Baiju Bawra according to legend lived during the Mughal reign and sought revenge from Tansen, whom he held responsible for the death of his father. The film was a biopic of Baiju Bawra and his legendary vocal duel with the great Tansen .Vijay Bhatt’s classic, at the time of its making, was dismissed as a patsy while being shot primarily at Prakash Pictures, Andheri East. It was the year of Mehboob Khan’s Aan which was the talk of town that year. None of the crew of Baiju Bawra ever felt during its making that they were working on a film that would become a musical milestone.
During the making of Baiju Bawra, friends and even his elder brother derided Vijay Bhatt’s vision and passionto make a film totally based on a classical music! The film went on to become not only the second biggest grosser of the year and was the 8th biggest hit of the 50s, but was classified a blockbuster hit whereas Aan was termed a super hit, the naysayers had to eat a crow.
Baiju Bawra is one of the prime examples of Bollywood style of storytelling, the elements of which exist in the cinema of today. It has a singing hero, a demure heroine, a comic sub-plot, a rivetting jugalbandi between Tansen and Baiju that nothing but a blood feud, and then when you don’t expect it, a tragic end. Before Ranbir Kapoor became a symbol of the archetypical artiste slaving to his craft at Hazrat Nizamuddin’s Dargah in Rockstar (2011), or becoming a singer songwriter after having his heart broken Ae dil hai mushkil (2016). It was Bharat Bhushan who, as it happened, set the precedent 60 years ago. The film may have a revenge plot, but the film’s real message that strikes a universal chord even after nearly seven decades is that an artiste must first overcome his ego if he is to achieve knowledge or mastery over his craft.
Vijay Bhatt’s film had, Bharat Bhushan and Meena Kumari in lead roles. Dilip Kumar and Nargis were the first choice as the lead pair, but date problems and fee wrangles made Bhatt settle for Bharat Bhushan and Meena Kumari. Bharat Bhushan according to director had the visage of a tragic musician, an image trap that later would become his undoing! Meena Kumari, on the other hand, was introduced by Bhatt in Leatherface (1939) as a child artiste. It was Bhatt who had rechristened six-years-old Mahjabeen Bano as Baby Meena. Dilip Kumar has always expressed regret over the decades for not taking up Baiju Bawra.
Meena Kumari won the first-ever Filmfare Best Actress Award in 1954, the first of four Best Actress trophies she won in her career. Naushad, also received the inaugural and incidentally his first and only Filmfare trophy as Best Music Director Award for the song, Tu ganga ki mauj, based on the raga Bhairavi! Mohd. Rafi, Lata Mangeshkar, Shamshad Begum, and renowned classical vocalists Ustad Amir Khan and D. V. Paluskar lent their voices to the score. It was perhaps the foremost array of playback singers that the Bollywood had witnessed!
The Baiju Bawra- Tansen musical duel in the court of Mughal Emperor Akbar was to filmed as in form of the jugalbandi, Aaj gaavat man mero jhoom ke, was rendered by Ustad Amir Khan and Pt. D.V. Paluskar in one of the most historical moments of Hindi cinema. Ustad Amir Khan (also music consultant of the film), had been persuaded to lend his voice for Tansen by Naushad and Vijay Bhatt.However the quandary that who would portray Baiju the victor was excruciating? But great Ustad Amir Khan solved dilemma of Bhatt and Naushad by recommending Pt. D.V. Paluskar as choice for Baiju, the only artiste he held not only in highest esteem, but also didn’t mind being defeated on celluloid!
Bharat Bhushan was earmarked for the role of Baiju because he had the face of a tragic musician, an image that refused to leave him all his life, driving him to reprise the same kind of role over and over again. He had when he was offered the role of Baiju after. Meena Kumari, on the other hand, was a Vijay Bhatt discovery, having being launched by him in Leatherface in 1939 as a child artiste.
Since Bhatt was musically inclined and interested in literature, he had been thinking of making a film that could combine his two passions. He had read about Tansen, but it was the legend of Baiju Bawra that he felt compelled to film his own version. The doomed end to his film possibly came from the legend of Laila-Majnu.
Naushad worked with Bhatt and his elder brother Shankar on the screenplay for nearly six months, signifying the kind of close involvement by which the film’s music was created. Naushad was discouraged by Shankarbhai Bhatt that the film full of classical music and ragas wil not go down the ordinary folk’s craw! An adamant Naushad wanted to change public taste and remained steadfast to his dictum that instead of commercial and crass music the public be presented with music from our culture for a change and it worked.
The lilting bhajan man tarpat hai hari darshan ko aaj, the therapeutic power of which brings Baiju’s mentor Swami Haridas back on his feet, is a striking example of India’s secular ethos; it’s a bhajanwritten, composed and sung by three Muslim artists who were master spirits of the time— lyricist Shakeel Badayuni, his brother-in-law Naushad, and Naushad’s ardent disciple Mohammed Rafi! The bhajan was reportedly confessed by the singer to be one of the toughest songs of his career as his mentor the perfectionist pushed him to nearly sound like the legendary singer.
Vijay Bhatt wanted Kavi Pradeep as lyricist for Baiju Bawra as devotional songs like O duniya ke rakhwale were need of the musical. But Naushad and Shakeel Badayuni were an unbroken alliance since Andaz (1949) and Naushad insisted that Bhatt hear Badayuni’s lyrics first. It is said that an extremely keen Kavi Pradeep went to meet Naushad. However Naushad kept him waiting endlessly. An outraged Kavi Pradeep left, swearing not to work with Naushad in future!
Bhatt was overjoyed after hearing Badayuni’s compositions-Bachpan ki mohabbat ko, Jhoole mein pawan ki, Man tadpat Hari darshan ko aaj, Tu ganga ki mauj and Mohe bhool gaye saawariya, and Baiju Bawra became musical milestone in careers of both Naushad and Badayuniand also forged an alliance that lasted another 17 years!
Every scene of Baiju Bawra was sketched by art director and artist Kanu Desai. And as most of its unit members and technicians, including the editor, sound recordist and production manager, were from Bhatt’s extended family. The shooting went on without any glitches, and the film was completed in a year’s time.
Vijay Bhatt would always be on the verge of a nervous breakdown prior to his film being released, he would retreat to a hill station. In case of Baiju Bawra also his brother Shankar despatched telegrams to him to apprise him of his film’s box office status urging him to return, as the picture had been a huge hit.
Bhatt wanted Baiju Bawra be as visually stunning as De Mille epics like Cleopatra (1948), Samson and Delilah and The Ten Commandments. The river scenes were homage to DeMille as Bhatt was smitten by the way DeMille used special effects in the ‘parting of the Red Sea’ scene from The Ten Commandments. On a US tour in 1947, Bhatt met DeMille and sought his autograph. The Hollywood mogul signed with an emotional message: ‘Greetings from one director who is still trying to make good pictures, to another director, who will make great ones long after I am gone.’