vijay, posing as Don, “learns” all he needs to “get out of amnesia”. “Mujhey sab kuchh yaad aa gaya hai“. He resumes life the way the real Don would have. His henchmen are impressed.
Just one catch, the whole world thinks of him as Don, only the good cop knows he is not Don. This one is a no-brainer to predict, the good cop dies and we have the whole world baying for Vijay’s blood. The (remaining) cops, the bad guys etc etc. But for Zeenie baby. She has been taken into confidence by the good cop before his death.
This post is not meant to be a narration of the story of Don. Suffice it to say that Don and Zeenie are running away late one evening from both the cops and the baddies and they find find refuge in a dhobi ghat which is populated by Vijay’s ilk, men from Varanasi. They are preparing for an evening session of bhang when they are stumped by the appearance of a western outfit clad Don (=Vijay) and the lissome white-skirted lady (Zeenie).
As you can guess, Vijay is offered glassfuls (and then lotafuls) of bhang which he consumes much to his girlfriend’s consternation. She beseeches him to leave, which he does as she tugs him off till the local paan wallahoffers him a Banarsi paan. That does something to Vijay. He has not had a paan for ages and he must have one. Now. And one more. And then some more. GF gives up when Vijay exclaims: “pehle paan phir gaan“.
And that is when he breaks out into that all-time hit song which you must see right now in this wonderful blog of Atul’s…….
PS: That paan shop sequence also has a poster of Rajesh Khanna’s hit film “Dushmun” (released 1971 but then spelt as Dushman- I know as I have seen the movie). Was that the time when Don was active?