(And a very brief tribute to Dev Anand, 1923-2011).
This is the second of my ‘prize posts’ for the Classic Bollywood Quiz. The first of these posts was dedicated to Karthik, who’d once suggested I do a list of lesser-known composers. This post is dedicated to Anoushka Dave, our overall winner. Anoushka, whose prize included a signed copy of my latest book, also got the chance to tell me which post she’d like me to do: which film to review, or which list to come up with. Anoushka suggested this one: ten saheli characters, or ten saheli songs.
This was, for me, a very unusual (and interesting) challenge, because I’d never really thought of it. Some pondering, and I realised that while Hindi cinema makes a huge deal about a bromance, the female equivalent of it has been largely pushed into the background. Offhand, I could think of only one film (the forgettable Saheli, starring Kalpana and Vijaya Choudhary) that focused on girl friends. But songs? Yes, with some effort (a lot of it, actually), I could draw up a list of ten songs that featured sahelis, at work, at play, at general saheli-ness.
So here they are: ten of my favourite saheli songs, from pre-70s films. One important rule I set for myself while compiling this list was that the characters featured onscreen would be only sahelis, not blood relatives – so, no sisters (à la Humre gaaon koi aayega or Garjat barsat saawan aayo re or Mujhe mil gaya bahaana teri deed ka). Here goes, in no particular order:
1. Main chali main chali dekho pyaar ki gali (Padosan, 1968): So what is it that sahelis do when they’re together? Go cycling, of course (and on picnics). And if your sahelis are really good sahelis who truly want you to be happy, they’ll ensure you keep your feet firmly on the ground. They’ll urge you not to go wandering off where a passing Romeo might take a fancy to you… a delightfully chirpy song from a delightful film. And yes, by the end of it, the sahelis have sort of joined our heroine in extolling the virtues of falling in love!
2. Banke panchhi gaaye pyaar ka taraana (Anari, 1959): This song, though it was created nearly a decade before the Padosan one, takes up where Main chali main chali dekho pyaar ki gali left off. The gang of sahelis is cycling here too, but the refrain is pretty unanimous: from Nutan to her best friend Shubha Khote to all their other pals, the girls are all singing about how wonderful it would be to fall in love. At the end of the song, they do fall – or at least the heroine does – but not immediately in love.
3. Gaon ki main gori chanda ki chakori (Humjoli, 1970): Continuing with the trend of athletic sahelis: this bunch isn’t cycling, but they’re playing kabaddi (or hu tu tu, considering the lyrics here). And singing. And breaking into a little jig now and then. All of that takes a lot of stamina, but Leena Chandavarkar and Aruna Irani – heading the two teams – are pretty good at it.
I love the entire scenario of this song. There’s the competitiveness of the two girls – one priding herself on being chic and urban, the other singing about her rural sweetness, while also challenging each other as opponents in the game. There’s the fact that they’re actually playing kabbadi, leaping about, grabbing, and sprawling realistically in the dirt. And there’s the infectious playfulness about the whole thing. I’m reminded of my school days, though we never thought of singing while playing kabaddi.
4. Ae kaala baadal bol (Dahej, 1950): Of course, it’s not necessary that a group of sahelis be athletic, cycling around or playing kabaddi. They might simply get together to string long ropes with swings on them from all the trees in a garden, and swing together as they serenade the rainclouds looming above. Dahej had a couple of other good saheli songs, where all the sahelis get together (another one I especially like is Choori dheere pehna chooriwaali) – but this is my favourite. The music is lovely, and the picturisation – the young women, swinging in perfect unison, looking so carefree, relaxed and happy – it’s a lovely way of highlighting a simple joy of life.
5. Tum jiyo hazaaron saal (Sujata, 1960): What’s a birthday party without all your best friends gathered round and singing? And not even singing that same boring old song about “many boyfriends to you” and whatnot – but wishing the friend real happiness: the stars to always twinkle for her, the sun to always shine, the flowers to always be a riot of colours for her. This is one of my favourite songs. A favourite
Geeta Dutt Asha Bhonsle song (though Geeta Dutt also recorded a version, never included in the film). A favourite Shashikala song. A favourite ‘Edwina’s friends’ song. A favourite piano song. And a favourite ‘being happy with sahelis’ song. Birthday songs don’t get better than this.
