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.
If the title of this post stumps you, let me explain.
Anybody who’s seen Hindi films (especially from the 1940s onward, when playback singing became widespread) knows that most actors and actresses onscreen weren’t singing for themselves. Occasionally, as in the case of artistes like Suraiya, KL Saigal, Noorjehan or Kishore Kumar, they did sing for themselves, but more often than not, the recording was done off-screen, and the actor lip-synched to the song onscreen. So we have all our favourite actors, warbling blithely (or not, as the case may be) in the voices of our greatest singers.
And just now and then, while the song may reach the heights of popularity, the person on whom it is filmed may be, to most people, a non-entity. Sidharth Bhatia, author of Cinema Modern: The Navketan Story (as well as a book on Amar Akbar Anthony, which I’m looking forward to reading) pointed this out to me the other day, with a couple of examples in support of his point. Jaan-pehchaan ho, and Tum apna ranj-o-gham. Sidharth made a request: would I compile a list of songs of this type? Famous songs, but lip-synched by not so famous faces?
So here it. And, Sidharth: thank you. This was challenging, and fun.
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.
The other day, listening to old Hindi film songs while I went about my housework, I realised something: a lot of my favourite songs are songs the character onscreen sings to himself/herself. Not quietly hummed to oneself, not songs merely sung when no-one else is around: but songs whose lyrics are specifically addressed to the self.
To an aching heart, for instance, either offering it comfort or encouragement—or telling it to resign itself to the sorrow that looms. Or (and these are fewer), songs of joy, doubling one’s own happiness by exulting over it in the company of oneself.
This post came about because of my recent review of Rangeen Raatein. Another film-lover, an American, noticed that post and said that she thought it was time she began branching out into watching Hindi cinema too (she’d already seen a good bit of Satyajit Ray’s work). She thought she’d begin with Rangeen Raatein. I was quick to dissuade her, of course—even I, die-hard Shammi Kapoor fan that I am, probably couldn’t stomach a rewatch of that film.
But it made me think: if I had to introduce a newcomer to Hindi cinema (or, more specifically, pre-70s Hindi cinema, since that’s what I love most), which films would I recommend? They would have to be films that are available with English subtitles, of course.
So here it is: my list. I do not claim that these are the best Hindi films of that era; by no means. They just happen to be ten of my favourites. These are in no particular order.
What made Bees Saal Baad such a good watch was its music, its fairly good suspense – and its lovely heroine.
Waheeda Rehman had it all: an immense amount of talent, a rare beauty, a grace and dignity that few possess – and she was a superb dancer. What’s more, as I discovered in a TV interview a couple of years back, she’s also very modest. “When I was a girl, my siblings would call me the ‘ugly duckling’”, she said. A flash of that trademark smile, and she added, “The camera was very kind to me.” As fellow blogger Sabrina Mathew remarked when I recounted that on her post, “I want that camera!”
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.
Some months ago, Bawa—to whom I will always be indebted for inspiring me to watch and review films in languages other than English and Hindi—sent me an interesting article. It listed selected scenes that leading film critics pegged as cinema’s most memorable. Bawa’s suggestion: why not do a list like that for Bollywood?
It’s taken time and effort, but this is it: ten scenes from 50’s and 60’s Hindi cinema, which are for me the most memorable—for whatever reason. These are in no particular order, though the scenes that came immediately to my mind (so, I suppose, the most memorable for me) are grouped at the top.
Note: some of these have spoilers.
I’d been toying with the idea of this list for a while, and memsaab’s recent post on Bhoot Bungla reminded me of it, what with Aao twist karein and its very obvious resemblance to Come on let’s twist again.
I am—and my family and friends know this by now—absolutely and completely enamoured of old Hindi film music. Especially of the 50’s and 60’s. What singers we had! What lyricists! What music directors! What inspiration! The songs were often derived, in small part or large, from a wide range of sources: folk music, classical ragas, Western music, even the rhythmic hoofbeats of a cantering horse. Sometimes the inspiration wasn’t too obvious, or the end result was such a change from the original, it was hard not to give credit to the music director. Other songs were shameless ‘lifts’ from originals.
So here goes: my favourite ‘inspired’ songs, all from 50’s and 60’s films that I’ve seen. And to make the scope more manageable for myself: tunes that were originally Western. These are in no particular order.