At the beginning of March 1972, things looked ugly in Maharashtra. A terrible drought has brought misery across the state. And yet, on the last day of the month, the first color film of Marathi cinema Pinjara (Cage) was released to a thunderous response.
In the era of pre-television and pre-Internet, effective word of mouth ensured long queues outside movie theaters. Pinjara ran for a record 134 weeks in Pune alone and won the National Film Award for Best Marathi Film in 1973.
V Shantaram’s Pinjaraa free adaptation of the German film The blue angel (1930), stars Sandhya as a lavani dancer and Sriram Lagoo as a morally upright teacher who falls in love with her. Shantaram’s Labor of Love is considered a milestone among films based on the Tamasha performative tradition. The release of April 29 Chandramukhidirected by Prasad Oak and starring Amruta Khanwilkar and Addinath Kothare, is the latest film to explore tamasha and its associated form, lavani.
The highly emotional narrative and the film’s music, composed by Ram Kadam, remain popular. This cage just doesn’t get old.
At the time, song requests on All India Radio’s Marathi station were dominated by Kadam’s tunes from Pinjara. The most requested melody was Disla Ga Bai Disla. Jagdish Khebudkar’s lyrics – “Disla ga bai disla, mala baghun gaalat hasla ga bai hasla (I saw him, he smiled shyly when our eyes met) captured the popular mood. A cartoon in a periodical Marathi at the time used the lines to mock conspicuously absent politicians during the drought.
Yes PinjaraThe music of continues to resonate with younger audiences, credit must be shared between Kadam, who began his career in the mid-1940s and composed some of Marathi cinema’s most iconic lavanis, and Khebudkar, who has wrote 2,500 songs in over 300 films. The filming of each of the songs bears Shantaram’s signature throughout.
Usha Mangeshkar, the voice of six solo songs and a duet with Sudhir Phadke, has fond memories of her recording sessions. “I had sung for Dada Kondke Songadya  and both Maalyachya Malyamadhi Kon Ga Ubhi and Kaay Ga Sakhu [from that film] had become super hits,” she said Scroll.in. “These songs played non-stop both on the radio and on the loudspeakers. Shantaram Bapu – whom we called Anna – liked the songs. He lived opposite us and came often. He asked me to sing for his new project. Now when Anna said something, who was I to say no? »
Mangeshkar had full freedom to sing as he pleased and lower or raise the pitch and scale, she added.
Although Mangeshkar’s younger sister dominated the soundtrack, the longest tune (7.33 minutes) was performed by her older brother, Lata Mangeshkar. The setting is a contest between the god Krishna and his consort Radha. Radha and her friends implore Krishna to return their clothes, which he stole. “Didi has woven her own magic into the song,” said Usha Mangeshkar. “People often listen to or watch the song expecting to be titillated because of the situation, but if you listen carefully until the end, you realize that the situation is completely symbolic.”
Lyricist Khebudkar wrote:
Tooch dili hee youvan kaanti
Kashi lochane aatur hoti
Dehahun hee mukt bhavana
Sharna gat bapudi.
haath zodita bandhan tutley
Ataa jivala mee pann kuthley
Atmyane janu parmatmyala arpan keli kudi
(You gave me that youthful glow
Why did I take your gaze for lewd?
You freed me from my physical self
I surrender to you.
When I joined my hands, you broke my bondage
All sense of ego is lost
The soul is now ready to become one with the divine)
The other lavni, Ga Bai Mala Ishqachi Ingali Dasli (I Was Bitten by the Love Ant), also has a symbolic context, Usha Mangeshkar said: “It was the beauty of how songs and situations were planned in films of that era – there’s something for everyone in all nine songs.”
Among the background dancers of Pinjara, who went on to pursue successful acting careers, were Maya Jadhav and Usha Naik. The cast and crew of Chandrakumkhi met Jadhav while researching the film’s look and language.
