Looking back at the six years this blog has been in existence, I find myself surprised that I’ve never done a post on Geeta Dutt. Geeta Dutt, née Geeta Ghosh Roy Chaudhury, the woman with that beautifully melodious, faintly nasal voice, who was known for singing bhajans and other songs with a classical or folk lilt to them—until SD Burman chose her to sing Tadbeer se bigdi hui taqdeer bana de, and opened up to millions of listeners across the years the astounding versatility of this glorious voice. Geeta Dutt, who could sing with equal finesse everything from club songs to wandering minstrel ones. Geeta, who sang some of the most achingly beautiful songs in Hindi cinema.
Happy birthday, Shyama!
Today is the 78th birthday of one of my favourite actresses, the gorgeous Shyama. Born in Lahore on June 7, 1935, Shyama debuted at the tender age of 9, when she appeared onscreen as one of the chorus in the Zeenat (1945) qawwali , Aahein na bhareen shiqve na kiye. In a career that spanned 40 years and close to 150 films, Shyama played everything—from the shrew to the vamp, the tomboy to the domestic goddess. And she invariably shone, quite literally. Shyama’s sparkling eyes and bright, 1000-watt smile could light up the screen like few other actresses were capable of doing.
When Shakila’s niece Tasneem Khan graciously agreed to write a guest post to mark Shakila’s birthday yesterday, I decided I ought to show my personal appreciation for Shakila by making a double bill of it—with ten of my favourite Shakila songs. Shakila, whether she was acting the vamp (in films like Aar Paar) or the heroine, had some wonderful songs picturised on her: romantic songs, funny songs, cheeky songs, melancholic songs. Car songs, train songs. Even songs in praise of Shakila’s loveliness. Plenty to choose from.
For this post, though, I’ve stuck to songs in which Shakila has actually lip-synched, irrespective of whether the song in question is a duet or a solo. That’s why you won’t find the very popular Leke pehla-pehla pyaar here, or even the hauntingly lovely Sau baar janam lenge.
What better way to launch a new year than with a post on one of my favourite actresses? That too on her birthday?
Yes, today, January 1, is the 78th birthday of the beautiful Shakila. Star of my all-time favourite ‘Bollywood noir’ suspense film, CID. Star of one of my favourite Shammi Kapoor films, China Town. Star of one of my favourite Muslim socials, Nakli Nawab. Luminously lovely. Friendly (as Edwina Lyons can probably testify). And a good actress.
We’ve mourned the passing of a favourite star, but now—in the yin and yang way of zindagi and maut that Anand would possibly have appreciated—it’s time to celebrate a birthday. Today, July 21st, is the 77th birthday of a very lovely lady who began a career in cinema, appeared in some landmark films, and then bagged her biggest offscreen role: as the wife of possibly India’s best-loved comedian ever. This is Noor, the beautiful Mrs Johnny Walker.
I don’t often need to take a taxi to get around, but when I do, I always steel myself, because 9 times out of 10, the taxi driver will have music playing—a CD or a radio—and 99% of the time, it’ll be some completely vile stuff with just a monotonous beat, and no melody to speak of.
Last Friday, I had to take a taxi (for a longish ride, moreover—Delhi to Gurgaon and back, nearly 2 hours in the taxi). Sure enough, the radio was turned on. And what a pleasant surprise!—this driver had tuned into a radio channel that seemed to play only old Hindi film songs.
Those two hours were total bliss, and I was reinforced in my belief that good music can make a long and otherwise boring car journey also pleasurable.
If you don’t know what manaana means, be patient. I’m getting around to that.
First, though, an introductory note on this post. This list of hard-found songs (believe me! I’ve spent months coming up with these) is dedicated to extremely supportive and loyal blog reader pacifist. Pacifist won the Innovative Ideas Award in the Classic Bollywood Quiz I hosted a few months back – because she came up with the innovative idea of having prizes for everyone who participated, film awards style! This one’s for you, pacifist, because you were the one who suggested this list in the first place. And because it caught my fancy immediately.
My major complaint against Hindi cinema has been that we’ve never given comedy the sort of status it’s received in the West. True, there has been the occasional classic comedy – Chalti ka Naam Gaadi, Dekh Kabira Roya, Dholak and Padosan, for example – but as a genre it seems to have been largely neglected. Which, in turn, has meant that comic actors have also often not been given due respect for their talents. Making people laugh is I think more difficult than making them cry: and Johnny Walker is one of the very few who’ve excelled at the art. Here, therefore, are some of his roles that I find the most memorable. All, of course, from films that I’ve seen.
When I first began blogging about old cinema, my husband asked me, “So will you do a list of Johnny Walker’s songs sometime?” I thought about it (not long; I didn’t need to) and decided yes. Badruddin Jamaluddin Qazi, aka Johnny Walker, definitely deserves a ‘top ten’ list all his own. This, therefore, on what would have been his 83rd birthday, is a list of songs through which he frolics and flirts, teeters and tumbles—just, generally, keeps me glued to the screen. These are all from films of the 50’s and 60’s that I’ve seen, in no particular order.
My sister gave me Ganesh Anantharaman’s Bollywood Melodies: A History of the Hindi Film Song for Christmas. Yes, I know, my sister’s a gem: I adore her. I also adore a lot of the people Anantharaman writes about in his book. He admits he’s biased towards classical music, but then he does go on to acknowledge the worth of people like O P Nayyar, who’s a classic example of unclassical.
Omkar Prasad Nayyar was born on January 16, 1926 (now you know why this post today, of all days). He grew up in Lahore, and was composing music for All India Radio Lahore by the time he was fifteen (makes me feel utterly worthless. All these child prodigies do). When India was partitioned in 1947, Nayyar left Lahore and came to Bombay. Thank heavens. The rest, clichéd though it may sound, is history.