The Hallmark Group recently introduced a limited edition of gold-plated silver ingots representing 25 historic stamps of India. Issued under the authority of India Post, it’s called the Pride of India Collection. The stamps replicated run the gamut of concepts, events and people dear to India: Rabindranath Tagore, kathakali, the Taj Mahal, cricket—and more. And with Bollywood so close to the hearts of so many millions of Indians, there had to be a film star featured: and they couldn’t have chosen better.
[Personally, I think the stamp (released in March 2008) does Madhubala justice; the ingot doesn’t. She looks as if, as P G Wodehouse would put it, she’d been bingeing on starchy foods. The eyes are puffy; the smile is off; and she has a double chin. No, I wouldn’t pay Rs 6,000 for this.]
But back to business: today, February 14, is the date of Madhubala’s birth. So (instead of doing a clichéd `ten favourite romantic songs’ for Valentine’s Day), I decided to try listing my favourite Madhubala songs. Frankly, just about any song featuring Madhubala has my vote: she looks so absolutely dazzling, one can forgive shoddy lyrics, monotonous tunes and even less-than-perfect heroes. Anyway, here goes with my top ten, all from films I’ve seen, and all songs that sound lovely too. Beginning at the bottom of the list:
10. Sach kehta hoon bahut haseen ho (Jaali Note, 1960, with Dev Anand). Quintessential O P Nayyar `tonga song’. Dev Anand is a cop masquerading as a prince, who’s romancing Madhubala, a reporter posing as a girl looking for a job. It’s a sweet song, sung in a Victoria, a fitting serenade to Madhubala’s beauty. I love the way she crinkles up her nose and her eyes go half-shut: adorable! And yes, even though the lip-syncing is all haywire in one of the verses, I’ll forgive that.
9. Zindagi bhar nahin bhoolegi woh barsaat ki raat (Barsaat ki Raat, 1960, with Bharat Bhushan). I am not a Bharat Bhushan fan, but this film had some of the best music (especially the qawwalis) I’ve ever heard. This song, though not a qawwali, is melodious enough and has the added advantage of focussing primarily on Madhubala. The camera does an interesting job of framing her face: through the criss-cross ropes of a charpai, and then between hanging dupattas. Also noticed how stunning Madhubala can look even when she’s sad?
8. Bhola-bhola mann mera kahin re sajan (Jhumroo, 1961, with Kishore Kumar). Madhubala’s films with Kishore Kumar tend to have some lively songs, and this one’s one of them. They’re going down a narrow stream on a flower-bedecked raft, and Madhubala, though a city girl, is dressed rural style, all lehenga and prettily painted face (most actresses look silly with those tiny white dots painted along their eyebrows: Madhubala manages to look lovely even with them). Cute song.
7. Chaand raat tum ho saath (Half Ticket, 1962, with Kishore Kumar). A film that goes totally berserk in its madness, but it’s very funny too. This is one of the saner songs, but Kishore clowns around anyway. Madhubala is (as always) gorgeous: watch out for that bit when she peeks out from behind the fronds of palm—a beach version of lifting the ghunghat? Whatever: she’s flawless.
6. Jab pyaar kiya toh darna kya (Mughal-e-Azam, 1960, with Dilip Kumar, Prithviraj Kapoor, and others). Yes, well: obviously. This is probably (even to those who aren’t particularly keen on old films) the most famous Madhubala song. Everything’s opulent here: the mirrors in which her whirling figure is reflected; the glittering thrones on which her princely lover and his fuming father sit; even her costume, all shimmer and gems. Anarkali’s defiance is there in not just Madhubala’s expression, but in her body language: watch for the part when she lowers the dagger at the feet of Prithviraj Kapoor.
5. Thandi hawa kaali ghata aa hi gayi jhoomke (Mr & Mrs 55, 1955, with chorus). A long, long way from the doomed Anarkali: this is a carefree heiress celebrating the joy of living. Madhubala looks very cute in a dress, and with those looped-up plaits tied in ribbons. A happy, lovely song in a film that stood out for its splendid music (an admission: I had a hard time picking this song; the extremely romantic Udhar tum haseen ho, with Guru Dutt, was a close contender).
4. Paanch rupaiyya baarah anna (Chalti ka Naam Gaadi, 1958, with Kishore Kumar). Part of the reason I love this song is that Kishore’s at his madcap best—and Madhubala’s with him all the way. She’s a fairytale princess with a sense of humour, prancing around with that handbag tucked under one arm, trying to entice poor Mannu, who’s pleading for his paanch rupaiyya baarah anna. A song to drive away the blues: it’s a grin-inducer.
3. Mohe panghat pe Nandlal chhed gayo re (Mughal-e-Azam, 1960, with Dilip Kumar, Prithviraj Kapoor, Durga Khote and others). I like this song more than Jab pyaar kiya toh darna kya, mainly because I think Madhubala looks much more delicate, more exquisitely luminous, here. The opening shot is unforgettable: she sits with her ghagra spread around her, and then lifts her ghungat to reveal a face that makes everyone—emperor, empress, and besotted prince—sit up. And I can’t think of too many group dances in Bollywood that are so genteel: there’s grace in every step.
P.S. In my opinion, the original black and white version is much easier on the eye than the colourised one.
2. Achcha ji main haari chalo maan jaao na (Kaala Paani, 1958, with Dev Anand). Eye candy all the way! A lovely Madhubala, a very handsome Dev Anand, and some great chemistry between the two as she cajoles while he acts miffed. The music’s superb, and the song’s very well picturised: even the scurrying feet and the bemused blinking of Agha, Mukri and Jankidas are synchronised with the music. Taking a screen cap of this song was frustrating, by the way: every frame’s a great one.
1. Aaiye meherbaan baithiye jaan-e-jaan (Howrah Bridge, 1958, with Ashok Kumar, K N Singh and others). The best Madhubala song, simply because it’s her song all the way. Sure, she shares screen space with Ashok Kumar, K N Singh and various extras, but Madhubala, sultry, seductive and oh-so-absolutely beautiful, is the focus: you can’t wait for the camera to get back to her. My favourite moment? When she stretches out a hand, inviting Ashok Kumar to dance with her: the triumph and the gratitude in his expression are the greatest tribute there is to Madhubala.