Readers Write In #111: “Pal pal har pal” from Lage raho Munnabhai is The definitive Hindi film song

Posted on November 13, 2019

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(by Ankit Sinha)

Cinema, plot and time, and why I think “Pal pal har pal” from Lage raho Munnabhai is The definitive Hindi film song

“Pal pal..” is not just a great example of how to place film songs well in a narrative, but it can serve as the very image of the concept of film songs in a narrative. It is not to take the plot of the story forward after all, but to stop the plot itself. It is when in the indomitable passage of time and plot of a film, there is a moment that stops and opens itself as an emotional gift for us, tells us something deep about us. At the beginning of the song, Munna asks Jhanvi to wait until morning for his letter, which she supposes is a love letter, but Munna knows otherwise. Now, the movie clock dictates that he should take a look at her, and we cut straight to next morning when he discloses the letter to her.

But, Rajkumar Hirani recognises something special in the real life clock of that moment – She can’t wait for the morning, and he’s afraid of just that. The passage of time on that night is precious to both of them for different reasons – Jhanvi wants it to speed up, Munna wants it to drag. Time is cruel to her wait, and a gift to his final moments with her, and time is what they both sing about – in a film, in following one sequence after another coherently, plot works in strict service to time ; it is this concept that the Hindi film song doesn’t subscribe to, it is means to stop time in order to make an expression of self. Thus, in singing about time, as the threat of the coming morning, of plot itself, looms around these two, waiting to end this dream and take over like day taking over night, “Pal pal..” becomes a tribute to the very nature of film songs. Perhaps it also helps that this song is set in the hours of late night, which is that phase of a day when time does seem like it were still, moving towards the engine of the day, the plot.

This film can easily cut to next morning, but a song, here in this special window of time, can enlarge the emotional dimension of these characters, and then leave us on a high so the heartbreak can be pronounced well. The night means not much to the plot of the film, but the passage of time does to those two characters.

This is what explains how, when Jhanvi begins the song, it is ticked off by the sounds of the clock, which brilliantly transitions into a pizzicato percussion, which sounds very much like the ticking of a clock in a dancing rhythm, true to Jhanvi’s desires to speed time up. This is what explains Jhanvi floating in the song like her passion had made her suspended from the passage of time in a dream space, while Munna stays intact, unmoved with tension through the song. While Jhanvi sings verbally, the tense Munna’s parts are sung internally. When Jhanvi sings “pal pal har pal”, the music dances with her, while when Munna follows it with his nervousness in “dil dil dil dil me machi hai machi”, the instruments smear his panic all over the song.

And note then how, in the antara, when Munna sings about his fear, the percussion stops, as if he’s dragging the momentum behind in fear of what is to come – even his lyrics are a contrast to her energy when he sings “Oh Humsafar, Lagta Hai Darr, Raat Kate Na, Kabhi Ho Seher”.

Here are two people, looking at each other in the eye for separate reasons, and the song is taking the shape of their different states of heart.

Their energies are united in the slow, percussion-less conclusion of the song as she reads the letter – his worst fears are coming true and her faith is being shattered, they stand exposed in the morning light, still draped in romantic red shades, and the heady passion of the song from last night is reduced to a whimpering tune in the morning, like the final few drops from a heavy rain at night. She slaps him, the song ends – life, and plot, moves on.