This is another of my ‘prize posts’, dedicated to one of the people who participated in the Classic Bollywood Quiz I hosted on this blog last year. One of the quiz questions was a toughie that no-one was able to answer: Which was Sahir Ludhianvi’s first ghazal to be recorded in Hindi cinema? I did provide one clue: the operative word is ‘ghazal’.
This post therefore is dedicated to Ravi Kumar, the only person who guessed which song I was referring to, though since his guess came in the wake of his submission, it didn’t count. The song was Tadbeer se bigdi hui taqdeer bana le, from Baazi (1951) – a song which is, in my opinion, a good example of what a ghazal is and isn’t. No, it’s not defined by its music – so, it needn’t be slow and soulful; it can be fast-paced and peppy. What does define a ghazal are its lyrics: rather, its structure and its rhyme scheme.
I won’t pretend to know more than the very basics, but to learn more about exactly what a ghazal is (and isn’t) have a look at this interesting page.
To get back to this post: ten of my favourite ghazals (in no particular order) from pre-70s Hindi cinema. All are from films I’ve seen, and no two ghazals are from the same film. Here goes:
1. Aah ko chaahiye ek umr asar hone tak (Mirza Ghalib, 1954): Mirza Ghalib was the reason I had to put in that condition about not including more than one song from a film. This film – which showcased the brilliant shaayari of the legendary Asad’ullah Khan ‘Ghalib’ – had a series of simply awesome ghazals, including Nuktacheen hai gham-e-dil and Yeh na thhi hamaari kismet.
Aah ko chaahiye is probably my favourite, though, simply because everything – Ghulam Mohammad’s music, Suraiya’s superb rendition, and Ghalib’s poetry – fits together perfectly. Even just the very first line – Aah ko chaahiye ek umr asar hone tak (“A sigh needs a lifetime to take effect”) – is so rich in meaning.
2. Rehte thhe kabhi jinke dil mein (Mamta, 1966): Some of the best ghazals, sadly, are sad. This one, written by Majrooh Sultanpuri, is a classic example of an outcry against betrayal. That “Barson ke sulagte tan-man par ashqon ke toh chheente de na sake, tapte hue dil ke zakhmon par barse bhi toh angaaron ki tarah” (“Those who could not splash their tears on the years of woe that have set my mind and body aflame; all they could do was rain like embers on my wounds”)… what resoundingly bitter words against one who proved faithless.
3. Yoon hasraton ke daag mohabbat mein dho liye (Adalat, 1958): Like Rehte thhe kabhi, this song too is a sad one, sung by a woman who’s been forced into becoming a tawaif. The loneliness and deep sorrow in the words (by Rajinder Krishan) always moves me to tears – especially the “Ghar se chale thhe hum toh khushi ki talaash mein; gham raah mein khade thhe, wohi saath ho liye” (“I left home in search of happiness; but sorrows were standing along the way, and they became my companions”).
4. Humse aaya na gaya, tumse bulaaya na gaya (Dekh Kabira Roya, 1957): A ghazal (again, by Rajinder Krishan) that starts off in a light-hearted, happy vein – a song of love given and love reciprocated – and then disintegrates into a song of that same love lost. The last sher (“Daag jo tune diya, dil se mitaaya na gaya” – “the mark that you left cannot be erased from my heart”) suggests that life will go on, but with a constantly nagging memory of the beloved.
5. Jurm-e-ulfat pe humein (Taj Mahal, 1963): I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve gushed over this song on this blog. This is Sahir Ludhianvi again (one of my favourite lyricists), being the voice of a quietly (but very emphatically) defiant Arjumand Bano as she proclaims her disdain for wealth and power as against her love for Khurram. Very dignified, but very obviously sure of the power of her love.
6. Main teri nazar ka suroor hoon (Jahanara, 1964): A ghazal by Rajinder Krishan, portraying the doomed love of a princess for a commoner. Jahanara is in love with Mirza Changezi and he with her, but they know nothing can come of it because as a Mughal princess, she is forbidden to marry… but even if they are apart, he is still her love. Even if she has forgotten – “Tujhe yaad ho ke na yaad ho” (“whether you remember or not”) – he will always be in her heart, her “aashiqui ka ghuroor” (“the pride of her passion”).
(Okay, those translations sound weird in English, but the Urdu is vastly more lyrical).
7. Mere mehboob tujhe meri mohabbat ki kasam (Mere Mehboob, 1963): My father’s favourite parody of a film song is the one he and his friends concocted of this song: “Mera khoya hua rangeen pajama de de” (“Give my lost colourful pyjama back to me”).
It says a lot for the beauty of this song that despite that distorted version, the original (by Shakeel Badayuni) is still a favourite of mine. The ultimate love song, voicing the need for the beloved, desperately searching for her, praising her and his love for her – which woman wouldn’t melt?
8. Uthaaye jaa unke sitam aur jiye jaa (Andaaz, 1949): A Majrooh Sultanpuri ghazal. My first reaction on hearing this song years ago was “Why this ‘I-am-a-doormat’ attitude?” That is true to some extent – the recurring theme of bearing every cruelty with a smile, going on suppressing one’s tears (well, drinking them down, if one has to be literal) – is certainly doormat-ish behaviour. It is, however, also a sign of the helplessness of a woman who’s so deeply in love with the husband who suspects her of infidelity that she’s even willing to bear that for his sake.
9. Zinda hoon is tarah ke gham-e-zindagi nahin (Aag, 1948): A despairing ghazal, by the Urdu poet Behzad Lakhnavi. It manages to convey deep anguish and hopelessness in a way few other songs can do for me – even at the very beginning, that “Jalta hua diya hoon magar roshni nahin” (“I am a burning lamp that emits no light”) is a vivid reflection of the uselessness of the hero’s life after he’s lost his love.
10. Chalte-chalte yoon hi koi (Pakeezah, 1971): I find something surreal about this song and its background: a courtesan encounters a stranger – and that too only through a note he’s left in a train compartment, praising the beauty of her feet – and that chance encounter changes her life forever. Later, even when she’s back at her work, singing and dancing for a wealthy client, it is that stranger she’s recalling – and hoping against hope for another meeting before her life draws to a close: “Shab-e-intezaar aakhir kabhi hogi muktsar bhi; yeh chirag bujh rahe hain, mere saath jalte-jalte” (“This night of waiting will eventually be short… these burning lamps are dying out with me.”). A beautiful example of Kaifi Azmi’s work.
Tang aa chuke hain kashmakash-e-zindagi (Pyaasa, 1957): This one’s from the pen of the inimitable Sahir Ludhianvi, and from a film that featured some of his best lyrics. Tang aa chuke hain kashmakash-e-zindagi se hum is a recitation rather than a song, perfectly rendered by Rafi. The words are hard-hitting and bitter, the ghazal simmering with unhappiness – the unhappiness that life has bestowed on its writer: “Denge wohi jo paayenge is zindagi se hum” (“I will give that which I have received from life”).
Interestingly, the same ghazal was sung by Asha Bhonsle for the film Light House (1958). Both renditions are excellent, but I feel the Pyaasa version has a more haunting quality to it.
This was where this post was supposed to end. But I discovered – shortly before I published this – that Akhlaq Mohammad Khan, aka Shahryar, passed away on February 13 this year. He was the lyricist for one of the very few post-1970s films that had good ghazals – so, in tribute, a ghazal by Shahryar:
Justju jiski thhi (Umrao Jaan, 1981. Although Umrao Jaan had some superb ghazals, this one, with its dignified yet sorrowful looking back at a lost love (and a life only half-lived?), is in a class by itself.