Can art heal?
Baiju Bawra was the unlikely hero of the eponymous 1952 Hindi film, a legendary character loosely based on the life of a 16th century Gwalior court musician. Played by Bharat Bhushan, Baiju performs miracles through the movie, in the limpid voice of Mohammad Rafi, singing the lyrics of Shakeel Badayuni in tunes composed by Naushad. He is joined by such eminent Hindustani vocalists as D.V. Paluskar and Amir Khan in variously bringing tears to the eyes of a stone idol with raga Darbari, starting a fire with Deepak and dousing it with Megh, and making a bed-ridden guru walk with a poignant Malkauns. The ringing tones of Rafi and Lata Mangeshkar can be heard across rivers and mountains, though they can unite lovers only in death. It was a love story all right, but it was more about the power of art, of such sublime music that the viewer was more than willing to suspend disbelief.
Music in Indian films often breaks or melts hearts, reunites families torn asunder in childhood, heals the sick, settles arguments about the superiority of one or other school of music or artist. In one astonishing sequence in a popular film in the 1960s, a personal attendant sings in a hospital ward for the patient, accompanying herself on the veena. The screenplay did not suggest that the music had a hand in the recovery of the patient believed to be terminally ill, giving the credit entirely to the doctor working day and night to save him and dying in the process, but such a turn would have lent it a nice touch. This writer for one thought the scene was absurd, but had to eat humble pie as he twice became witness to similar scenes in real life.
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