When I created a list of my favourite car songs, blog reader Ragni requested a list: of songs that feature women playing a piano. I riffled mentally through the film songs of the 50s and 60s, and quickly responded: there would be just too many; how could I choose just ten? Another reader, Chris, came up with a suggestion: songs only from black-and-white films.
When I actually got down to compiling this list, however, I realized how impetuous I’d been. A closer look at most of the piano songs that sprang to mind, and I discovered that even if it’s a woman singing (as in Tu jahaan-jahaan chalega or Mujhe tum mil gaye humdum), it’s a man sitting at the piano. Songs where a woman is the one actually playing the piano are, when I came to think of it, relatively rare. I had to, perforce, expand the scope to colour films too.
So, with thanks to Ragni and due apologies to Chris (and thank you for the suggestion, anyway), a list of my ten favourite songs that feature women pianists, whether from black-and-white films, or colour.
These are all from pre-70s films that I’ve seen, and are in no particular order.
1. Jawaan hai mohabbat haseen hai zamaana (Anmol Ghadi, 1946): Richard will probably be glad to know that Jawaan hai mohabbat was the first song that came to my mind – for me, this one’s simply iconic. Noorjehan, with her laughing eyes and that gorgeous smile, is such a sight for sore eyes that even though not very much happens in the song (other than those brief flashbacks to earlier scenes from the film), I never get bored of watching Noorjehan just sitting at the piano and singing.
And what a great song, too: lovely vocals, and fantastic music from Naushad (though I’m not sure a piano actually does figure in the orchestra. Can anybody tell?)
2. Tum apna ranj-o-gham (Shagoon, 1964): Not a great film (in fact, rather tedious), though it had some wonderful songs, courtesy Khayyam and Sahir Ludhianvi. This one, picturised on Libby Rana (aka Nivedita, in her later films) and sung by Jagjit Kaur, is my favourite from Shagoon: a song offering comfort and companionship – even an almost defiant champion who begs to be allowed to take on herself the anguish her beloved undergoes.
3. Sab kuchh lutaake hosh mein aaye (Ek Saal, 1957): I love the way the piano is introduced in this song. Sab kuchh lutaake hosh mein aaye begins with only Lata’s voice singing the aalaap or prelude, with only the faintest hint of a musical instrument here and there. Then, when she begins the song proper, it is to the notes of a piano. One of the best songs there is of heartbreak and hurt at having been betrayed.
4. Yahaan main ajnabi hoon (Jab Jab Phool Khile, 1965): An unusual woman-at-a-piano song, in that while the piano is played by a woman, she does not sing, herself – she merely accompanies the singer, who is male. A posh high-society party (no wonder the piano, without which stylish parties in 50s and 60s Hindi cinema seem to have been incomplete). A made-over Kashmiri boatman who has suddenly realised that he’s a fish out of water here. And the chic (if you think crimson satin, cut unflatteringly, and with a profusion of fake jewellery, is chic) urbanite who begins to fear that her dream is coming to an end.
One thing I especially like about the picturisation of this song is that it uses the piano as a very major prop, using it in interesting frames and showing it from different angles.
5. Dheere-dheere machal ae dil-e-beqaraar (Anupama, 1966): Along with Jawaan hai mohabbat, one of the first songs that occurred to me when I began thinking of this list. This sweet little song is a lovely reflection of a happy marriage: the wife sits at her piano and plays, singing in anticipation of her husband’s arrival. He arrives midway through, and though she interrupts her song, he urges her to complete it. Romantic, yet in an affectionate, domestic, comfortable way.
6. Chehre pe khushi chhaa jaati hai (Waqt, 1965): I had been torn between two great songs from Waqt – both featuring Sadhana playing a piano. One was Kaun aaya ke nigaahon mein chamak jaag uthi (which is similar in tone to Dheere-dheere machal, though the man in question isn’t the one the singer awaits). The other was this one, a serenade to the man the pianist/singer loves: a joyful and proud declaration of their shared love for each other.
The reason I chose Chehre pe khushi chhaa jaati hai over Kaun aaya ke nigaahon mein chamak is because in this song, the player sits at the piano all through the song. A small distinction, but there. What’s a piano song if the player only sits at the piano for a few seconds?
7. Tera jaana dil ke armaanon ka (Anari, 1959): And this is where I contradict what I’d written for the previous song I selected. Here, the pianist is at her instrument only for a very brief spell. But this is such a lovely song, I couldn’t omit it.
If songs like Dheere-dheere machal and Kaun aaya ke nigaahon mein celebrate the anticipation of a meeting with a beloved, Tera jaana dil ke armaanon ka is just the opposite: it mourns the departure of the loved one, perhaps for ever. Even though Nutan doesn’t sit at the piano for long, it remains an important part of the room where she sings of her woe – and the dramatic opening notes are enough reason for me to include this song in this list.
8. Ae dil dekhein hain humne (Shriman Satyawadi, 1960): The setting of this song reminds me, in its rudiments, of Yahaan main ajnabi hoon. A party, with a woman at a piano as the centre of attention. A man, the woman’s romantic interest – but whose depth and wisdom she is only now beginning to appreciate – doing the singing. And, of course, one of the Kapoor brothers.
I’m not a Raj Kapoor fan, but I love this song, and Shakila is an absolute favourite of mine. As is Edwina, who features prominently in this song.
9. Tum jiyo hazaaron saal (Sujata, 1960): Another party song, and one I’ve loved for many, many years. This is also a song where the woman sitting at the piano (Shashikala) is only the one accompanying the singer. In this case, though, the singer is a woman instead of a man – the character is played by Meena Fernandes. A peppy song, the quintessential ‘birthday song’, but with a poignancy to it, because the birthday girl’s foster sister – played by Nutan – realises, all over again, how much of an outcast she is.
10. Dil se milaake dil pyaar kijiye (Taxi Driver, 1954): I invariably remember this song for the mesmerising Sheila Ramani, dancing so elegantly to SD Burman’s music. I remember it for Lata Mangeshkar’s voice, singing Sahir’s words, of grabbing love with both hands.
I usually forget that this is one song where much of the music that accompanies the singing can be seen being played: the guitar, the maracas – and a piano. The Corkes, the landlords of the Anand brothers, were roped in to play parts in Taxi Driver, and it’s Mrs Corke who is seen as the pianist in Dil se milaake dil pyaar kijiye, playing with what seems to indicate a certain level of comfort with the piano.
And, because I couldn’t resist it, a bonus song: Baanki adaayein dekhna ji dekhna, from Amaanat (1955).
I couldn’t include this in my list, because I haven’t watched the film. But this song has been one of my favourites for as long as I’ve loved Tum jiyo hazaaron saal – both were on a ‘The Best of Geeta Dutt’ LP that my parents owned. I’ve adored this song for decades, and actually saw the visual only last year. Okay, Bharat Bhushan isn’t my cup of tea, and neither is Asha Mathur (who lip-synchs to Geeta’s voice), but Chand Usmani – as the pianist – is fine. And really, Salil Choudhary’s music and Geeta Dutt’s singing are by themselves enough to put Baanki adaayein dekhna ji dekhna on this list.
Which are your favourite songs with a woman at a piano?