Bhawandar features 12 tracks. The music is credited to Pandit Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, but another credit says the "song compositions" are by Daan Singh. The words are credited to Hariram Acharya. The film, produced by Jagmohan Mundhra and Gaurang Doshi, has Nandita Das in the lead.
Many people have heard of Bhanwari Devi, on whose real life story the film is based. Nandita Das won the best actress Award at the Santa Monica Film Festival, USA, for her role as Bhanwari Devi. The album was released by Rekha.
Nandita plays a low caste woman who works for the Rajasthan government's women's development programme Saathin. She campaigns against child marriage, and upper caste men in her village gang-rape her. Undeterred by the hostility, she decides to speak out and seek justice, but is further humiliated by a corrupt, sexist system.
Journalist Sukhmani Singh recently tried to track down the real Bhanwari Devi, and was frustrated to find that many people stood in the way. She finally met her on her own, and wrote in The New Indian Express: "Feisty, outspoken, innately hospitable, she openly expressed her resentment against both the women's groups and the government, all of whom have been fiercely guarding her like thier pet mannequin all these many years." The journalist discovered a woman who was "weary, resigned and bitter" exploited and manipulated by many, including a small-time political worker and businessman who described Bhanwari Devi as a "rakhi sister" for whom he had brokered a story deal with Mundhra.
Coming to the tape, Rita Ganguly's "sad" version of Kesaria has some of the robust, open-throated style characteristic of Rajasthani folk songs. Side B opens with a brisker paced version played on the Mohan veena by Vishwamohan Bhatt. And then there's a third version by Rita Ganguly that ends the tape. Tumse achcha kaun hai is sung by K Vikas, and goes through many moods: Calypso and disco being the more prominent ones. The refrain, taken from a vintage Hindi hit, leads to some English words too: you are the best there'll ever be/look in my eyes and tell me what you see/ no one can love you more than me...
Jagya sarsi comes in two versions: one sung by Deepti Naval and the other by Nandita Das. Both are accompanied by a chorus singing and clapping. This is an unadorned piece, almost like a home recording, and true-sounding for that reason.
Har aayo opens with a shehnai, and is sung by Parmeshwari and chorus. This sounds like one of those devotional numbers that T-Series makes. The shehnai and the sarangi bring in some authentic tones, but otherwise this number has the kind of orchestra that commercial recordings reek of. Ab to jagya also has a similar orchestra, a vibraphone filling in, and a mandolin and tabla doing the rest of the embellishment. It is sung by Sonali Vajpayee and chorus, and has masala film-style hums and interludes. It talks about social issues like education, and expresses Bhanwari Devi's campaign as a saathin, spreading awareness among women.
Ab to jagna, which opens the tape, is sung by Mahalakshmi Iyer and chorus. It is the same tune that Sonali Vajpayee sings on the other side. The song is an appeal against child marriage.
Ghagario is sung by Swapna Awasthi, who shot to fame with Chaiya chaiya. She sings some higher pitched lines off-key. The depth in her voice is used in a playful sort of way in the next track, Aayo holi. It does manage to evoke the music of folk fairs with its loud style of tabla playing, and with the boisterous rendering of Swapna and Ram Shankar.
Despite the presence of a classical virtuouso like Vishwamohan Bhatt, the Bhawandar tape has little of the Kumar Gandharva genius of blending the classical and folk styles and showing their commonalities. Perhaps Vishwamohan Bhatt did not think the film's score merited complex textures; the songs appear in simple outlines.
on 28 December 2001
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