I’m sitting near an open window, breathing in what we always knew as the saundhi khushboo of wet earth (I’ve since discovered the correct English term is petrichor). Outside the window is a balcony, crowded with plants that are suddenly no longer limp and weary with the heat. Beyond the balcony is a field dotted with cows and cattle egrets. Pools of water shimmer silver in the field. The grass and the trees around the edges are bright green against the brooding grey of the clouds beyond. The monsoon is here. Finally, thankfully, here.
And so, in celebration: ten of my favourite monsoon songs, all from films I’ve seen. These are songs about the monsoon, about clouds, rain and cooling breezes. They don’t necessarily feature rain in the picturisation, but they evoke a longing for rain when one’s parched and hot—and they rejoice in the coming of the rain.
So, here goes. I’ll begin at the bottom and make my way up to the top, to my very favourite monsoon song.
1. Barsaat mein humse mile tum sajan (Barsaat, 1949, Shankar-Jaikishan, Shailendra, Lata Mangeshkar)
I’m not a Raj Kapoor or Nimmi fan (though I like Prem Nath), but this song merits a place in this list simply because it’s one of the earliest examples of a monsoon song that I can remember. There’s no rain here, but there’s the anticipation of rain and the hoped-for meeting with a beloved that the rain brings with it. A quaintly historic song, in terms of choreography, singing, music and acting—and a trendsetter of sorts for the many other songs that equate rain with rendezvous?
2. Kuchh kehta hai yeh saawan (Mera Gaon Mera Desh, 1971, Laxmikant-Pyarelal, Anand Bakshi, Lata Mangeshkar and Manna Dey)
Another rain=romance songs, but this one, though it doesn’t feature rain, offers a glimpse of impending showers. Dharmendra and Asha Parekh sing and dance through fields of sugarcane, across low hillocks with billowing white-and-grey clouds, and past a gunmetal-grey lake surrounded by green… this is quintessential rural India during the monsoon. A sight for sore eyes.
3. Hariyala saawan dhol bajaata aaya (Do Bigha Zameen, 1953, Salil Choudhary, Shailendra, Lata Mangeshkar and Manna Dey)
One of those rare songs that celebrate not love, but actually the coming of the monsoon. Shailendra’s lyrics are evocative and full of lovely metaphors. The earth, decked out like a bride in a veil of green; the thunder of the clouds likened to the drumming of a dhol; the sheer joy of a parched farming village that rejoices at the arrival of the rains.
4. Saawan ki raaton mein aisa bhi hota hai (Prem Patra, 1962, Salil Choudhary, Rajinder Krishan, Lata Mangeshkar and Talat Mehmood)
From one of my favourite films, this is another song about love in the time of rain. The lyrics don’t dwell on the monsoon, but the picturisation (though there’s not a drop of rain) does: the wind whips the fronds of the palm trees; musses up Sadhana’s hair, and blows Shashi Kapoor’s scarf about his face. It always reminds me of a building storm, the sort I’d associate with heavy rain in the offing.
5. Allah megh de paani de chhaaya de re tu (Guide, 1965, SD Burman, Shailendra, SD Burman)
This song was one reason I didn’t call this a post of rain songs. Because Allah megh de is not a rain song, but a desperate plea for rain. It’s a brief plaint, peopled by cattle plodding through the dust, concourses of thirsty villagers, and their reluctant local saint, played by Dev Anand. The song’s very touching, and made more so by the haunting voice of S D Burman himself.
6. Kaali ghata chhaaye mora jiyaa tarsaaye (Sujata, 1959, SD Burman, Majrooh Sultanpuri), Asha Bhonsle)
If Barsaat mein humse mile tum was in anticipation of love, so is this, but in a more refined, quieter way. Nutan, acting the ‘untouchable’ Sujata, wanders through a house and garden strangely deserted, looking up at the gathering clouds, the shadow cast by a frangipani tree—and wistfully wishes for the coming of someone to help take away the loneliness of a lazy monsoon afternoon. Beautiful.
7. Kaare-kaare baadra jaa re jaa re baadra (Bhabhi, 1957, Chitragupt, Rajinder Krishan, Lata Mangeshkar)
—And this one’s the exact opposite when it comes to tone and feel. Shyama, vibrant and vivacious, dances through her opulent (read fussy) home, dancing gaily and telling the clouds to be gone, because their thundering wakes her up from the dreams of her beloved. No rain here, no clouds even (except in the lyrics), but the music’s excellent, and Shyama is a joy to behold.
8. O ghata saanwari thodi-thodi baanwari (Abhinetri, 1970, Laxmikant-Pyarelal, Majrooh Sultanpuri, Lata Mangeshkar)
This one has a little bit of rain everywhere! Hema Malini greets an evening rainfall in a greenhouse, and watches it from a window while she’s doing a little workout and then having a bath. The hope that the rain will bring an (as yet unknown) amour is there, of course—but there’s also plenty of rain, pitter-pattering on the glass, forming puddles in the driveway, sheeting down against a backdrop of (admittedly tacky) lightning.
9. O sajna barkha bahaar aayi (Parakh, 1960, Salil Choudhary, Shailendra, Lata Mangeshkar)
I simply love this song. Not only is the music superb, so is the singing—Lata’s at her best. And while a young Sadhana (in one of her first films) is endearing, the imagery of the rain is what makes O sajna… stand out. Drops fall on leaves and trickle off the petal of a hibiscus flower. Rain splashes into puddles and drips into a large bowl left out to catch water. It pours down the sloping edge of a roof and forms a tiny pool in our heroine’s cupped hand as she sings to the man she loves… can the monsoon get any more romantic?
10. Garjat barsat saawan aayo re (Barsaat ki Raat, 1960, Roshan, Sahir Ludhianvi, Suman Kalyanpur and Kamal Barot)
I have a confession to make: I don’t remember what this song looks like (was Shyama in it?) and the Internet, for once, has failed to yield a video that I can link to. But video or not, Garjat barsat saawan aayo re holds first place for me. Simply because the music (classical at its best!) and the singing are so mind-blowing. The music trills and ripples like flowing water; the lyrics speak of the wind, the shimmering rain and the thunder; and the voices blend together in a scintillating, memorable duet. Awesome.