Vantage point

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Kaminey from Kaminey - One of Gulzar's best?

The melodious song Kaminey from the movie Kaminey is one of those typical Vishal Bhardwaj slow songs that when you first hear it, seems just "nice". But when I listen to it repeatedly, Gulzar's lyrics start to seep in, and before I know it, I'm obsessed with that song, not the pacy number that is topping charts. Happened with Naina in Omkara, Rone Do in Maqbool and now Kaminey.

The lyrics are really astoundingly brilliant and deep even as stand-alone lyrics. As usual, Gulzar unleashes metaphors and allegories that resonate with you, even as you wonder how no one else thought of them. But take them in the context of the movie's plot and you marvel at how perfect the song is for the movie. The song could only fit this well with this movie. And this movie could only have the song as its primary "theme".

For my non-Indian readers, the word Kaminey is used as a mild non-profane insult, and it means rascal/scoundrel/cheat/crook. It can be used as a noun as well as an adjective. The movie is about a pair of twin brothers, one of them small-time crook and the other a holier-than-thou do-gooder, who don't get along at all. They both get in trouble in separate ways and their paths intersect in a complex, twisted and hilarious plot that draws you in as you go along. The movie is infested by all sorts of "kaminey" characters.

And what makes the song work so well is, it is not a smart-ass snappy song about being a crook in the "Damn it feels good to be a Gangsta" vein, but introspective, thoughtful and very honest.

Anyway, on to the lyrics, with my (Admittedly crude and inferior) translation and my (admittedly fanboyish and geeky) annotations.

Kya kare, zindagi, isko hum jo miley (What could I do about Life...for when I met life..)
Iski jaan khaa gaye, raat din ke gile (I ended up sapping the spirit out of it with my daily complaints)
Raat din giley (Night after night, day after day, my complaints)

The song is in first person. Gulzar starts with an allegorical treatment of Life, with the singer treating his own life it as some solid entity different from himself. He starts off on a wistful note, admitting that his complaints and whines have taken a lot out of life. In the film too, the twins are cynical whiners.

Meri arzoo kamini (My desire is crooked)
Mere khwaab bhi kaminey (My dreams are also crooked)
Ek dil se dosti thi (The only friend I thought I had was my heart)
Yeh huzoor bhi kaminey (Turns out even that esteemed being is also crooked)

He knows that everything he wants and dreams of is tainted with dishonesty. In the movie, Charlie keeps talking about how there are only two ways to get rich - a shortcut or a shorter shortcut. So unlike others, even his ambition is crooked. I really love the part about the heart, something always thought of as being "pure" in its essence. He discovers, as life rolls along, that even his heart is crooked. Notice how he treats all these abstract entities as some sort of foreign objects, blaming them, not himself. Suggesting that he is helpless, and has no choice but to be a crook.

Kabhi zindagi se maanga (Sometimes I asked Life)
Pinjare mein chaand laa do (To get me the moon in a cage)
Kabhi laalten deke (Sometimes I gave Life a lantern)
Kahaa aasmaan pe taango (And said, hang this on the sky)

Beautiful metaphors, which lose a lot of their elegance in translation, for the fact that he's always had impossible expectations from life.

Jeene ke sab kareene, hamesha se kaminey (Every meticulous effort to live, has always been crooked)
Meri daastaan kameeni (My story is crooked)
Mere raastey kameeney (All the roads I take are crooked)
Ek dil se dosti thi (The only friend I thought I had was my heart)
Yeh huzoor bhi kaminey (Turns out even that esteemed being is also crooked)

Every Gulzar song typically has a bunch of unknown urdu words that I always look up. His infinite knowledge of those words enables him to rhyme effortlessly without losing any meaningfulness, but in fact, often adding to it. This song had only one such new word for me - kareene. From what I gather based on the urdu poems that Google threw up, "kareene se" is used in the sense of "carefully" or "meticulously". So the best translation I can come up with in this context, is "meticulous effort". Apart from that, these lines further drive home the point about how everything in his life has been crooked.

Jiska bhi chehra chheela (But whenever I peeled off anyone's face))
Andar se aur nikla (Underneath it, there was more/something else (pun))
Masoom sa kabutar (What I thought was an innocent pigeon)
Naacha to mor nikla (When it danced, showed itself to be a peacock)
Kabhi hum kaminey nikley (Sometimes I was the crook)
Kabhi doosrey kaminey (And sometimes, the others were crooks)

Ah, finally we come to my favorite bit that I think, in tune with the movie's central theme, makes the song so special. After telling us in fair bit of detail about how everything about him is crooked, he now moves on to others. How others are crooks too. And not just other thieves and crooks that the movie is full of, but even seemingly nice, decent and principled people, are at core "kaminey".

I first thought it was "chheena" (snatch), which implied "Whenever I snatched someone's face".... which can make sense because it is the story of twins. But on listening to it more, it seems like "chheela" (peel off), which fits better. I loved the non-funny wordplay in "andar se aur nikla" which can mean both "turned out there was more under there" as well as "turns out it was something other than what I expected", both of which are true. And the pigeon-peacock metaphor is also Gulzar-esquely superb. Normally you'd expect a pretty peacock to be associated with something good or desirable, and if you were to use the two birds in a metaphor, you'd convey disappointment using the pigeon.

But if you think about it, what is a peacock known for? Colors. Colors that are on full display only when it dances. So this metaphor is also conveying something like the idiom "I saw their true colors".

And that's a common theme towards the end of the movie. We know who the crooks are and who the innocent people are. But the innocent people start showing their true colors, turning out to be kaminey themselves. All of them using ends to justify means, without explicitly saying so. The do-gooder Guddu (has a nice ring to Guddu :P), the epitome of virtue, has no problems stealing drugs from his own brother to marry the girl he loves. The sweet Sweety pulls the trigger to kill her brother (although there are no bullets left, something she does not know). The only supposedly-honest cop in the movie, on a mission to bust the bad guys, wavers when he gets offered half the booty himself. And of course the bigoted-but-principled son-of-soil politician turns out not to be principled even about his bigotry.

The song is following the movie perfectly. The movie is mostly narrated by Charlie, and this song is clearly is from his perspective too. Never have I seen a song that captures the core idea of the film, as well as its broad storyline, so perfectly.

Hence the perfect end to the song -


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