Pinjara was Jadhav’s last film as a group dancer. The Jadhavs had a huge house in Kolhapur where Maya Jadhav’s father was the mamledar (tax authority). Lyricist Khebudkar was their paying guest. He would see 15-year-old Maya Jadhav practicing her dance moves to songs by Helen and Vyjayanthimala on the gramophone.
When a choreographer’s illness blocks the filming of Maajha Sawal Aika (1964), Khebudkar established the Jadhav Bunk School and choreographed the film’s lead actor Jayshree Gadkar.
“I didn’t know or understand camera positions or movements,” Jadhav recalled. “I just knew how to dance. But it worked and I entered the cinema as a choreographer. I felt it was beneath me to be a group dancer. I was in two minds when I was called for Pinjara. Thanks to Atmaram Mane, who wrote the screenplay, and Khebudkar, I accepted.
Sandhya provided the framework for the dance moves. “We had eight days of rehearsals for each song, and she kept coming to check on how far we were,” Jadhav said.
Jadhav’s favorite is the hiccup song, Mala Laagli Kunachi Uchaki. “It’s a beautiful lavani but I love it for another reason – my blood pressure has dropped drastically from the nonstop rehearsals,” she said. “The day we were going to shoot the song. I felt very uncomfortable and passed out. The doctor said I shouldn’t shoot or dance for two days. Someone suggested getting replaced with a real Tamasha troupe. But Shantaram Bapu gave up. We live together here in the studio like a family, he said. Are we going to abandon a family member like this? He stopped filming for two days for me. The memory of his generosity and the beauty of this composition make it special.
Usha Mangeshkar has her own story about the hiccup song.
“I told Anna to get one of the backup singers to hiccup in the right place while I was singing because it was hard to pick up the next line,” she said. “But he said, if the heroine can sing with your voice, she must also have hiccups in it. When he said something, it was the last word. So I practiced and I succeeded. Now, when I sing it on stage, I barely realize that I have to hiccup and sing.
Pinjara cast a long shadow over later movies on Tamasha. by Ravi Jadhav Natrang (2010) gave the performative style a contemporary update through the costumes, choreography and music of prolific composers Ajay-Atul, who also composed for Chandramukhi.
Maharashtra leader Navnirman Sena, Raj Thackeray – whose father is music composer Shrikant Thackeray – praised Ajay-Atul’s compositions at the time, stating that “Natrang ne lavani la pinjryatun mukt kela (Natrang released Lavani from the cage).
According to lavani expert and writer-producer Bhushan Korgaonkar, Ajay-Atul’s experience with modern orchestration doesn’t stray too far from tradition. “Lavani as a form is too familiar to the masses and has a connection like few others,” Korgaonkar pointed out. “Everyone knows how far to push the envelope.”
He recounts numerous requests for the inclusion of lavanis from Pinjara for the production of his team Sangeet Bari, which includes stories from the lavani performers, musicians and audience as well as live performances of traditional and long-forgotten lavanis.
“While I understand this may be true for a predominantly Maharashtrian audience, we are surprised at the number of requests for Disla Ga Bai Disla in Bangalore,” Korgaonkar said. The song remains popular in North Karnataka and is even played during wedding processions, Korgaonkar has revealed.
His own favorite Pinjara the number is the composition of the raga Gauri Tumhavar Keli Mee Marjee Bahaal, sung by Usha Mangeshkar. “It’s a really slow and smooth baithakichi lavani that’s full of shringar ras,” Korgaonkar said. Baithakichi lavani is traditionally performed seated and in a private setting for certain clients.
The melancholy Kashi Nashibane Thatta Aaj Mandali (Look How My Fate Laughs at Me) is an example of the film’s complicated gender politics, Korgaonkar pointed out. The song describes the predicament of the schoolteacher, who wants to save the lavani dancer but instead loses his heart for her.
“The song melodramatically emphasizes how he is the fallen paragon of virtue while blaming it on the tamasha performer,” Korgaonkar said. “The policy is extremely problematic given the stigma women in Tamasha already face.”