Kalpana Lajmi’s Rudaali (1993) based on Mahashweta Devi’s namesake story and Gulzar’s script is a film on the culture of Rudaali where Dalit women are hired to mourn the deaths of upper-caste men. The entire story is about the art of mourning. Just like any other art form, this form is about expression – except expression is something where Shanichari, the protagonist, faces a block.
Throughout the film, Bhupen Hazarika’s composition and Gulzar’s lyrics of ‘Dil Hoom Hoom Kare’ keeps on playing — on different occasions. The use of “hoom hoom”, the Assamese phrase signifying heartbeat, and not the commonplace “dhak dhak”, explains something very important. “Dhak dhak” phonetically is outward and has romantic connotations, while “hoom hoom” is internal, interior, and more silent — thus, talking about tears which aren’t expressed explicitly.
The “ek boond paani ki (one teardrop)” is also shedded with great difficulty despite every possible adversity in life: her being assumed cursed by society, her mother eloping, father passing away, husband dying in a village epidemic, grandchild aborted, a runaway son: nothing brings about any expression.
Bhupen Hazarika’s version witnesses Dimple Kapadia silently removing her bangles after the death of her husband without any tears. Bhikni, who is later revealed to be her mother, shows her how to insert her tips in her eyes and apply kohl to try and cry – almost with a gesture of gouging out one’s eyes.
The song in the background is even more significant because it talks about the struggles to cry: the sensations and emotions are deep: ‘O more chandrama, teri chandni ang jalaye (you’re my moon, yet your rays char my body)’, ‘tera chhua laage, meri sukhi daar hariyaaye (your touch sprouts new life within my dried branches)’ — the sensations are explicit, both positively and negatively — yet with pauses.
The pauses go in even deeper with the composition: the traditional teen taal is used almost like the beat of your heart, it keeps on going without pauses, metronomically, but every time the word ‘ghabraaye’ (fearing) is uttered, the teen taal ends, it drops, and a very heavy pause is felt. This pause is the fear of expressing despite the sensations, the ek boond paani stops by the corner of the eyes, it never attains its ending, which makes the song uncannily heavy and difficult to subsume.
Furthermore, the lyrics experience an external echo of the hoom hoom: the dham dham of the clouds (ghan): yet the ‘m’ endings just force you to shut your emotions there, exactly the way the lips shut while enunciating ‘m’ —the exact opposite of crying, expressing.
The song then witnesses the entire journey of Shanichari to ultimately express as a Dalit woman for her mother — a pain shared literally, by profession. The sharing of pain then culminates the tears.
In an interview, Kalpana Lajmi explains: “When Shanichari breaks down, I silenced both her voice and the music, and had only the wind playing in the background. Her silent scream was the culmination of a poetic fight that ends in tragic mourning.”
Except, here, the mourning is her art, her inherited art, the only share of emotion she has from her mother, thus bordering deep on unexpressed melancholy, expressed genetically as catharsis.
In a perpetual identity flux, Jayosmita speaks existentialism, multiculturalism and cartoon songs.
Featured image credit: YouTube screengrab