(And yes: there’s the bittersweet juxtaposition of the ‘outsider’ – Sujata (Nutan) left unintentionally out of the festivities. She wouldn’t be unwelcome, but she wouldn’t fit in with her foster sister’s sahelis, would she? Bimal Roy’s picturisation of this song is beautifully understated, yet poignant as it shows up Sujata’s bitter acceptance that she is not part of the family, even if she’s dressed up for the festivities).
6. Gori sasuraal chali (Shagoon, 1964): And what’s the ultimate celebration? The wedding of a saheli. This song has a nice folksy feel to it – very much like the sangeet you hear at typical North Indian (especially Punjabi) weddings. The other girls, who dance and join in the chorus, are good – but the focus here is (I think) more on Chand Usmani, even, than on Waheeda Rehman. Waheeda may be the beautiful bride getting ready for her big day, but it’s the pride and affection in Chand Usmani’s face, as she helps dress up her friend, that really endears her to me.
7. Jaanoon jaanoon re kaahe khanke (Insaan Jaag Utha, 1959): But: before the wedding happens, it’s the saheli who’s your best friend when you’re in love. She’s the one you confide in, the one you tell what an absolute charmer and looker and Mr Right the man you love is. Occasionally, you may deny it – you might even try to fool yourself into thinking you don’t care about him. But a true friend always knows.
I praised this song in my recent review of Insaan Jaag Utha, and I’ll praise it again. Madhubala and Minoo Mumtaz make a very believable, chummy pair of friends (both have such infectious smiles!). Everything about this song – its picturisation, the music, Geeta Dutt’s and Asha Bhonsle’s rendition, the girls and their beaux – is wonderful.
8. Mere mehboob mein kya nahin (Mere Mehboob, 1963): The ‘confided love’ story, again. This time, it’s two sahelis describing the beauty, the voice (“like glass tinkling on glass”), the angelic virtue, the absolute nobody-like-him nature of the man each of them loves. Who, unfortunately and unknown to these two ladies, is actually the same man. It’s hard for me to accept that Sadhana’s and Ameeta’s characters are singing all that in praise of Rajendra Kumar, but it’s a great song, anyway.
9. Baat-baat mein rootho na (Seema, 1955): But what good are friends if they’re only friends when you’re enjoying yourself? A good friend should be the one who stands by you through thick and thin, and who doesn’t hesitate to pull you out the dumps or coax you out of a fit of the sullens. In this song from Seema, Shubha Khote’s character does just that for her friend, played by Nutan. She tells her to stop sulking and getting annoyed at trifles; and she gives her friend a few lessons in life – for instance, that if you laugh, the world laughs with you, and if you cry, you cry alone. No wonder, by the end of the song, Nutan’s scowl has been replaced by a shy smile, and she’s joining in the friendliness all around her.
10. Hum panchhi mastaane (Dekh Kabira Roya, 1957): This one’s my favourite saheli song, bar none – because it exemplifies friendship. It’s a carefree, delightful celebration of life, of friendship, of all that friendship means: affection, understanding, being happy in each other’s company. The music (Madan Mohan’s) is out of this world, the setting is perfect, and the ladies – Anita Guha and Shubha Khote (she did a lot of saheli roles, didn’t she? This list has three songs that feature her) – exude an infectious joie de vivre. And I love the whistling, Shubha Khote’s spirited playing of the mouth organ, and their unrestrained prancing down the road. So much fun!
And: a bonus song. Not so much because it’s a strictly saheli song, but because I learnt this morning – just as I was about to publish this post – that Dev Anand had passed away. There will be a separate tribute post later this week, but for now, a song that praises Dev Anand and has a saheli link to it: Dekhne mein bhola hai, from Bombai ka Babu.
Suchitra Sen’s character sings and dances with her sahelis, playfully teasing her city-returned ‘brother’, completely unaware that this handsome stranger isn’t her brother, actually. She warns off her sahelis – calling them by name (Niki, Muni, Noor and Begum are the girls) and tells them not to make fun of this ‘haseenon ka shehzada’ (‘prince of handsome men’, loosely translated), because he just might fly away with their hearts.