indian cinema heritage foundation

The Coat of a Warm Memory: The Music of Garm Coat (1955)

06 Mar, 2020 | Short Features by Gajra Kottary
Pandit Amarnath with Lata Mangeshkar. Image courtesy: Gajra Kottary

Lata Mangeshkar was so moved by the compositions of Pandit Amarnath, the doyen of the Indore Gharana who pioneered the khayal, that she refused to be paid for her rendition of the songs. Pandit Amarnath’s daughter looks back at the film and its music…

To a girl child growing up in the 1970s in Delhi, in a home where classical music was revered and film music generally looked down upon, it had been a huge revelation for me. That my classical musician father had composed songs for a Hindi film was well-nigh impossible for me to believe!

As I turned the pages of the album, retrieved on a bored and hot summer afternoon from a cupboard, I yelped in excitement seeing a picture of Balraj Sahni and Nirupa Roy posing with my parents at our home
As I turned the pages of the album, retrieved on a bored and hot summer afternoon from a cupboard, I yelped in excitement seeing a picture of Balraj Sahni and Nirupa Roy posing with my parents at our home. I set off on a breathless spree of questions to satiate my curiosity about it all. My father’s reluctance to tell me more was lost on my ten-year-old self, even though I had noticed the shine in his eyes when he spoke about the music of Garm Coat. And then, as with several other areas of life, my older brother and sister filled in all the blanks soon enough. 

My sister had proudly declared that like the many other good things that had happened in our family, this too had to have happened in 1955, the year of her birth! She then proceeded to tell me about all my father’s adventures and misadventures in the few months that he had spent in the city of dreams that year. I began to try and piece together the fragments. 

It was however difficult to visualize this experience of his in the absence of any recordings, or any information about it forthcoming from him. He had long since moved on, or rather moved back to his cocoon of classical music saadhna and teaching in Delhi. So, he hinted about not making much ado about nothing each time I had wanted to know more. 

Until the day when he finally allowed nostalgia to sweep over him, and excitedly told us all that Doordarshan was going to telecast the film the following Sunday. I was excited that I was finally going to see the film and hear the songs. I readied the small tape recorder that we had recently acquired, to start-stop on cue and record the songs as the film would play. 
My favourite was Bibi Maindki ree tu toh paani mein ki rani, one of those rare, truly family songs where an entire family is seen goofily playacting with each other, no inhibitions whatsoever, to have fun
The khatti-meethi family film warmed my heart. After the telecast, everyone in the family proceeded to pick their favourite from the songs, veering mostly towards the classy Meera bhajan Jogia se preet kiye dukh hoye. But my favourite was Bibi Maindki ree tu toh paani mein ki rani, one of those rare, truly family songs where an entire family is seen goofily playacting with each other, no inhibitions whatsoever, to have fun. I have never been able to separate those endearing family visuals from the sheer sweetness of the song itself. 

For many years after that, the scratchy recording played itself out. It was my only way of knowing and reiterating that my father was not just an icon in the world of classical music – of which I was rather impatient – but had also been a well-regarded music director for a unique film.

 
A preview of Garm Coat. Image Courtesy: Film India.
 
The film unveils a hundred little moments of silent devotion and solidarity of the wife and children, all under stress, and weaves the magic of family life of the India of those days.
Garm Coat, incidentally, is the story about how a middle-class family survives a month without the father’s salary, which consists of a hundred-rupee note. The note had slipped into the lining of his coat after he pocketed it, and remained there for a good part of the month until discovered. The film unveils a hundred little moments of silent devotion and solidarity of the wife and children, all under stress, and weaves the magic of family life of the India of those days.

It relocates Nikolai Gogol’s short story ('The Overcoat’1842) to a post-Partition north India coping with economic crisis and financial woes, human goodness struggling in the face of growing cynicism towards state institutions. It was directed by Amar Kumar and written by noted writer Rajinder Singh Bedi, and was one of the many films of the era that depicted north India in economic doldrums in the wake of the Partition. The music of Garm Coat showcased the general mood of struggle and despair woven so deeply into the social fabric of the time. 
Pandit Amarnath, who belonged to the Indore Gharana of music, had pioneered the Khayal and composed over 200 bandishes, but Garm Coat remains unique as the only feature film he composed music for.
Pandit Amarnath, who belonged to the Indore Gharana of music, had pioneered the Khayal and composed over 200 bandishes, but Garm Coat remains unique as the only feature film he composed music for. Pandit-ji was well-known for saying that he was ‘a poet before a musician’, and wrote verse, songs really, from adolescence. His first song was in the Raga Behag, ‘Jeevan ke suhane din’, and his friends loved it so much that one of them, Amar Kumar, promised him, ‘If ever I make a film, you will be its music director.’ Garm Coat was the first film he made in Bombay. Amar Kumar stayed true to his word.
His first song was in the Raga Behag, ‘Jeevan ke suhane din’, and his friends loved it so much that one of them, Amar Kumar, promised him, ‘If ever I make a film, you will be its music director.’
The story of how this came about is quite fascinating. Pandit-ji used to stay with his best friend and contemporary Jaidev in a house in Rohtak Road, Delhi. Jaidev’s best-known song, ‘Allah tero naam, Ishwar tero naam’, sung by Lata Mangeshkar in Hum Dono, was actually composed in Rohtak Road, again long before it was recorded in Bombay. Pandit-ji even went with Jaidev for the recording. As they both knew Lata-ji well, Pandit-ji suggested to her that in the final repeat of the refrain when she sang ‘Ishwar tero naam’, she could just extend a taan into the ati teep or extra-high register. Lata-ji implemented this suggestion of Pandit-ji’s with great affection, and it sounded so brilliant, like a flash embellishment, that she told him she looked forward to singing for him too one day.
 
Pandit Amarnath with Lata Mangeshkar. Image Courtesy: Gajra Kottary

Lata-ji liked the Meera bhajan so much that she featured it in the first album she brought out of her life’s ten best songs, an LP record by HMV. Of course, this made Pandit-ji very proud
As a film, Garm Coat was in the traditional classic mould and can easily be categorized under the cinema that carries literature to celluloid. Although Balraj Sahni was to pair opposite Geeta Bali initially, it was Nirupa Roy who eventually played the female lead. The scenes between the two were charged with deep emotion. Amar Kumar did make a beautiful film, the frames carried a unique sense of painting on celluloid, and the songs stood out, especially ‘Jogia se preet kiye dukh hoye’. Lata-ji liked the Meera bhajan so much that she featured it in the first album she brought out of her life’s ten best songs, an LP record by HMV. Of course, this made Pandit-ji very proud. 
 
Newspaper clippings. Image Courtesy: Gajra Kottary


There’s a famous story around the songs rendered by Lata-ji. She tore up the cheque she received for singing those songs, saying, ‘After many years of singing, these songs have moved me immensely. Yours is a cooperative venture, let this be my contribution towards the making of the film.’ The words made front-page news in Screen, the well-known film tabloid of those days. 

Pandit-ji, however, was not one to capitalize on an opportunity at the cost of missing his true calling: classical music. And so, Garm Coat remained his only warm memory from the world of films. 


 

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About the Author

Gajra Kottary is a Mumbai-based author of two short story collections and three novels. She is also an award-winning television scriptwriter who has written the story for several long running series like Astitva Ek Prem Kahani, Balika Vadhu and Buddha among several others. She is currently reinventing herself to write web series and films.