I can bet my vast knowledge of world cinema to assert that this must be the only instance of a woman approximating the movements of a goldfish out of water to describe her own torments.
The English subtitles capture the anguish of the woman (played by Sandhya) with unintended hilarity: “The thirst in my heart couldn’t be satiated, I am tormented like a fish without water.”
Literal translation of Hindi cinema lyrics has for long been a source of great entertainment for me. They are so overwrought that you want to speak in those terms. Sample this: “My anklets sigh with me, My anklets cry with me.” Get it? Sigh and cry and how they rhyme?
Metaphors are not only violently mixed but they are deep fried together. It is a pity because in Hindi, the song written by the ever brilliant Majrooh Sultanpuri, has his usual cadence. ‘Man ki pyaas mere man se na nikli, Aise tadpun ke haise jal bin machhli,’ Majrooh writes effortlessly weaving in the movie’s title.
The 1971 film directed by V. Shantaram, whose works I find eminently unwatchable, had the distinction of using stereophonic sound in its music. I remember visiting a relatively rich relative’s** house one evening and being treated to the magical effects of stereophonic recording. Although I was only ten years old, the relative’s son twice my age made it a point to tell me about the finer points of the new technology.
He would point at one speaker where the strings and the piano would play and then the other where the drums would play. “Can you see how they are jumping?” he would ask me. And then he would tell me to focus between the two speakers and say, “Now can you actually see the sound traveling between the two?” I could and remember feeling inordinately thrilled.
All the songs of ‘Jal Bin'..’, composed by Laxmikant Pyarelal were big hits and you can tell why even now.
The immediate provocation for today’s post has nothing to do with the song or the lyrics or the music but the goldfish literally out of water. All the flopping about and convulsing that the filmmaker uses as a juxtaposition to Sandhya’s own state of mind makes me wonder if the goldfish was harmed in the making of the song. It is obvious that the fish’s tossing and turning, at one point in slow motion to accentuate its agony, was shot separately and then was patched into the main song. So it is conceivable that the goldfish was slipped right back into a bowl or the fountain-pond to avert death.
Experts say that a goldfish out of water can survive for a considerable length of time as long its gills are moist because they can extract oxygen from the moisture. There are many recorded cases where it has survived several hours. So perhaps my concern about this particular goldfish is overstated. In any case, it has been over four decades since the movie and one can be reasonably sure that the goldfish is long dead.
On a separate note the way Sandhya is dancing in the song it seems as if some of the frames were lost in editing. It is a case of jump cuts before the editing technique was invented. Her dancing reminds me so much of this famous scene from the iconic sitcom ‘Seinfeld’ involving Elaine Benes (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) whose dancing was often a subject of both humor and embarrassment for her friends and colleagues.
Where else but here can you jump from Sandhya to Julia Louis-Dreyfus via a goldfish?
** “Relatively rich relative” is deliberate.