Shilalekh in Madhuri

A unique appreciation of Indian films

“I know less about films; so does my reader. So, I should tell them all that I would like to know about films,” reasoned my dad, Arvind Kumar, as he set out to launch Madhuri, a new film magazine in Hindi for the Times of India group way back in 1963.

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Films are much more than stories enacted by actors. Yet, anything published about films, in those times as is the case today, focuses on the gloss and the glitter and the glamour of films and their stars. And of course, the gossip around stars. The vision, the intellect, the expertise, the dedication, the collaboration that goes into making a film – the quintessential art form – goes unnoticed, unappreciated, unrewarded.

Madhuri brought all this to the fore. Right from its very first issue that came out on 26 January 1964. Madhuri sought to educate its readers about each and every aspect of film making, about the people involved in its making – onscreen and off it. It taught its readers how to watch a film; what to look out for, what to appreciate…

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I began reading Madhuri when i was about 10 years old. And my favorite part of  the magazine was Shilalekh, a unique feature that Arvind serialized for the magazine.

Shilalekh was a remarkable, never-before-tried format of film narration ~ an experiential description of the film, shot-by-shot, word-by-word, in graphic detail, with extensive commentary on the notable use of expressions, camera, music, songs, scene, setting, lighting, costumes as well as distinct style and techniques of direction. It made the reader understand the specific elements and techniques that contribute to the impact of a scene. Arvind ‘shilalekh’ed’ many great films ~ Mahal, Pyaasa, Aadmi, Baazi, Devdas, Dhool ka Phool and so many others.

Shilalekh made Madhuri one of the largest selling Hindi film magazines of its times, a record unmatched till date! Expectedly, the circulation fell when Arvind, by design, discontinued the feature in 1977; much before his planned departure from Madhuri in May 1978 ~ because he did not want the dip in circulation to reflect on his successor’s performance.

I hold Shilalekh especially close to my heart because I was witness to the entire process… I remember going with my dad Arvind to Pune to see these films at the Film Institute of India Archives; the yellow pads on which he would take copious notes; the Philips tape recorder he used to record the entire audio of the film; the bringing together of the recordings with his notes; the sessions at home where over a stretch of 2-3 days he would dictate the Shilalekh content to his typist; and my pride when at times, he would call me to check the finer details of a scene!

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To give an idea, here is an excerpt from the Shilalekh of P C Barua’s Devdas (1935) in which K L Saigal played the lead role.

THE OPENING SCENE

–फ़्रेम मेँ बंगाल की शस्‍य श्‍यामल धरती का एक टुकड़ा दिखाई देता है. पार्श्‍व संगीत की धुन बदल गई है. इसी फ़्रेम मेँ नीचे बीचोँबीच किसी युवती का सिर है. केश की लट पीठ पर लटक रही है. उस के दाहिने कंधे पर थाली मेँ फूल रखे हैँ. वह फ़्रेम मेँ पूरी तरह दिखने लगती है, लगता है मंदिर जा रही है. वह हम से दूर जा रही है. वातावरण मेँ सहगल की आवाज़ मेँ गीत गूँजने लगता है:

बालम आय बसो मोरे मन मेँ

बालम आय बसो मोरे मन मेँ

बालम आय बसो मोरे मन मेँ

आवाज़ सुनते ही युवती ठिठकती है. पलट कर इधर उधर देखती है. इस तरह हम भी पहली बार उस का मुँह देखते हैँ. यह अभिनेत्री जमना है. वातावरण मेँ वही पंक्ति बार बार गूँज रही है. यह न समझ पा कर कि आवाज़ किधर से आ रही है, वह फिर हमारी तरफ़ पीठ किए आगे चलने लगती है. फिर रुकती है, चलती है. आवाज़ शिकायत कर रही है:

सावन आया तुम ना आए

युवती फिर रुकती है. अचानक गाना बंद हो जाता है. युवती ने फूलोँ की थाली घास पर रख दी है और पलट कर देखती है.

–पेड़ की झुकी शाख से टिका, दूसरी तरफ़ मुँह किए, आधा छिपा एक युवक खड़ा गा रहा है:

बालमय बसो मोरे मन मेँ

बालम आय बसो मोरे मन मेँ

गायक को खोज पाने की सफलता से प्रसन्‍न हो कर, उस की शरारत को पहचान कर, स्‍वयं शरारत के इरादोँ से भरपूर, मन ही मन मुस्‍कराती युवती दबे पाँव उस की तरफ़ बढ़ती है. हम भी धीरे धीरे युवक के पास आते जा रहे हैँ.

युवती ने पेड़ से पतली टहनी तोड़ ली है. वह फिर युवक के नज़दीक आ गई है. उसे निहारती है. शरारत से मुस्‍कराती है. नौजवान गाए जा रहा है. युवती टहनी से नौजवान के कान को छेड़ना शुरू कर दिया है. एक पल नौजवान ऐसा अभिनय करता है जैसे उस पर कोई असर ही न पड़ा हो. वह गाता रहता है…

बालम आय बसो मोरे मन मेँ

The Day we became a TEAM!

The Day we became a TEAM!

I could hardly wait for my last exam of class VI to get over… I was so excited. Tomorrow, we – my mom, my dad and my brother Sumeet – would leave for Nasik for two whole months! What fun! Papa would be starting a book, a thesaurus, whatever, I didn’t understand much. We children would have a lovely time living in the Times of India’s bungalow there – cycling, playing badminton, eating, and sleeping in huge four poster beds!

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Early one morning in Nasik, the four of us made our way to the Godavari river. I slipped my hand into my mom’s as we waded in… For a long moment, the four of us stood there, looking out at the river stretching before us till it seemed to meet the rising sun in the distance…

Later, we bought a copper urn (lota) and had the date engraved on its rim – 19 April 1976. Returning to the bungalow, papa wrote the first card of the thesaurus (then titled Shabdeshwari) and all four of us signed on it, date and all.

As papa would remark many many years later, “On that day, we became a team!”

Though I would appreciate the true significance of that day only twenty years later on 13 December 1996 when my parents – Arvind and Kusum – presented the first copy of the first-ever thesaurus in Hindi or for that matter, ANY modern Indian language, now renamed Samantar Kosh, to the erstwhile President of India, Dr Shankar Dayal Sharma at the Rashtrapati Bhawan!

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Who would have thought that day on the banks of the Godavari that papa would dedicate his entire life to Hindi, overcoming hurdles, physical, financial and personal, in his unabashed pursuit of a dream?

That my mom would prove to be the ultimate partner in life and support my dad unconditionally through thick and thin.

That my brother Sumeet would be instrumental in realizing papa’s dream? That he would organize funds for a computer, and despite being a surgeon, learn programming himself to create software for the database, and then teach papa how to work on it.

That from a little girl who only understood that her father was working on a ‘book,’ I would take it upon myself to take his work to the people.

YES. We did become a team on that fateful day in Nasik. It is now 25 years since the release of Samantar Kosh in 1996. And the glow in my heart remains as warm as ever.